20 August 2009
Tens of thousands of homes along the Queensland and northern NSW coast could be powered by renewable energy from sugarcane waste after the passage of the Rudd Government’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) legislation.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke said the passage of the legislation opened up significant opportunities for agriculture, particularly in the sugar industry.
A $100 million Mackay Sugar project to expand an existing cogeneration plant could supply one-third of the power needs of Mackay, on the mid-Queensland coast.
Cogeneration plants burn sugarcane waste and capture the heat to convert into renewable power.
This project is ready to begin with the passage of the RET legislation through the Senate today.
An upgrade to an existing mill in northern NSW which is being considered could generate enough power to support 40,000 households, providing half the Tweed Valley’s power needs and one quarter of the power needs of the Richmond Valley.
Three mill upgrades under consideration in the Herbert and Burdekin region near Townsville in north Queensland could power 140,000 homes – more than the region currently contains.
The Australian Sugar Milling Council says the sugar industry already generates around 5% of Queensland’s electricity through cogeneration.
Australia produces around 33 million tonnes of cane per year, which yields around 4.75 million tonnes of sugar.
According to sugar industry figures, one tonne of sugarcane can produce around 250kg of waste plant material which was previously burnt in the fields.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke said agriculture’s growing role in providing renewable energy would benefit both the environment and farmers.
“Families along the NSW and Queensland coast could increasingly find themselves eating Australian sugar, in homes powered by the waste from sugarcane,” Mr Burke said.
“Plant trash that was once considered so worthless it was burnt on the ground can now converted into valuable energy that will help provide new jobs as we transition to a low-carbon economy.
“It is another example of the innovation driving our agricultural industries and the vital role agriculture will play in Australia moving to a low emissions future.”
Australian Sugar Milling Council CEO Dominic Nolan said the Australian sugar industry had been waiting for the passage of the RET legislation.
“This directly translates into the viability of sugar cogeneration projects,” Mr Nolan said.
“We have a major project which has been stalled, waiting for this legislation, in Mackay.
“And every sugar milling company across northern NSW and Queensland will be looking at cogeneration expansion opportunities which this legislation makes possible.”