Wood for biomass should be obvious

Wednesday 17 Oct 2018

Woody biomass: Why is it not obvious? - One perplexing question arising in the wake of the release of the NZ Productivity Commission’s low-emission economy report, is why has the Government not realised that lowering emissions and the One Billion Trees Programme have one thing in common - woody biomass.

Whilst the Commission’s report describes accelerating afforestation as a “key part of a transition to a low-emissions economy”, its primary discussion of the effect of the One Billion Trees Programme was focussed on carbon sequestration.

The obvious corollary effect of huge increases in the supply of woody biomass, that increased afforestation will produce, is mentioned only tangentially in the report: “Inquiry participants also noted that the additional afforestation required for New Zealand to meet emissions reduction targets could significantly increase available biomass feedstocks.”

Submissions made by Peter Hall, author of Scion’s ‘Residual biomass fuel projections for New Zealand’ report, despite cogently forecasting biomass resource from projected plantings being able to meet almost a third of NZ’s total consumer energy demand, were overlooked, with the Commission still finding reliability of supply of sustainably sourced biomass for process heat a barrier to further uptake.

Scion’s report, published in 2017, sought to describe woody biomass residue resources in New Zealand by volume, type, energy content and region, over time from 2017 to 2042. It found that biomass residuals could displace at least half of New Zealand’s coal demand, potentially as much as 70%, with a subsequent impact on greenhouse gas emissions of ~1.1 million tonnes of CO2e per annum displaced.

Notably, the Scion report was compiled prior to the announcement of the One Billion Trees Programme. Significant volumes of residue for biomass fuel (in excess of Scion’s predictions) will be available once trees planted today reach maturity in the years leading up to 2040.

Significant early progress is being made in the Programme, with 59 million additional trees planted by August this year, and the allocation of $485 million from the Provincial Growth Fund, administered by Shane Jones, for initiatives to promote planting.

The trees are in the ground and the Commission’s report recommends a roll-out of policy initiatives to support the supply and use of biomass stating that “electricity and biomass appear to be the two options with the widest applicability and potential to reduce emissions” in heat and industrial processes.

So why has the Government failed to connect the dots between more trees, biomass fuel and lowering emissions? The Labour-led Coalition’s recent communication difficulties could be the source of the problem. Or is Minister for Climate Change James Shaw so enamoured with EV’s he can’t see the woody biomass for the trees?

With New Zealand First’s Shane Jones driving the One Billion Trees Programme, including the establishment of Te Uru Rakau, the agency charged with leading it, is there a disconnect with the rest of the Coalition?

Surely, the next steps should be for the Government to lead the move away from fossil fuels to biomass and promote initiatives which will see industry do the same.

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