The Huon Valley Environment Centre has applauded Federal MPs who took a stance against incentives for native forest burning power stations in a nailbighting vote today.

An extremely close vote shot down Robert Oakeshott MP’s motion to allow Renewable Energy Certificates to be generated by burning wood from the logging of native forest.

‘Communities across Australia will be relieved that plans for polluting native forest fuelled power stations will not be eligible to draw on incentives meant to encourage truly renewable energy options,’ said Huon Valley Environment Centre biomass campaigner Will Mooney.

‘Huon Valley residents can be assured that a decade-old plan for a 30MW power station near Lonnavale, that would consume over 300,000 tonnes of timber per annum, looks even less certain to proceed.,’ Mr Mooney said.

‘Today’s vote backs up the concerns of conservation organisations, health advocates, scientists and community groups who have voiced a range of concerns about logging industry plans to prop up native forest logging with large scale wood-fired power stations,’ said Huon Valley Environment Centre spokesperson Jenny Weber.

‘It also provides a clear signal to the logging industry that comprehensive reform must include a move away from reliance on destructive, broad scale harvesting for low value products,’ Jenny Weber said.

‘Today’s vote represents a win for forests, the climate and local communities however, a coalition of groups will continue to campaign against polluting and environmentally destructive plans for native forest burning fueled power stations,’ Jenny Weber said.

• Graham Lloyd, Environment Editor, The Australian: Forests face the furnace

Financial returns to state governments from forest management have been abysmal. Forest campaigners such as Bartholomaeus and Acton had hoped economic reality would eventually see the native forest industry collapse.

But manoeuvrings in federal parliament this week highlight the delicate balance that still exists between protecting timber industry jobs and and saving the centuries-old trees.

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott stunned his Labor and Greens colleagues when he lodged a disallowance motion to unpick the agreed renewable energy package that specifically excluded native forests.

Speaker Peter Slipper used his casting vote yesterday to defeat a motion by Oakeshott that would have seen electricity users paying a subsidy to the timber industry to burn the forest for bio-energy, after the vote on the floor of parliament was tied 70 to 70.

Wilderness Society national campaign director Lyndon Schneiders says defeat of the motion should finally convince the native forest-based timber industry to restructure, rather than looking for quick fixes to long-term decline. “The native forest logging industry has for years kept spruiking this bizarre notion that burning old-growth forests and koala habitat is somehow renewable energy, in a desperate last roll of the dice to find a market,” he says. “The defeat of Rob Oakeshott’s motion means that government incentives won’t drive this destructive, polluting industry.”

Oakeshott had said his proposal would not result in one additional tree being cut down, because only forest waste would be eligible. But environment groups say he was being naive at best.

They say the recent surge in biomass advocacy is designed to find a replacement market for native forest woodchips.

Scientists both for and against petitioned federal politicians to influence their vote.

A petition signed by forest industry scientists in favour of the Oakeshott disallowance motion suggested the concerns of environmentalists were misplaced, because only forest waste would be burned for biomass fuel. They say harvesting native forests solely for renewable energy is neither economically attractive nor the best use for the timber. The scientists say sawlogs earn a far greater return for the land manager when used to produce structural or appearance-grade products than if sold as biomass fuel.

The letter, written by Martin Moroni, senior research scientist with Forestry Tasmania, and signed by forestry scientists from across the nation, encouraged Oakeshott to push ahead. It said production of biomass fuel from native forests would likely be associated with the burning of processing residues and some harvest residues to generate heat and electricity in boilers located in rural communities, close to mills.

According to world bio-energy association board member Andrew Lang, even Renewable Energy Certificates would not be sufficient to make biomass from forests a profitable, standalone business.

Full story, The Australian here