By Jared Owens
August 17, 2014
The communications director of the Climate Institute — one of the fiercest critics of the government’s Direct Action policy — is among the biggest winners from yesterday’s Emissions Reduction Fund auction.
Kristina Stefanova is part-owner of Terra Carbon, which secured a 43 per cent share of the fund by promising to help NSW farmers profit by preserving about 400,000 hectares of farmland.
Terra Carbon is headed by environmentalists Lewis Tyndall and James Schulz, the husband of Ms Stefanaova. Ms Stefanova, who holds a 25 per cent stake in Terra Carbon, has publicly criticised the government’s climate action policies. And in April, Climate Institute chief executive John Connor described the ERF as “a friendless piece of policy and not many people are standing up to defend it”.
Yesterday he said: “It is good that projects under the Carbon Farming Initiative have come to fruition, but this kind of policy alone is not going to drive the modernisation that is required for Australia’s clunker economy, especially in the electricity sector.”
Mr Connor said he understood Ms Stefanova was not involved in the management of Terra Carbon.
Ms Stefanova directed questions about the company to Mr Schulz, saying of her shareholding: “We all have to be married to someone.”
It is not known how much Terra Carbon will receive for its pledge to reduce emissions but at the average price of $13.95 a tonne it is worth $289m, the vast majority of which will be passed on to landholders. Terra Carbon — a division of GreenCollar Group, which launched almost four years ago with a handful of investors — blitzed the $660 million auction, winning 41 of the 107 contracts awarded for projects, mostly clustered around Cobar and Bourke in northwestern NSW. Over 10 years, the Australian-owned company aims to deliver additional income for farmers while providing professional services to help the landowners sequester carbon by fostering native plants, rather than clearing the land for pasture.
Mr Schulz said many of the landowners who volunteered for the scheme had struggled amid years of drought and falling prices for agricultural products at the farm gate. “There is an environmental benefit, an economic benefit and a social benefit,” he said.
“Our whole passion is environmental markets. We want to demonstrate that environmental markets are a viable alternative to business as usual.”
Terra Carbon will test the farms’ progress in sequestering carbon and its “conservative” estimates will be independently audited. The company expects to average 2.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide abatement each year over the next 10 years — equivalent to more than half of the emissions of a coal-fired power plant.
Ms Stefanova is the sole shareholder of Bundaleer Nominees, which acquired a 24.99 per cent stake in Terra Carbon last month for $46,683, according to ASIC records. Ms Stefanova and Mr Schulz are joint directors of Bundaleer Nominees.
ASIC records indicate that Murray Bleach of Killara, in Sydney’s north, holds another one quarter of Terra Carbon’s ordinary shares, although they are not beneficially held or fully paid.
Another quarter of the shares is owned by Bongalong Holdings, a company jointly owned by Peter William Pryde Salisbury and Theresa Anne Crozier. A further 24.99 per cent is owned by Mr Tyndall and Shirley Tyndall. The remaining shares are owned by Climate Fund.