Solar Revolution in the Nationals’ Heartland

New solar array on the Albion Hotel Swifts Creek

As far as I am aware the first solar panel operating in the old Omeo shire was in 1976. It was a tiny strip (10 X 45cm) powering a six volt battery for the radio on the Mt Nugong fire tower.  Ten years later my original installation of two 30 watt panels was one of the first done privately. These panels were prohibitively expensive at the time at about $12 per watt. But after 30 years they are still producing.

This was closely followed by installations on remote locations such as TV relay stations by solar advocate Richard Darby. Although these relays are no longer used, like mine the original solar panels are still active. Richard still installs panels on boreholes as ground water pumps, around a gold mine he has an interest in and has 5kw on his house.

From 2002 Tom Jack (“Solar Tom”) of Tambo Valley Electrics installed stand-alone power systems and solar arrays on isolated houses. The introduction of generous solar feed-in-tariffs (FIT) of 60c per kwh by the Victorian government in 2009 saw the first rapid expansion of rooftop solar. Tom and his family at Cassilis were among those who took early advantage of this installing 2 kws of panels on his large work shed. At the premium FIT this installation created income for the household and though the property is sold, will do so for another seven years.

The first business to install a large rooftop solar array was the Swifts Creek General Store in 2014 of 30kw – six times as large as the then permitted residential array or about 10 times the size of the average. Although expensive to install the array runs the store when the sun is out – equivalent to providing $600 of electricity per week. The value of this is many times better than bank interest. When they have too much power the excess is used to heat hot water for the store and an adjoining residence. The store has recently been followed by other commercial interests in town – the Swifts Creek Bakery and the Albion Hotel.

Swifts Creek baker Artie de Vries said their 10kw installation has cut their power bills by about half and he thought that the payback period was ‘about five years’. Being on the south side of McMillan Street the Albion Hotel’s array of 20kw is the most visible. That businesses are now installing much larger arrays than your average residential installation is the real revolution in the power industry. The daytime operation of many commercial and offices is almost perfect for solar energy matching energy supply and demand.

In the meantime the Nationals at both State and Federal levels are doing their best to oppose and delay this revolution. Even their rusted on supporters must eventually see the contradiction this involves as electricity prices creep even higher and the energy security they promise fails to materialise. The solar revolution is going to happen anyway and the sooner it does the better for us all.

US Speakers Tour the Valley by Gippslander

On Wednesday 26th and Thursday the 27th of April, the Australian Environmental Grant Makers Network (AEGN) supported a tour of the Latrobe Valley, bringing their philanthropic supporters, and two community organisers from the US to share their learnings of a coal dependent economy transitioning to something new. The intent was to learn how regions that rely principally on coal extraction can reshape their future and grow a flexible modern economy. Justin Maxson, Executive Director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and Lisa Abbott, coordinator of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth travelled and connected with the communities of the Latrobe Valley in Victoria and the Hunter region in NSW.  Justin and Lisa live in the state of Kentucky, in the Appalachian region.  This was once the largest coal-producing region in the US, and coal extraction through strip mining and mountaintop removal has left a terrible environmental footprint. Once a large employer, the coal industry in now in decline.

In a number of public events and stakeholder meetings, Justin and Lisa shared their experience, and listened to Latrobe Valley stories, success and plans for what is next.  In a sessions facilitated by the Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN), Justin, Lisa and AEGN were provided with a high level proposal overviews of grass roots initiatives looking at transition for the region.  These included: Hot Water and Battery Factory from Earthworker Co-Operative; Energy Efficient Homes from Latrobe Valley Sustainability Network; Floating solar concept from GCCN;  Biohubs feasibility project from GCCN; Transition plan from Voices of the Valley; Mirboo North Community Energy Hub; and Zero Net carbon Communities from Baw Baw Sustainability Group

On the Wednesday night, over 150 people attended a presentation by Justin and Lisa.  This was co-hosted by a Mirboo North Community Foundation and the Morwell Neighbourhood House.  The crowd was a very diverse group, not the usual make up you might think would attend a discussion about a community moving away from Coal. Observed were council  CEO’s, councillors, industry and business leaders, state government leaders, young, old, innovators amongst the midst of community grassroots leaders in the Valley. Many commented after on the fantastic mix of the crowd, and the number of new faces. Justin and Lisa began to by setting the scene of what they experience is of their community in transition.  See this powerful intro here.

As an observer, I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with the respect and dignity Justin and Lisa brought to the conversation, one which remains raw and emotional in Latrobe Valley. The similarities and relevance of the two scenario’s (Appalachia and the Latrobe Valley) had lots of heads nodding. It was reassuring and sobering that their community, possible 5-10 years ahead of the Latrobe Valley, doesn’t have all the answers, but is happy to share the learnings. It is also reassuring that a number of positive initiatives are similar.

“If we can grow an economy that works better for people in the region, if we can grow a politics that is more participatory and gives folks a voice in a place that has been dependent on the coal industry, where our politics and our economy have been shaped by the same extraction that is threatening the planet, it is an example that will resonate across the country and potentially the globe”. Justin Maxon

If you want to learn a little more on what is happening in the Appalachian transition, which refers to the some of the initiatives that Justin and Lisa’s organisations support see this video and an article by the New York Times. Also of interest here.

Fact, Opinion and Climate Change

We can all agree that there are basic physical facts around us from the shape of the earth and gravity, through to the function of the organs of our bodies.  This knowledge is the product of centuries of thought and the study of thousands of individuals. Sometimes public opinion lags a long way behind accepting certain knowledge. Despite centuries of theorising by philosophers and astronomers the shape of the planet was not definitely proven until sailors circumnavigated the earth. History is riddled with similar examples both small and large. The health and wealth of our society is based on this knowledge built up over time, from the TV you watch to the mobile phone in my hand.

Herein lies the problem with climate change science. Climate is about weather over long periods of time and over large areas. We all have an opinion on the weather and our bias is conditioned by the weather we have experienced in our lives. It is anecdotal evidence and in many cases wrong. Climate science is one of the most complex areas of study we can conceive of and yet we all have an opinion on this.

We can simplify the basic physics. In 1827 Joseph Fourier calculated that the earth should be 30 degrees colder than it actually was and hypothesised that there was something in the atmosphere that kept the planet warm. He had discovered the greenhouse effect. The hypothesis is thus – if we increase greenhouse gases the earth’s temperature will rise and vice versa. Since the start of the industrial revolution we have increased the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by more than a third. The earth’s temperature has risen and been measured at more than one degree. There can be no doubt about this.

In the meantime powerful wealthy vested interests including a large part of the media, (who, like the general populous are scientifically illiterate) play on our personal preferences, fears and opinions with their propaganda. These vested interests are obvious in Australia – owners and producers of fossil fuels and the Murdoch media. They cast doubt, dispute the science and dispute the evidence.

How then do you counter this? In any newspaper article or TV show, any pronouncement by a politician, that does not accept the basic physics should at least be ignored or make you angry. This response should be applied to personal action – how and where you get information from, who and what to trust. It should also be applied in politics, personally in discussion with friends and family and on a wider scale to how and who you vote for at all levels of government. The worst case scenarios of climate science are truly horrendous and in the end threaten life on earth as we know it. Whatever one’s personal beliefs and politics, science eventually triumphs.


Important Coal and Climate Meeting at Mirboo North by Marg Thomas

Coal and CSG Free Mirboo North would like to invite you to a screening of Guarding the Galilee: a new 30 minute documentary film that takes us inside the fight to stop Adani coal. Hosted by award winning actor, Michael Caton, the film features farmers, dive instructors and boat operators, all concerned about the impacts that Adani’s Carmicheal coal mine would have on our water resources, climate and the reef.

Guatam Adani is an Indian billionaire who wants to build the biggest coal mine in Australia’s history in Central Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The Federal Government wants to give almost $1 billion of public money to build a rail line from the mine to Abbot Point where the coal would be shipped to India. If this mine goes ahead it would open up a coal resource that, if burned, would double Australia’s carbon emissions. Guarding the Galilee explores the impacts of this project and actions we can take to stop it.

Guest speakers will make presentations after the film followed by a discussion over a cuppa. Speakers are: Aileen Vening, Stephanie McKelvie and Leigh Ewbank.  Aileen will explain the processes that are driving climate change at a global scale, and discuss how some of these processes have contributed to severe weather events across Australia, and to ongoing changes along our coastline.

Stephanie will be speaking about the effects of climate change on respiratory, cardiovascular, and infectious diseases. She will also address the impact of the changing climate on the social determinants of health and the ways in which an unstable environment threatens wellbeing.

Leigh Ewebank is a Yes2Renewables campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia. Leigh has spent many years as a passionate advocate of renewable energy and has been influential in shaping climate and energy policy. He is currently coordinator for Act on Climate.

We hope you can come along to this important screening and discussion. Please invite your family and friends. The screening is on Sunday 4th of June at 2.30pm at the Baromi Centre, 38 Couper St, Mirboo North. For further information contact or Suzanne 0427 641 277


Baw Baw Sustainability Network Electric Vehicle Night

Republished with permission from the BBSN blog

Over 50 people enjoyed a detailed briefing on the present and future of electric vehicles in Warragul recently. Baw Baw Sustainability Network presented the evening at Warragul RSL and featured vehicles ranging from electric bicycles and motorcycles to the high end BMW and Tesla cars, with presentations from the Alternative Technology Association (ATA) and Gippsland Solar.

Electric vehicles presented a number of advantages with lower fuel costs, much lower maintenance, lower emissions of all sorts and smooth and quiet handling. In many cases electric vehicles now outperformed combustion powered vehicles. Battery life, cost and charging at home and on road had improved markedly in recent times, but different systems used in different vehicles remains a limitation for public charging stations.

Range had been improved with Tesla S achieving 370 – 500 Ks on one charge, depending on driving conditions and style. Paul Paton from the ATA explained that he had ridden to the talk on his Vectrix motorcycle from Ringwood to Warragul and it would cost him about 90 cents. He added that the full range of vehicle types were now being produced in electric version, even trucks, which often use hydrogen fuel cells.

“With no gears, clutch, exhaust, or radiator and a brushless motor there is almost nothing to wear out, except maybe some bearings. Range is over 250 kilometres and torque is nearly double the equivalent combustion engine. Unlike combustion engine vehicles, electric vehicles have better range in city driving because almost no fuel is used when stationary” said Mr Paton.

Shane Clayton from Gippsland Solar outlined the details of their Tesla S which runs electric motors on front and rear axles giving four wheel drive without drive train limitations, resulting in a very sporty performance. “It included hands free driving, which I must confess I find still a bit disturbing” he said.

“It is our standard business car, and is used continually with no problems. We decided to install a Tesla charging station at our Traralgon site, which can charge from empty to full in less than 45 minutes, while guests have a free coffee! The cost of the power was so low, especially as they have substantial solar panels on their site, that they have offered the service for free. Home charging on off peak rates would cost $15. Our future garages will include solar arrays, inverter, batteries and car charging facilities as standard Mr Clayton explained.

Tony Seba and the Good News

Tony Seba is the author of Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation and a lecturer in Entrepreneurship at Stanford University. Seba usually opens his lectures with an early example of clean disruption. He compares two photos of the same New York Street 13 years apart. In 1900 the street is crammed with horse-drawn vehicles with one lonely car in it. “Spot the car” he says. By 1913 the same street is now crammed with motor cars with one lonely horse drawn vehicle.

All the industries built up around the horse-drawn transport – stables, stockfeed, carpenters, blacksmiths, leatherworkers, wheel-rights had their businesses disrupted and were replaced by those building, selling, servicing and fuelling cars. Other more recent examples of ‘clean disruption’ Seba cites include digital images replacing film (bye bye Kodak) and mobile phones replacing landlines. By definition the disrupting product creates a new market which either transforms, or makes obsolete, the old one.

The essential factors causing these disruptions are the continually declining prices per unit of the product at the same time as the increasing efficiencies or productivity of that unit. A combination of these and other factors have seen exponential growth in a number of areas which Seba predicts will continue and are unstoppable. In particular he examines in detail three related areas that are at the heart of the ‘revolution’ we need to have any chance of combatting global warming.

The areas of interest to us are solar energy, batteries and electric vehicles – all either making huge savings in energy use or obtaining their energy directly from the sun thus making fossil fuels obsolete.  Seba makes some dramatic predictions including that solar will provide 100% of renewable energy by 2030 regardless of last ditched attempts by vested interests to stall or stop the process. Another that all new cars manufactured after 2025 will be Electric Vehicles

Energy and Transportation are at the heart of our climate crisis – burning the fossil fuels that are the major source of greenhouse gases. We must wean ourselves off both oil and coal as quickly as possible. If we can do this we may have a good chance of avoiding the dire consequences of warming. There are a large number of videos of Seba lectures and interviews online. You can view one here. 

Recent Baw Baw Sustainability Network Programs by Mal McKelvie

Last week the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network visited Gippsland to see what was happening on the ground as we all transition away from coal. They saw and heard quite a number of positive stories of actions happening now and some that are planned. I was able to present a short brief on behalf of Baw Baw Sustainability Network along these lines:

We’re a community group formed in 2007 working to address climate change through two main areas, being energy efficiency and local food and gardening. We have experience in home energy assessments using the latest technology in thermal imaging and air infiltration testing.

We’re also partnering with BZE on a zero emissions project for the shire of Baw Baw. We will reach 100% renewables for our stationary energy needs by 2027. We have baseline data, have conducted the first workshop and are now preparing a transition plan.

Putting it all together…….we are planning  a detailed technical and feasibility study into a large renewable energy project in the local area which would be open for community investors as well as providing a regular income stream for a social inclusion fund which will drive an energy retrofit program in the homes of disadvantaged people in our area. Capturing negawatts is the low hanging fruit in the transition to a zero emissions future but the need for up front capital expenditure is a very significant barrier for people to overcome and for low income households it is just a pipe dream. The fund will provide zero interest loans which can be paid back through the savings on energy bills.

The benefits of our project include better health through better housing, local employment in goods and services in the fledgling home retrofit and renewables industry, long term savings on energy bills, mitigation of climate change risk and all the benefits that flow from the reduction in air pollution of particulates and heavy metals from our current power generation.

This is a win win proposal ripe for an injection of funds to supplement the countless volunteer hours being spent. There is certainly a lot happening in Gippsland, as there needs to be, to ensure our community prospers through these turbulent times.



Energy Efficient Housing in the Latrobe Valley by Lorraine Bull

Lorraine on left (photo Hayley Mills Latrobe Valley Express)

A presentation to Gippsland Climate Change Network on 26 April

The small Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group promotes action on climate change; not easy in a coal focused climate-sceptic community, but we have the support of organisations such as Gippsland Climate Change Network, Environment Victoria, Beyond Zero Emissions, and Sustainability Victoria. So to achieve a local impact we take practical action with informative letters to the editor and politicians, participation in CSG and Adani mine opposition, protection of threatened species, submissions to inquiries and development discussion papers.

One such paper was on the development of a prefabricated energy efficient housing industry in Latrobe Valley as it was obvious that the transition away from coal was already underway. The paper aimed to expand opportunities for local skills and address issues of poor quality housing, particularly social housing, and its associated health issues.  It concentrated on reduction of energy consumption, better use of resources, reduction of greenhouse gases and adaptation to climate change.  To this end we are joining with Baw Baw Sustainability Network in applying to the Latrobe Valley Authority’s project to improve the energy efficiency of 1000 low income homes across the Latrobe, Wellington and Baw Baw council areas.

My other big involvement is with LV University of the Third Age, which is based in a small house in Morwell.  It provides over 35 wide ranging courses to keep older people mentally stimulated and socially connected. During 2016 the 240 members attended over 5000 classes.  Needless to say, we have outgrown our current rented premises.  Being community minded, we have extended an invitation to anyone who feels affected by the Hazelwood closure to become a member, which could put further pressure on accommodation.

It was here that my two worlds overlapped with the bright idea of an 8 star energy efficient purpose built community hub, principally for u3a, but to be shared with the other 85 groups who call Morwell home. The building would demonstrate environmental sustainability principles, would be properly orientated, insulated, double glazed, fitted with solar PV, LED lighting, energy monitoring and water catchment.  Perhaps even a vegetable garden.  Where possible, local labour, resources and materials will be used.

The project is to be submitted to the Latrobe Valley Authority Community Grants program.  Partnership with other groups and Latrobe City Council is now being sought to assist with the application process, fund raising and in-kind contributions.  In an area dominated by older houses, particularly Housing Commission, I see this type of project being able to provide a practical demonstration of what is possible for future housing and commercial premises whilst at the same time achieving zero emissions in affordable comfort.

The Energy Innovation Co-Op and a Sustainability Victoria Survey by Luke Wilkinson

(2 brief articles from Sustainability News, South Gippsland published with permission of author)

The Southern CORE (Community Owned Renewable Energy) Fund  is an initiative of the Energy Innovation Cooperative Ltd (EICo-op).   The EICo-op is a non-profit, volunteer organisation working with partners through the ComMET (Communities Making Energy Together) Roundtable to assist communities with researching and deciding on fit-for-purpose energy systems, making this challenging job easier.

It is aiming to raise funds to build the Southern CORE Fund, which is a perpetual revolving fund.  Community groups can then apply to the fund for part donation and part no interest loans to fund solar panels, solar hot-water or energy efficiency projects. Loans are paid back to the Fund from the energy savings to support the next project, meaning every dollar donated is invested over and over again, it’s brilliant! The more money raised, the more community support provided.

What Victorians really think about climate change.

A recent survey of Victorians has found 91 per cent believe humans contribute to climate change and one third of respondents rank it as one of the top three most important issues facing the state. The independent research involved interviews with more than 3,300 people surveyed across all of Victoria, giving it a high statistical reliability (With 95% level of confidence, the margin of error is +- 2.5%).

Amongst the findings were:

·        Four in five Victorians are willing to take action on climate change and understand that a proactive approach will reduce energy bills.

·        Only seven per cent of respondents said there was no such thing as climate change or that natural processes caused it.

·        Approximately 50–60 per cent of all Victorians believe there has been an increase in the occurrence of environmental events in this state over the past ten years

·        Four out of five Victorians (78%) support the government’s zero emissions target. Support increases to nine in ten among those aged 40 or under.

Slogans and the Melbourne March for Science

Prefer ‘Not Much’ to ‘No’

I finished my last blog on the Melbourne March for Science (below) quoting the placard “The good thing about science is that it is true – whether you believe it or not”. Feedback on this was immediate. A friend emailed objecting to the “science is true” part.  Tongue in cheek, he came up with a slightly longer slogan “When hypotheses are supported by multiple independent scientific research perspectives they need to be influential in decision making, whether you believe the hypotheses or not.” Not the three words that would appeal to a recent ex-PM!

He then went on to give examples of the slogans he liked including “Don’t like science? Give us back your phone, microwave and freezer, you philistine” and noted that a “Philistine [is] a person who is lacking in, or hostile, or smugly indifferent to, cultural values, intellectual pursuits, aesthetic …” Others he liked included a variation on the old demonstration chant “What do we want? Evidence based policies. When do we want it? After peer review” and “Without science, we’re running blind.”

Then there were some medical science messages: “Got polio? Me neither! Thanks science!” and something like “If you’ve lived past 47, its science you should be thanking.” The latter reminded me of the deaths of two of my great great grandmothers who died of typhoid fever in the same year on the Daylesford gold diggings – a water borne disease prevented by sewerage and sanitary disposal systems.

It is interesting that though the science on water borne diseases (in this case Cholera) was discovered in 1849 by Dr John Snow due to concerted opposition to his idea the remedy took a long time to be adopted – London was not systematically sewered until about the 1880s#. There appear to be interesting parallels with this and the opposition to climate science today which I may examine at a later date. Climate change in all its complexities is certainly a matter of public health.

Finally my friend selected “There is no planet B” – a quite rational assumption and one that is in fairly common usage with regards both climate change and other environmental matters. It has been used as a theme in the Bairnsdale U3A Environmental Sustainability classes run by Alistair Mailer for some time. But this is all from a human perspective. Without any action on global warming the planet will survive but humanity and many other related species and life forms may not.

# there were other problems with London’s chaotic sanitary disposal systems including the smell and at times escaping methane catching fire. The shit of London then eventually ended up in the river Thames.