A “Sweet” Renewable Future for FNQ: or, “Is there Method in Palmer’s Madness”?


A Method in Big Clive’s Madness?


As STT has already pointed out, retaining the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the mandatory RET makes no sense for a political party which helped to kill the “carbon” tax (with no ETS to replace it) because of the punishment it caused to businesses and households through spiralling electricity bills. Since big Clive’s announcement, The Australian has produced a plethora of articles to much the same effect.

But there could just be some method in Clive Palmer’s madness.

For our overseas followers, Clive’s 3 PUP Senators – plus (apparent) PUP ally, Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiasts’ Party – are able to block any legislation put up by the Coalition in the Senate, where Labor and the Greens oppose it; or, conversely, to side with the Coalition and get legislation passed where Labor and the Greens choose to block it, with the support of 2 of the cross-benchers, like John Madigan and Nick Xenophon. That leaves Palmer with the ability to throw his considerable weight against or behind Coalition backed legislation.

Although, it now appears that one of the PUPs – Jacqui Lambie – a Senator from Tasmania – has just broken ranks with her boss; calling for substantial changes to the mandatory RET in an effort to save the Bell Bay aluminium smelter (see our post here).

STT hears that big Clive’s move to save the CEFC and the RET might all be about an effort to realise a couple of massive water harvesting (and hydropower) projects which have been sitting on the Far North Queensland (FNQ) backburner for years.

One involves the completion of the Bradfield project (on the Tully, Herbert and Burdekin rivers); the other involves the Pentland Project (on the Burdekin and Flinders river systems, near Townsville). Wherever large volumes of water are stored there is potential to produce hydropower – and both the Bradfield and Pentland projects will store an awful lot of water. New hydro benefits from the mandatory RET; is eligible to receive Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) under it; and would be eligible to apply for soft loans from the CEFC.

The Bradfield project – which was proposed in 1938 – requires large pipes, tunnels, pumps and dams. It involves diverting water from the upper reaches of the Tully, Herbert and Burdekin rivers. These Queensland rivers are fed by the monsoon, and currently flow east to the Coral Sea. The water stored would enter the Thomson River on the other side of the Great Dividing Range and eventually flow south west to the headwaters of the Warrego River, at the top of the Murray-Darling system. The water captured would be used to irrigate thousands of hectares of sugarcane – and other thirsty crops – along the way.

The Pentland project involves the construction of a dam on the Burdekin River east of Greenvale and a power station in the Pentland area. The dam is tipped to corral 1.2 million megalitres of water – a fair proportion of which would be used to irrigate up to 100,000ha of sugarcane and other crops to the south of Pentland. Pentland sits in the Galilee Basin, where big Clive holds substantial coal leases: which will need a mountain of water and power to develop.

Queensland Federal MP and local member, Bob Katter is very keen on the Pentland Project; the 2,500 jobs it will create; the unlimited water supply it will provide for the greater Townsville region; and 800MW of renewable base-load power from a sugarcane fuelled power plant.

While both projects have the potential to generate significant volumes of hydropower, both plans involve a different form of renewable energy.


Bagasse: a sweet renewable energy source, readily at hand.


Bagasse is a by-product of sugarcane production; and ethanol can be brewed up from bagasse, as well as sugarcane: both the Bradfield and Pentland plans involve hundreds of thousands of hectares of irrigated sugarcane. In the absence of these uses, bagasse would otherwise be treated as agricultural waste and burnt or dumped to rot.

Bagasse qualifies as “renewable energy” under the mandatory RET in its own right; ethanol extracted from bagasse qualifies as “agricultural waste”: (see the legislation here).

For each 10 tonnes of sugarcane crushed, a sugar factory produces nearly 3 tonnes of wet bagasse.

As it leaves the refinery, bagasse is too wet to use as a fuel, so it’s stored prior to further processing for electricity production. Stored under moist conditions, the mild exothermic reaction that results from the degradation of residual sugars helps to dry the stored bagasse.

Bagasse can be used as a primary fuel source for sugar mills; when burned in quantity, it produces sufficient heat energy to supply all the needs of a typical sugar mill, with energy left over.

bagasse power plant

Florida Crystals Corporation’s bagasse fuelled thermal power plant.


But it’s the use of bagasse for power generation that could really fire up Queensland. Bagasse can be used to fire a boiler and the steam used to spin a turbine and power generator, as with any thermal power plant (ie coal or gas). The resulting CO2 emissions are equal to the amount of CO2 that the sugarcane plant absorbed from the atmosphere during its growing phase, which makes the process of cogeneration greenhouse gas-neutral.

In many countries (such as Australia), sugar factories significantly contribute “green” power to the electricity supply; including a 38 MW bagasse fired plant at Mackay in Far North Queensland. Florida Crystals Corporation, is one of America’s largest sugar companies, and it owns and operates the largest biomass power plant in North America: a 140 MW facility that uses bagasse and urban wood waste as fuel.

Bagasse can also be used as a feedstock to produce ethanol. Ethanol is produced by fermenting (treated) starches and leftover sugars in the bagasse.

Using bagasse in that way removes the starch and any remaining sugar in the bagasse which can then be fed to fire the boiler of a thermal generator in the way described above, without fouling up the furnace.


Petrobras’ ethanol power plant, Brazil


The ethanol produced can then be used to generate power using Open Cycle Gas Turbines (see this article) – or even better still – using efficient Combined Cycle Gas Turbines to produce electricity (see this article).

Because the electricity produced using bagasse (and/or the ethanol extracted from it) qualifies as “renewable” energy, the generator is entitled to receive RECs – and retailers purchasing it would satisfy the mandatory target, thus avoiding the $65 per MWh shortfall charge. The big plus, of course, is that – unlike wind power – the power generated can be delivered on demand: bagasse or ethanol generators can provide base-load power for as long as the sun keeps shining and sugarcane keeps growing.


Hakuna matata – the circle of life: just about as green as it gets.


So, with Clive Palmer indicating his desire to keep the mandatory RET and the CEFC – and the Coalition’s ability to prevent the CEFC from lending anymore money to wind power outfits (see our post here) – is Queensland on the way to a sugar fuelled renewable energy economy? With big dams back on the agenda, is Australia about to see hydropower take centre stage, once again (see our posts here and here)?

The wind industry and its parasites have been crowing about big Clive’s move to protect the mandatory RET and the CEFC. But maybe Clive has outfoxed them on that score, too?

gore and palmer

Clive’s outfoxed the Greens and their acolytes once …

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.


  1. All good as long as the schemes can survive on their own merits without subsidy. Unlike windmills, bagasse and hydro plants certainly can usefully contribute to the power network. But if that requires subsidy, by RECs for example, then inevitably the cost of power to users will be higher than it need be with a truly level playing field where there is no RET or carbon dioxide tax.

  2. NevilleW says:

    Hooray! somebody finally has seen a use for the yearly monsoon rains. Milne as been crowing about “renewables” for years with the only real renewable is Hydro power, but it requires dams, get started ASAP.

  3. Vic Wright says:

    Being from NQ, I truly hope this article is on the money. Hydro, dams etc when combined with solar, may be the future. Although I do note that the CEC does not include NQ’s biggest RE producers, our sugar mills. Why?????

  4. Jim Hutson says:

    “DAM” our Government spending money to actually make money? Hope I live to see the day.

  5. evcricket says:

    This isn’t a bad idea really, but realising any RECs from this sugar cane development is at least ten years away. First you’ve got to convince the public to accept a dam, then build it, then establish sugar cane fields then build a powerstation to burn their waste.

    Can’t see it myself, but it’s technically feasible.

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