Some Gippsland Good News

Despite the tardiness shown by the National Party and our elected members to renewable energy the good news is the region of Gippsland is progressing rapidly with the adoption of solar energy. By exactly how much we are progressing is not known and may not be for some time. There are at least 2 solar farms on the drawing board at Wonthaggi and Maffra, with the former scheduled to come on line next year. As well there are solar bulk buy schemes operating across Gippsland shires the organisation and application of which will extend well into next year.

But it is the behind the meter installations which are making the biggest difference at the moment. The East Gippsland shire has been progressively installing solar panels on their libraries and other buildings. It is unfortunate that due to a Heritage ruling the main library in Bairnsdale is not part of that plan. Hopefully this will be resolved in the near future.

Publicity in the social media by leading Gippsland panel installers Gippsland Solar indicates that the behind the metre installation of solar PV is booming. They have just announced that 1.3 megawatts will be installed on 8 Hospitals and health centres across Gippsland. As well they recently installed 100 kilowatts on Dwyers Toyota in west Bairnsdale. It is behind the meter installations of this sort that are the big unknown and there can be little doubt that as business energy bills climb solar will become increasingly attractive. Solar production is a good match with daytime business.

Unfortunately wind has lagged well behind solar. The Star of the South offshore wind project is currently waiting for various approvals but on its own could offset the loss of one of the valley generators. The project plans at least in part to make use of the valley infrastructure. It seems that the wind projects in parts of western Victoria are being constrained by the carrying capacity of the mains power lines. Those in the valley are underutilised and this remains one of its advantages yet to be exploited. Why for instance couldn’t the Hazlewood Pondage be turned into a floating solar farm along the lines advocated by engineer Chris Barfoot?

The solar revolution is happening now, and will happen quickly, regardless of opposition from certain political quarters. It would even occur more quickly and seamlessly if they were sympathetic or supportive.

Gippsland’s Shifting Climate Belts

The effect of the earth’s climate belts migrating pole-wards as a result of climate change was outlined recently in a publication of this on Australian wheat production. More specifically it has been mentioned by Barrie Pittock in his blog on the Gippsland coast and the entrance to the lakes. The general thesis is that as the earth warms the tropical and subtropical belts expand pushing the temperate zones and in particular the westerly winds further south. We note however there are a number of complicating factors such as El Nino or La Nina events, or our mountain range, that may alter or disturb this.

Barrie Pittock noted “In short it is that the mid-latitude westerlies are moving further South with global warming, and thus the prevailing westerly winds across Bass Strait are weakening and there are more frequent easterly winds there, and waves from the east also.” In terms of rainfall it is the westerly and south westerly winds that provide the regular rainfall in the region although some parts of the district are in rain-shadow. So that we would expect, and probably are already experiencing, longer and more frequent dry spells with this aspect of climate change. This will affect the whole of southern Australia including the west.

Barrie also noted that an increase in the easterly winds and it is from the winds in this quarter, usually as part of a blocking low pressure system, that Gippsland receives it heaviest rainfall and is often the cause of flooding. To this can be added the fact that our ocean is warming, and quite probably being increasingly influenced by the East Australian Current. As well with each degree of warming, roughly what Gippsland has experienced in the last 50 years, a further 7% of moisture can be held in the atmosphere, leading to heavy rainfall.

Thus we are left with the apparent paradox that with our westerlies drifting to the south we will experience more, and more severe, droughts and at the same time experience more frequent and heavier floods. Anecdotally a combination of the two, as occurred in the upper Tambo River in 1998 where floods followed a short sharp drought, can be most devastating. A reverse of this with the heavy rain followed by the long dry will make the district most prone to bushfires.

A Review of Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behaviour”

Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour* (faber and faber, 2012) is another Cli-Fi novel I have recently read. Set in the southern Appalachians the central character Dellarobia is an uneducated, restless, churchgoing, small farmer’s wife. She discovers an abnormal winter roosting of Monarch Butterflies on the family’s forested land which quickly becomes a community and media sensation.

All the while the weather is acting strangely with continuous unseasonal rains and warmth.  Eventually Dr. Ovid Byron, the Monarch Butterfly scientist comes to the farm and sets up a laboratory to study them. Even so climate change is not mentioned until about halfway through the novel when Ovid states: “We are seeing a bizarre alteration of a previously stable pattern,” he said finally. “A continental system breaking down. Most likely, this is due to climate change.” (p.228)

Much of what follows has Dellarobia on a steep learning curve on science and climate change. Worried about the survival of the butterfly she is told: “That is a concern of conscience,” he said. “Not of biology. Science doesn’t tell us what we should do. It only tells us what is.”’ (p.320) and “There are always more questions. Science as a process is never complete. It is not a foot race, with a finish line. He warned her about this, as a standard point of contention. People will always be waiting at a particular finish line: journalists with their cameras, impatient crowds eager to call the race, astounded to see the scientists approach, pass the mark, and keep running. It’s a common misunderstanding.” (p.351)

Even Black Saturday gets a mention when Ovid is describing some of the devastating effects of climate change: “Walls of flame, Dellarobia. Travelling the land like freight trains, fed by dead trees and desiccated soil. In Victoria hundreds of people burned to death in one month, so many their prime minister called it hell on earth. This has not happened before. There is no evacuation plan.” (p.278)

Throughout the book the author highlights two of the major problems associated with climate change – persuading, educating a skeptical, uninformed or misinformed citizenry and misreporting by the media.  The TV journo asked: “Dr. Byron, let’s talk about global warming. Scientists of course are in disagreement whether this is happening, and whether humans have a role.” Ovid’s eyebrows lifted in a familiar way, almost amused. “I’m afraid you have missed the boat, Tina. Even the most recalcitrant climate scientists agree now, the place is heating up. Pretty much every one of the lot. Unless some other outcome is written on the subject line of his paycheck.” (p.366)

Like science the novel is open ended, with Dellarobia struggling through flooding paddocks of her farm watching the bright coloured reflections of the butterflies in the water – “a merging world of flame and flood.”

*Copy available in the East Gippsland Shire Library


The Silence of our Pollies

Tyrannosaurus Bullii

Letter published in Gippsland Times 31/7

I write to express my dismay and disapproval of the current performance of both our State and Federal members of parliament on clean energy and climate change. I recently wrote to both offering to discuss the complex issues involved in an open and ‘amicable’ manner. Neither have bothered to reply.

The National Party have been championing coal for some time and have been calling for new, clean coal fired power stations to be built with public money. There is no such thing as clean coal and these power stations are dependent on carbon, capture and storage (CCS) another unproven and uneconomic technology. If in the most unlikely event that any one of these stations is built it will be a ‘stranded asset’ and an enormous drain on our country’s finances. Similarly the Nationals support for the coal to hydrogen project is also dependent on CCS.

They remain silent on the potential destruction of farmland by Coal Seam Gas. Has Mr Bull expressed an opinion on an issue many his landholding constituents consider vital? We are also bombarded with scare tactics on energy pricing and clean energy. One example of this I recall was Mr Chester claiming we would be $500 better off when the carbon tax was abolished. Perhaps we should be comparing our power bills then and now?

Both Mr Bull and Mr Chester also remain silent on the alternatives to coal –solar, wind, batteries, high voltage direct current connecting cables and an electrified transport system, even pumped hydro – which could have substantial benefits for our communities. Mr Chester did make a speech at the opening of the Gippsland Solar electric vehicle charging station in Traralgon in 2016 and go for a ride in a Tesla but as far as I am aware he has done nothing else on this and similar matters. The fact remains that many rural communities are benefiting from the growth of clean energy and many farms are being drought-proofed. Gippsland, with a few exceptions, is missing out.

Whilst Mr Chester is silent on climate change his position on coal shows clearly he either denies or disregards it. Perhaps he is a closet member of the Monash Forum? Mr Bull appears to grudgingly accept that it is happening but like many Gippslanders suggests that it is natural. This again is demonstrably incorrect and disempowers people as they believe they can do nothing about it. Close to all qualified climate scientists (97.5%) accept that climate change is man-made and happening now. This means that extreme weather events like floods, droughts, heatwaves, and bushfires are already being made more frequent and more severe in a warming Gippsland.

By championing coal our representatives are denying the laws of physics – they may as well claim the earth is flat, or there is no such thing as gravity. One assumes that they use computers, mobile phones and many of the other benefits modern science and medicine have endowed us with. Choosing which science you like and ignoring that you don’t like is not an option.

Mr Bull and Mr Chester may see fit to ignore both possible damage caused by climate change and the benefits that clean, decentralised energy can bring to their communities. But surely they will not ignore the harm that will eventually extend to their own families if nothing is done. In the long run science and physics will always defeat politics and the current position of our local members is absurd.

Coal-fired hydrogen plan ‘takes prize for stupidity’ by Karri Giles

Part of the 400-strong crowd that protested last month against plans to export liquid hydrogen from the Port of Hastings

(first published in the Bass Coast Post 20.7)

THE Westernport Peninsula Protection Council’s award for the stupidest idea of 2018 goes to Daniel Andrew and Malcolm Turnbull for their plan to turn brown coal into hydrogen and export it out of Hastings (for an earlier blog on this see here ed.). Kawasaki, J Power and Iwatani propose to export hydrogen gas from Hastings made from Loy Yang’s brown coal. This involves partially burning brown coal at Loy Yang.

It takes 160 tonnes of brown coal to make one tonne of hydrogen, using water to scrub the carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphides, and methane out of the emissions, and pumping it underground after finding a location and method of sequestrating first. It involves getting the hydrogen gas to Hastings then converting it to liquid in a new plant by freezing to below minus 250 degrees, building a new port to export it, including massive dredging of millions of cubic metres of bay bed, shipping the liquid hydrogen to Japan and converting it back to gas.

Four industrial processes and three journeys … The first criterion for the award for stupidity is that a fool doesn’t learn from their own mistakes. Exporting woodchips to Japan has to be the most regrettable thing our State Government has done, let alone allowing our timber industry to be woodchip driven. Ballast water from Japanese ships have brought the Northern Pacific Seastar, which has infested the woodchip ports of Derwent estuary and Phillip Bay, devastating the fish stocks. We don’t have the seastars here in Western Port and we don’t want them.

The next criterion of the stupidity award was pretending brown coal use is green. We, the citizens of Victoria, thought we were stepping away from using brown coal because of climate change. Make no mistake: burning brown coal for energy at Loy Yang would be far less damaging than this stupid plan. The third criterion for the stupidity award is not reading your own reports.

Infrastructure Victoria ruled out Western Port as an option for a container port because it would take 23 million cubic metres of dredging. As the area of Western Port is 680 square kilometres, this is equivalent to digging up the entire bay to a depth of 3.4 metres – above ceiling height. Of course it is deeper depths in a smaller area but it is far too much material to pass environmental laws. Seagrass could not grow to the new depths required, leading to ongoing erosion (in our fast tides), turbidity and death.

That amount of dredging would result in coastal inundation. Nine groups endorsed Bass Coast Shire Council’s principle: No capital dredging in Western Port Bay. Western Port cannot host a new port for commercial-scale ships, it is too shallow. The hydrogen gas ships for the long-term proposal are of deep draught.

The last criterion for the award is the amount of money being wasted. The Kawasaki project gets top marks with nearly $500 million, $50 million each from the state and federal governments for the trial alone. This doesn’t include finding ways to sequester the coal smoke water. Latrobe Valley deserves sustainable job creation, not another failed project. Every level of government recognises it as fragile and valuable internationally. People who scuba dive say the bay is healthier and more diverse than most places around the world now.

Western Port is worth billions every year in its healthy state, and is too precious to lose. The economy of this area depends on it being a recreational area with the associated health benefits. Here we are today, beach goers, sailors, scuba divers, residents, holiday house owners, ecotour operators, marine educators, school camp operators, restaurateurs, surfers, snorkelers, dog walker, fishers, paddlers and boaters. We love Western Port and will fight for it!

No Energy from Burning Rubbish by Chas Rose*

Earlier in the year I wrote a short article on the downsides of producing Hydrogen gas from our coal reserves and then shipping the hydrogen overseas as an export product. The process involved carbon dioxide as the main by-product which was to be sequestered underground in rock-capture domes. This dubious storage mechanism is like a time bomb for future generations when, albeit possibly a long time, it will inevitably escape to the atmosphere creating a massive pollution problem!

Now we have Australian Paper planning a $600 million incinerator next to its paper mill at Maryvale with the idea of producing electricity for its mill and the state power grid from Melbourne’s rubbish.

However, it must be recognised that the problems of this idea remain similar to the commercial Hydrogen project. In fact, in summary, they are even worse! The flue gases will not just contain carbon oxides and water, they will contain far more dangerous chemicals that will endanger human health as well as permanently pollute the land.

The most dangerous emissions can be caused by burning plastics containing organochlor-based substances like PVC. When such plastics are burned, harmful quantities of dioxins, a group of highly toxic chemicals are emitted. Dioxins are the most toxic to the human organisms. Winds will take these gases away where they are then deposited onto land or into bodies of water. A few of these pollutants such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and furans persist for long periods of time in the environment and have a tendency to bio-accumulate; which means they build up in predators at the top of the food web.

Bioaccumulation of pollutants usually occurs indirectly through contaminated water and food rather than breathing the contaminated air directly. In wildlife, the range of effects associated with these pollutants includes cancer, deformed offspring, reproductive failure, immune diseases and subtle neurobehavioral effects. Humans can be exposed indirectly just like wildlife, especially through consumption of contaminated fish, meat and dairy products.

Alternative Products from Recycling: rubbish can generally be sorted into the following: Organic material for compost; Organic and bio material as a hazard; Metals; Timber; Paper, cardboard and cloth; Glass; Plastics and Brick, cement and china.

Most can be usefully recycled with the exception of babies nappies, paints and lubricants which might best be burned. Metals can be sorted to iron, aluminium and others for melting and reuse. Glass can be recycled either as whole bottles and jars or melted down to produce further glass products. Organic material for compost might be added to the land reserved for sewerage farms for grass of crops. The three remaining materials might best be used for building materials for cheap houses- a definite need in our society!

Recycling for cheap building materials. These new materials can only be produced by government incentive and private enterprise. However, with China now no longer taking our rubbish, we must be imaginative and creative to produce recycled products of use to society and avoiding simple solutions that create a hazard to human health and the environment. This is the better way for the future!

* Chas was a former science teacher at Swifts Creek HS.



Notes on the Gippsland Coast and the Lakes Entrance by Barrie Pittock *

On the southerly movement of climate systems:

“I would like to at least alert you to a real world problem, as it affects southern Australia, which for decades I have seen coming from global warming. In short it is that the mid-latitude westerlies are moving further South with global warming, and thus the prevailing westerly winds across Bass Strait are weakening and there are more frequent easterly winds there, and waves from the east also. This will have (and I think is already having) an effect on coastal erosion, quite apart from any sea-level rise. My local verification is from casual observations from some 40 years involvement in a shared holiday house at Lake Bunga, just east of Lakes Entrance and just west of the Red Bluff at the eastern end of the 90-mile beach. Over the years we have seen significant changes…”

On the dredging of the entrance:

“Early in the 21st. century the sand dredged from the entrance was disposed of by pumping it via a pipe to an outlet just offshore east of the entrance.  However, this sand piled up on the eastern side of the entrance barrier, extended the beach out past the barrier, and it started to occasionally block the entrance. This concerned me…My thoughts are that the current crisis is due to three things all climate change related:

  1. Less flood flows in the rivers feeding in. This may be complicated by fires and drought leading to more riverine erosion and siltation when they do flow again.
  2. As I anticipated earlier, the westerlies are trending further south, leading both to rainfall further south and less over southern Victoria, and to more easterlies along the south coast. The message I heard from the Ports people a few years back, was that the extra easterlies was just a freak of natural variability, not a long-tern trend – that is probably incorrect. The key thing here is that the pumps were dumping thousands of tons of sand east of the entrance and this is now drifting west and the beach extended to the end of the eastern groin and sand was just going around it. They needed at least to stop pumping more sand there.
  3. The same trend in the westerlies is also strengthening the ocean gyres and causing the East Australian Current to push warmer water further south. This is probably also contributing to the increase in flow to the west along the south coast (even against the wind?), as the sea surface gradient is now more east to west.”

On coastal erosion and possible subsidence:

“I presume that in 2018 dredged sand from the entrance is now dumped far out to sea as it used to be, and that the entrance channel is now deeper. This may have increased the tidal flows through the entrance, but could reduce the risk from floods due to high river flows, until the sea rises further. However, I have more recently noticed some coastal erosion east of Lakes Entrance, for example some coastal dunes have eroded and old coastal tea-trees have fallen onto the beach, at places like the Lakes Entrance Golf course, and west of the entrance to Lake Tyers. There is no doubt in my mind that there is now a more westerly drift through Bass Strait due to a strengthening of the East Australian Current and more easterly winds as the planet warms.”

“There has also been rapid erosion of cliffs east of Red Bluff, which is a couple of km east of Lake Bunga, at the eastern end of the 90-mile beach. This may also be a sign of the more westerly currents and wave patterns in Bass Strait… Whether this will lead to the possibility of the sea breaking through the narrow sand dunes into the Gippsland Lakes at places other than the artificial entrance remains to be seen. (Similar effects could occur at the entrance to Port Phillip Heads and at Barwon Heads for example.)

An earlier concern of mine, prompted by my involvement at Bunga Haven, was with proposals for extraction of oil and gas from under coastal Bass Strait or the low-lying areas of southern Gippsland. This concern was about possible consolidation of sediments and subsidence, which could lead to flooding in some places.”

*compiled from recent correspondence. Barrie is a retired CSIRO scientist and author of the text Climate Change published by the CSIRO in 2009.

New Opposition to Carbon Capture & Storage Project by Tracey Anton

Could this website be the first community website in Australia challenging the viability of storing captured emissions from industry and storing the carbon dioxide (CO2) in offshore geological formations?

Golden Beach on the iconic Ninety Mile Beach is one of the unluckiest small towns in Victoria as its nearshore area, 4-7km offshore, has been chosen by CarbonNet as the site to put a dint in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions  (GHG) sometime in the future. The irony is that the viability of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is entirely dependent on creating new coal industries in Latrobe Valley and capturing the emissions to support the cost of transporting the near pure CO2 via pipeline 100km east to Golden Beach. At an onshore site the CO2 would then be compressed into a supercritical liquid ready for injection offshore.

This small community which formed the Ninety Mile Beach Action Group Against Carbon Storage to fight the proposed plans started with a Facebook page and recently launched their much anticipated website with the shortened website name,

Extensive study has gone into research to ensure the website is based on facts with graphics and referenced links provided utilising industry’s own risk information. The comment webpages on Environment & Risks include – CO2 Leakage, CO2 Pipeline Failure, Fate of Dunes & Legal Liability Risks.

A small group from the committee met on Thursday 19th August with the Dept of Economic Development Jobs & Transport (DEDJTR) and CarbonNet project director, Ian Filby, and asked for feedback on the website specifically querying if any of the technical information was incorrect which it wasn’t. The beauty of this website is that all the information is explained and/or exposed on one site. Apart from highlighting the extensive risks involved, there is also a lot of information that is neutral serving to inform and educate those with little or no knowledge of CCS.

Of particular interest to taxpayers is the CEFC webpage which notes the current bill before Federal Lower House to allow the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in Carbon Storage. The Action Group committee have a current petition circulating that this not be mandated as all the risks would shift to the Australian public. As it stands, the premise is that once CO2 is injected it will be safety stored for tens of thousands of years but the monitoring burden and any other complications are transferred to the people. The whole CCS process is a legal liability nightmare with a cursory attempt of utilising our existing petroleum legislation as one of the regulatory models to accommodate CCS.

Whilst the website has some great pages, there are still more webpages to come linking the proposed Kawasaki Coal to Hydrogen pilot plant project with AGL’s LoyYang A to Hastings Westernport Group who are fighting the proposed export terminal of liquid hydrogen to Japan. The aim of the website is to ensure accountability and transparency while keeping the community updated.

Victoria’s Coast: preparing for the future

The title of this recently published paper indicates clearly that it is concerned with change in the future and the language, such as “is likely to have” is commensurate with this. But there is the problem that climate change is already happening now and not just something that may or may not happen tomorrow. The paper does note however that “Victoria’s climate is warmer and drier than it was in previous decades, and the rate of warming has increased since 1960.” (p.3)

There is also the problem of treating coastal matters and in particular sea level rise in isolation as I have mentioned elsewhere. However p.3 is general and lists 11 different impacts of climate change including “fewer frosts” and “harsher fire weather and longer fire seasons”. The report also notes that the “changes won’t always happen individually. Events may compound. For example heavy rainfall may create flooding at a time when there is a coastal storm surge resulting from strong onshore winds or reduced atmospheric pressure.”

With regards the coast the report on p.5 lists 8 measures of warming including sea-level rise, ocean current changes and ocean acidification and then gives a large number of impacts from these changes including 12 significant ones. The report concludes with recommendations to fill the “knowledge gap” and suggests 5 areas for further research including “3. Which species are candidate indictors, or sentinels of climate change impacts?” I would suggest that I have already identified a number of these including the black marlin (see here and here) now inhabiting our warming seas and a number of avian and land based species have also been identified. A blog by a Gippsland Naturalist has identified a number of changes in snake species probably attributable to climate change.

Finally it has also neglected to mention the possibility of subsidence which may be a major problem for future sea level rises and our coast. Science is by its nature conservative and must either be proved by mathematics or observation. And whilst this publication fits that bill it is also a very handy summary and guide for all of us who are interested in our coast and its future.

Some Gippsland Coastal History

Following the end of the last ice age the Bass Strait sea level rose on average a metre every 100 years for 12,000 years. As pointed out in my last blog (below) this was a natural change proceeding over time spans difficult for humans to conceive. This warming of our planet also enabled the development of farming and the growth of civilisations. But on the other hand even though this change was natural the average sea level rise over this time was still one metre per 100 years and in some centuries a lot more.

United Kingdom researchers noted that “Global sea level rose by a total of more than 120 metres as the vast ice sheets of the last Ice Age melted back. This melt-back lasted from about 19,000 to about 6,000 years ago, meaning that the average rate of sea-level rise was roughly 1 metre per century” and “Southampton researchers have estimated that sea-level rose by an average of about 1 metre per century at the end of the last Ice Age, interrupted by rapid ‘jumps’ during which it rose by up to 2.5 metres per century.”

The question arises that if sea level with natural warming still rose at this rate what will be the result of the forced human caused warming of the Anthropocene? Other sources have pointed out that when greenhouse gas concentrations were last as high as they are now – 3 million years ago – sea levels were 20 to 25 metres higher.  This illustrates the conservativism of a recent Victorian Government publication Victoria’s Coast: preparing for the future.  I will do a brief review of this report in my next blog.

Without going into too many criticisms this publication comes up with two sea level rise predictions for the Victorian coast – from 8-20cm by 2030 and 20-59cm by 2070. These predictions imply about 3 doublings of the rate of rise over 40 years or approximately doubling every 15 years from current levels. This would give us a sea level rise of 80-240cm by the year 2100. The top figure being surprisingly close to those ‘rapid jumps’ measured from earth’s past. This is while local and government planners are still using a sea level rise prediction for Gippsland of 80cm made in 2008.

Another point that must be stressed is that sea level rise is not happening in isolation and that there are many other deleterious effects of a warming planet. With the warming we will have the predicted heatwaves, bushfires, droughts, floods along with a number of other possibly harmful ‘unknown’ affects. The sea level rise, when accompanied by storm surges, increased wave heights and heavy rains will cause inundation and probably massive coastal erosion. The little known Bruun’s Rule or law suggests that the latter may be substantial even with minimal sea level rise.

When all or most of the above combine with a peak tide then downtown Lakes Entrance will go under. As the years pass this will happen with increasing frequency until the town is continually flooded and downtown lakes buildings becoming islands with the breakers pounding the north shore of North Arm. Whether this happens in 100 years or 500 we do not know. But whilst planners are still using the bottom end projection for 2100 the cumulative evidence seems to suggest that sea level rise may be far worse than they currently anticipate.