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Erik is a public policy professional and owner of the online training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au The Blog …explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military. The Book Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Liberal's Energy Policy - burning forests and closing solar

Some of the "Forest Residue" to be burned for electricity.
Dear Mr Hutchinson

I write to express my dismay at your government’s energy policy – if I could call it that. There seems to be a perception in the party that renewable energy aka energy diversity, is some sort of greenie wowserism. It is not.

Energy diversity is energy security, and energy security is national and economic security. That is why China, India, and numerous other countries are investing heavily in renewable energy while continuing to build their industry from conventional sources. Meanwhile the recent decision on the RET will cost Australia over 2500 jobs and $6 billion investment in order to prop up inefficient quasi monopoly generators (references below). No credible expert source anywhere thinks the so called “direct action plan” is anything more than a pork barrel for big coal.

In the context of energy security I note that this country’s capacity to refine oil has largely been closed down in preference for importing refined oil through Singapore. In the event of a large regional conflict or naval blockade this leaves us with three days of fuel. I leave you to ponder the obvious implications of this. My point – we need to be as self-sufficient as possible in energy, and renewable energy is part of that mix.

Even more distressing is the last minute decision to include burning native forests as “renewable energy”. I have spent a lot of time in these forests and I can assure you that there is nothing renewable about incinerating a 200 year old sassafras or myrtle tree and replacing it with a fast growing monoculture. These are not “offcuts” or “forest residues” they are 80-90 per cent of the actual forest. We would be subsidising the burning of rainforest in order to produce electricity that could have been produced by solar panels if your government had bothered supported a booming industry.

I request therefore that you exercise your right as a party member to challenge and ultimately change the policy direction of your party on energy diversity and security in this country.





New renewable energy target will mean $6 billion cut to investment: analysts. Sydney Morning Herald. May 18, 2015.

Renewable energy sector has lost almost 2,500 jobs in last two years, says ABS report. ABC. April 13, 2015.

Australia's large-scale renewable investment dives in 2014. Sydney Morning Herald. January 12, 2015.

RET deal to pass parliament in spite of wood waste inclusion. Climate Spectator. May 18, 2015.

Editors Note : Mr Hutchison was kind enough to enter into some correspondence on this matter. This correspondence is reproduced below.

Dear Erik,


Thanks for contacting me.


I also support the RET as does the government, remembering it was John Howard who first introduced the RET.


The agreement struck recently with the Labor Party will see the 2020 target increase from 20% to roughly 23.5%. This is a good thing.


It also protects jobs at high energy users such as Norske Skog at Boyer and Bell Bay Aluminium, who quite perversely use renewable hydro energy and were paying millions of dollars to subsidise wind farms in NSW or Queensland.


It's a strange old world we live in.


Best Regards


Eric Hutchinson


53B Main Road (PO Box 50), Perth

Phone: 03 6398 1115

Fax: 03 6398 1120


Thanks Eric for getting back to me.


Energy markets are indeed complex things! How lucky we are to have hydro. My concern is that we need to support renewables past a critical mass where they become a serious and helpful part of the energy mix. My other concern was that burning old growth forests is poor policy on many levels and should not be passed off as renewable. I understand that you need to uphold party policy but there is room for nuance.


Best regards



Dear Erik,

Indeed hydro is the ultimate renewable. But we should not ignore the fantastic story that is using wood and regrowing trees and Tasmania is undoubtedly good at growing trees.

Wood is indeed the fibre of the future, it is stored sunlight, it is a renewable resource.

Can I urge you to search a report prepared by Professor Andreas Rothe, a scientist from Germany who identified the tremendous opportunities for biomass in Tasmania from properly managed native forests. Tasmania has wonderful forests many of which are in formal reserves, but we also have productive commercial forests that we should be managing using the best science.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) supports the use of biomass unequivocally.

The science is in and the rest of the world understands this, yet the ideological position of Tasmanian Greens is at odds with global science.

Hi Eric

Thanks for your reply. I know this is a late response but my wife and I recently had a baby and I have been pressed with other things.

I suggest that if the proposal were to use those fast growing Nitens planted in the hope of a pulp mill as feed stock for electricity generation no one would have any concern. If the exhaustively negotiated forest agreement was in place the argument for burning wood for electricity would certainly be stronger and the Green’s position weaker. However Forestry Tasmania have made it abundantly clear that they see wood burning as a direct substitution for woodchips. You will recall that the woodchipping industry was also only going to burn ‘residues’ left over from the ‘saw milling industry’. Now 80-90 per cent of all the timber is chipped and wood chip quotas have driven industrial logging into world heritage value forests for decades. The result has been massive environmental damage and social conflict. In this context I note that the updated Forest Practices Code is still not law years after it was drafted and the documentation around the 100 breached of the Forest Practices Code alleged by Forest Practices Officer Bill Manning are still sitting in someone’s drawer.

This means that the wood burning issue becomes a re-run of the woodchipping old growth forests issue. Using the RET in this way becomes another indirect subsidy to the woodchipping industry. That is why the Greens oppose it. It is consistent with their position on forests and wilderness since 1973. I don’t think the global science supports burning the Styx, Picton, Weld, Upper Huon, Wielangta etc forests.

The problem of scope creep when talking about residues is not unique to Australia either. See further here: http://www.pfpi.net/  

So the solution is to be clear about what is burned. If we are talking about plantation timbers and off-cuts from saw logs fine. But let’s not use this technology to re-ignite the forest wars. This would be a sensible non divisive position and one which could bring some much needed dollars to farmers and to the rural community. These are the nuances the party needs to consider.


Best regards



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