Local government turns unwanted straw into bioenergy

A council has taken out top honours in national bioenergy awards for converting farmers’ wasted straw pellets into energy.

When local grain farmers first identified straw pellets from residual crops as a potential energy source two years ago, Victoria’s Pyrenees Shire Council didn’t realise the idea would ultimately come to transform its approach to energy.

The initiative has since seen energy generated for use by small manufacturers and health services in the region – an achievement recognised with a community leadership gong at the Bioenergy Innovation Awards last month.

The project, which commenced in 2016, saw the council partner with local farmers to reduce agricultural waste while providing a sustainable energy source for essential services and business.

The approach has since reaped cost savings, stimulated the economy and driven down carbon council’s carbon footprint.

The partnership with the council includes nine local farmers, Regional Development Victoria, the City of Ballarat and Cultivate Agribusiness Central Highlands.

Funded by the Victorian Government, the project aims to promote awareness of bioenergy and its economic opportunities for businesses and services in the region and for local government.

Bioenergy Australia CEO Shahana McKenzie says the success of the Pyrenees Shire Council’s project is a testament to the value of innovative bioenergy projects for regional councils.

“Australia has a huge amount of regional bioenergy opportunities that can be capitalised on but need collaborative activity to achieve the required scale, gain stakeholder acceptance, and maximise the potential economic and environmental value,” Ms McKenzie told Government News.

It was this focus on community collaboration that saw Pyrenees Shire Council recognised at the recent awards, she says.

“The power of collaborative enthusiasm and effort to get a community of stakeholders to not only plan together but to get a project up and running was impressive,” she said.

Ms McKenzie said that projects such as these are an excellent example of the many benefits of leveraging bioenergy opportunities.

“Bioenergy is the subject of considerable interest and investment worldwide, due to its enormous potential to reduce carbon emissions and drive a more sustainable energy future,” she said.

Unlocking the benefits

The straw pellets project follows an earlier initiative by the council that saw the installation of a 110kW local heating system at Beaufort hospital which is fuelled by wood chips from a local sawmill.

This project is estimated to save the council around $55,000 each year in gas costs, and a reduction in greenhouse emissions of 140 tonnes per year.

The council undertook a heating study at the Horsham Aquatic Centre to explore the potential usage of locally sources biomass, which found it could divert 480 tonnes of green waste from landfill per annum and reduce annual heating costs by $25,000.

Following the success of these projects, the council is now looking for opportunities to expand the project and develop a straw-based bioenergy plant to help power Skipton Hospital.

Role for councils

Ms McKenzie says that councils have an instrumental role to play in leveraging bioenergy to reduce energy costs and lower emissions:

“Local councils have the power to genuinely transform the way we generate and use energy. Clean energy brings a range of benefits for councils: lower costs, energy independence, reduced environmental impact, lower carbon emissions, improved community engagement and greener community facilities.”

Ms McKenzie said that Pyrenees Shire Council’s success story illustrates the huge potential of bioenergy use for all councils.

“The message for councils is that bioenergy is a real option for reducing energy and waste disposal costs, as well as being an environmentally friendly option that can support a range of industries across Australia.  There’s also the added benefits of job creation and energy security.”

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