A CONTROVERSIAL move to classify burning of native wood waste as renewable energy has received support from scientists.
Forty-nine forestry scientists and practitioners last week signed a letter of support for a motion put forward by Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott and seconded by New England independent Tony Windsor that would see logging companies granted Renewable Energy Certificates for burning native forest residues.
Professor Rod Keenan, the director of the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research Centre at The University of Melbourne, was among the signatories.
He argued wood waste, now burnt either in the forests or at the sawmill, was an appropriate substitute for fossil fuels.
“If this waste is used for energy it can substitute for fossil fuels and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” Prof Keenan told the Port News. “To address the threat of climate change, we need to harness all available energy options.”
Prof Keenan backed Mr Oakeshott’s argument the motion would close a loophole that disadvantaged sustainable Australian forestry against imported and often unregulated timber.
“Energy from wood is a widely accepted contribution to renewable energy objectives in Europe and North America,” Prof Keenan said.
Principal research scientist at Forestry Tasmania Mark Neyland; Operations and Research Forester at northern NSW sawmill operators Hurford Hardwood, Walter Habchi; and managing director of Australian Solar Timbers in Kempsey, Douglas Head, were among the others to sign.
President of the North Coast Environmental Council Susie Russell said many of the signatories were heavily involved in the industry.
Their points were only relevant if wood waste to be burned was produced from sustainable logging practices, which is in doubt, she said.
“If you’ve got a vested interest in forestry, are you able to objectively say this is a bad thing?” Ms Russell said. “The main issue is whether our forests are being managed in an ecologically sustainable way.
“In Victoria, WA, Tasmania old growth logging is still considered acceptable and is current practice, and in NSW it happens by stealth,” she said.
The tradable certificates offer incentive to companies to find more sustainable sources of electricity.
But Mid-North Coast environmental campaigner Frances Pike has formed a group called Natives Rule, and argued forest biomass would become a tradable commodity.
Ms Pike said the argument that wood waste left behind would decay to greenhouse gases, and should instead be burned for energy, was flawed.
“The residues will decay to greenhouse gases far more slowly if left on the forest floor as habitat and to slowly recycle to nutrients for the forest ecosystem than they will in a furnace.
“There is no need for forests to be burnt after harvest anyway,” Ms Pike said.
But Mr Keenan said those investing in energy efficient technology including burning of wood waste, should be able to gain access to financial support and incentives in the same way as those investing in wind, solar or other renewable energies.
The disallowance motion will be debated in parliament in the coming weeks.