Causley takes on burning challenge

Former Page MP Ian Causley has returned to where it all started for him: the board of the NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative.

Mr Causley, who represented Page from 1996-2007, was an inaugural member of the co-op board 30 years ago and was recently elected as its new chairman.

“Some of the members from the Clarence approached me to stand for the board again. They thought that, with my experience and political background, I could be of some benefit,” Mr Causley said.

Since retiring from politics at the last election, Mr Causley has returned to farming and produces about 18,000 tonnes of sugar cane a yearfrom the family farm near Maclean. His son is continuing the family tradition and is a fifth generation cane farmer.

Not surprisingly Mr Causley said the biggest challenge he faced as the new chairman was the vexed issue of the co-generation plants at Condong and Broadwater. The multimillion dollar plants were built in 2007 with the assistance of the federal government and were supposed to be Australia’s largest green energy project. The idea was to burn sugarcane waste to produce energy for 60,000 homes and provide another source of income for the region’s sugarcane farmers.

But the project has been littered with problems, particularly around separating the sugar cane from the waste and getting enough material for the burners. There has also been a significant drop in the price of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), which is the certification for every megawatt of power produced and fed back into the grid.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong recently announced there would be a review of the REC scheme after concerns by the biofuel and wind energy sectors that the market had been flooded by “phantom” RECs given out by the government to people who have installed solar hot water systems and domestic solar systems.

“I can’t understand where this government is coming from. The REC system was set up to encourage alternative energy but they have flooded the market by giving out these certificates that don’t actually produce anything,” Mr Causley said. “The price dropped from $53 down to $27, though it’s come back up again to around $32... Any future investment has just stalled. No-one’s prepared to invest.

“Our other challenge is to find enough fuel. Initially we were going to cut the cane green and burn the trash, but the engineers got it a bit wrong and we’re not able to separate the trash at an economic rate.”

Mr Causley said they needed to secure 250,000 tonnes a year of bio-waste to keep the generators going.

“There’s potentially 180,000 tonnes of waste from sawmilling operations. We’re also looking at industrial waste like building demolitions, that’s a growth area, and we’re doing camphor laurel and other woody weeds. We haven’t given up on the cane. We’re still trying to separate the leaves from the cane but not in the foreseeable future. It might be another two years or more before we’re on top of that.”

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