Australian Renewables Legislation Green Lights Incinerator

By Andrew Darby

HOBART, Tasmania, Australia, December 12, 2000 (ENS) - The first new city garbage incinerator project in Australia has gained an economic boost with the passage of the country's renewable energy legislation.

The $120 million TEST Energy incinerator and recycling plant near Hobart in the island state of Tasmania is said to have become more economically viable because of the legislation. It is being opposed by leading conservation groups for sending the wrong signals to householders, and for potentially producing toxic by-products.


Hobart, Tasmania (Photo courtesy Hobart Summer Festival)
Under the new Australian renewables legislation, electricity retailers must source two percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010. City solid waste and native forest wood waste have been written into the bill as eligible sources.

The impetus for the bill arises from Australia's potential obligations under the Kyoto climate change protocol. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Australia is permitted to increase its emissions of six greenhouse gases by no more than eight percent over 1990 levels during the period 2008 to 2012.

Electricity generation contributed 37 percent of Australia's total national greenhouse emissions in 1998.

After the passage of the renewables bill through the federal parliament, the Australian Democrats said it would do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Penalties for companies not complying with the law are too low to encourage investment in wind or solar power, they said.

Environmentalists have targeted a provision, yet to be clarified by the government in a schedule attached to the bill, that may allow discarded wood from clear cutting forestry operations to be counted as a renewable source.


Conservationists fear that Tasmanian native forests like this one are more likely to be logged after the incinerator is in operation. (Photo courtesy Native Forest Network)
"The conservation movement is totally opposed to creating another forest devouring monster that starts up with so-called residues," said Geoff Law, campaign officer for The Wilderness Society.

But it is the Tasmanian incineration plant that has emerged as the first project to take advantage of the legislation.

The plant will take in 180,000 tons of capital city Hobart's household waste each year and use a natural gas fired furnace, according to TEST Energy managing director, Craig Ransley. He said that it would generate 20 megawatts of power for the electricity grid, enough to power 20,000 homes.

Backed by the British heavy industrial Shaw Group, and to be built using Belgian Seghers technology, Ransley hopes the incinerator will be the first of several in the region. "We have two further plants under negotiation in southern Australia," he said.

The company claims the plant will almost eliminate landfill's problems of producing methane gas and polluting leachate. "Australia has lagged behind the rest of the world in dealing with the issue of wasteful, harmful landfills," he said.

In and around Hobart, the plant would reduce landfill by 99 percent by 2002, far exceeding a national goal of reducing it by 50 percent by 2005.

An environmental consultant for the project, Anna Russell, said plant technology sets the world's best practice for air emissions, and would better current Australian standards.

"The European standard is one nanogram of dioxin emissions per cubic metre," Russell said. That's equivalent to one hair on the head of one person in 10 million. The expected emissions here are much lower."

But Greenpeace warns that the plant will produce not only energy, but hazardous waste. Toxics campaigner Matt Ruchel said, "The incinerator will create sludge and ash badly contaminated with persistent toxic chemicals such as dioxins and heavy metals."


Greenpeace activists climb the world's largest incinerator, Tokyo's Toshima Ward, to protest the emission of dioxins. May, 2000. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace/Kiryu)
Ruchel rejected a suggestion that garbage incineration is a form of green energy. He said it has been excluded from renewable energy classification by the European Union.

The Australian Conservation Foundation also said such a plant sends the wrong messages to consumers, as it does not encourage recycling.

Ransley countered that the technology to be used in the Hobart plant would not result in sludge residues, and pointed to a recycling plant at the incinerator's "front end," which he said would remove recyclables.

The last municipal garbage incinerator in Australia closed in 1996 when the Waverly-Woollahra Process Plant was shut in Sydney because of pollution and public health concerns. But large scale incinerators are being increasingly used around the world.

Greenpeace has a global campaign against them underway, with direct actions in recent months aimed at shutting plants in Tokyo, Washington DC, Hong Kong and Stockholm. Ruchel said Greenpeace will oppose approval of the Tasmanian plant.