Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Native forest biomass shouldn't be excluded from renewable energy scheme

By David Pollard - posted Monday, 28 November 2011

The government has introduced regulations into the Senate surrounding the use of native timber wood waste for renewable energy production. The changes are jeopardising renewable energy project proposals and appear to be driven by an ideological opposition to harvesting native forests rather than environmental reasoning. 

The Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme was introduced in 2009 to ensure that 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply will come from renewable sources by 2020. This created a market for renewable energy certificates (RECs), which acted as an extra incentive to trade and invest in renewable energy projects. 

Originally, electricity generated by using waste products from native wood processing was recognised under the RET scheme. The government claims that the proposed exclusion is designed to protect biodiversity in natural forests despite there being no evidence that biodiversity would be threatened by the carbon price and RET incentives. The proposed RET amendment would actively discourage the utilisation of a by-product of existing sustainable timber production and forgoes the related investment to secure renewable energy gains.


If the proposed amendments are made then native timber sawdust, offcuts and wood fibre will continue to be burnt, sold off cheaply or dumped in landfill. Perversely, some companies may opt to ‘pelletise’ wood waste in future and export it to countries where renewable energy credits are awarded to native forest bioenergy projects. 

Impacted projects include a proposed $20 million investment at Eden on the South Coast of NSW. The South East Fibre Exports (SEFE) Bioenergy Project would be the largest investment on a single project in Eden’s history. It would utilise over 51,000 tonnes per annum of pine bark fine residues, hardwood fine residues, the chip mill’s own waste, sawmill sawdust and shavings.  

The project would create 25,000 megawatt hours per annum, equivalent power to supply 3,000 houses. It would provide a peak of 50 jobs on site during 18 months construction, as well as ongoing employment for a plant superintendent and five trade-based plant operators, plus 20 indirect jobs.  

Meanwhile, Australian Solar Timbers, near Kempsey in Northern NSW, is investigating a cogeneration plant to achieve energy self-sufficiency and feed into the general supply grid in the 5 to 10 megawatt range. AST plans to utilise bark, sawdust, export and local woodchip, milled offcuts.  

AST was an international pioneer in solar kiln drying but still consumes approximately two megawatts of the entire Macleay Valley’s ten megawatt consumption. The company has discovered that it has the capacity to be more than energy self-sufficient by utilising existing residues which it currently sells as sawdust for boiler fuel to a locally based international firm, chip for export, chip for landscaping and milled product for potting mix to Sydney.  

Similarly, Boral Timber has proposed projects near Port Macquarie, Murwillumbah and Kyogle, which may need to be reconsidered due to the regulation changes.


It is been estimated that there is enough woody biomass from forest industry activities in Australia to supply 3000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy per year from existing waste streams without harvesting a single extra tree. This is equivalent to seven per cent of the nation’s renewable energy target.

Despite Australia having the highest area of forest per capita of the developed nations, we lag behind in the use of bioenergy. It represents just 0.8 per cent of our energy production. In contrast, 13 per cent of Finland’s and 6 per cent of Denmark’s energy generation comes from bioenergy. Perhaps surprisingly, WWF International backs the use of wood waste from forestry in its report A Biomass Blueprint to Meet 15% Of OECD Electricity Demand By 2020.

The proposed amendments still need to be approved by Parliament. The industry has put its case forward and rebuked claims that the RECs would have any adverse impact on sustainable forest management practices and biodiversity values. The industry only wants to do something productive with an otherwise wasted by-product, which would have no influence on existing world best practices in forestry management. 

The industry is keen to ensure that an adequate public discussion about this issue occurs as it is incongruous that the government’s Clean Energy Future (CEF) would discourage the use of a resource which otherwise would be burnt, disposed of in landfill or sold as lower value gardening products.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

8 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

David Pollard is Chief Executive Officer of the Forest Products Association. Dr Pollard held senior management positions with the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments. He is the author of a number of books on public policy and is a Senior Fellow of the Melbourne Business School In 2002, he was awarded the Commonwealth Centennial Medal for services to public sector management.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by David Pollard

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of David Pollard
Article Tools
Comment 8 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy