By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO (Reuters) - Norway will double production of bioenergy by 2020 by tapping its vast pine forests and seek to become an exporter of renewable energies to diversify from oil and gas, the government said on Tuesday.
"This is alchemy at its best," Oil and Energy Minister Aaslaug Haga said of the plan to turn forests into what she called "green gold." The scheme would also help Norway reach targets for axing greenhouse gas emissions.
Norway, the world's number five oil exporter, would double output of bioenergy from wood, other plant material and farm waste to total about 28 terawatt hours (TWh) a year.
The rise of 14 TWh is the equivalent of Oslo's total energy use or about a tenth of Norway's annual electricity production.
"We want to be a considerable exporter of renewable energy," Haga told a news conference of the plan by the Labour-led government.
Doubling bioenergy, along with a push for extra energy from small hydropower plants and wind farms, would help make Norway an exporter of renewables. "We now have a situation where we import electricity in a normal year," she said.
The increase for bioenergy production would be largely through a better exploitation of forests that cover 38 percent of the Nordic nation, rather than new plantings.
Norway would not let the bioenergy goals compete with farmland -- a worry in some countries where energy production is taking land from crops. Just three percent of the chill, mountainous Nordic nation is suitable for food crops.
"Forests have by far the biggest potential without swapping out farm production," Agriculture Minister Terje Riis-Johansen said.
Haga said households and businesses should be encouraged to burn more wood for heating, for instance, and shift from oil burners or electricity, which is almost all generated from hydropower in Norway.
The government would raise subsidies for bioenergy, step up research and impose other measures such as a ban on the installation of oil-fired heaters in new buildings from 2009.
Riis-Johansen said the plans could create hundreds of jobs and that a switch from the use of oil for 10 TWh of energy could save three million tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year. Norway's emissions are now about 50 million tonnes a year.
Norway is far above a goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions under the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol by 2008-12. And it plans to cut its net carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2030 in what it says is one of the world's toughest climate targets.
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(Editing by James Jukwey)