The Water will Come: a review


Gippsland Lakes with .74m sea level rise at high tide. This is well within current predictions for 2100 and more than likely to occur before then. Blue equals inundation but does not encompass any erosion. image

The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell (Black Inc. Melbourne, 2018)* is a book about sea level rise. It is mainly about the USA although it looks at many other parts of the planet including the Pacific Isles and the west coast of Africa. But it is the East Coast of the USA and in particular Florida which, to use an apt cliché, is ‘at the coalface’ of sea level rise.

The book examines in detail various aspects of this complex problem including climate refugees, of the need for an eventual ‘retreat from the coastline’, how the loss of gravity of melting ice effects sea level rise around the globe, of land subsidence and salinity. There is even a small amount of humour when Goodell notes “The best way to save coastal cities is to quit burning fossil fuels (if you’re still questioning the link between human activity and climate change you’re reading the wrong book).” (p.11)

With current average sea level rise around the globe of between 3 and 4 mm per annum Goodell notes that it’s not the sort of thing you can watch and only becomes visible with “higher storm surges, higher tides, and the gradual washing away of the beaches…” (p.12) He adds that “If we can hold the warming to about three degrees Fahrenheit above pre industrial temperatures, we might only face two feet of sea level rise this century, giving people more time to adapt. However if we don’t end the fossil fuel party…all bets are off. We could get four feet of sea level rise by the end of the century – or we could get thirteen feet.” (p.12)

Goodell then rhetorically asks “At what point will we take dramatic action to cut CO2 pollution? Will we spend billions on adaptive infrastructure to prepare cities for rising waters – or will we do nothing until it is too late? Will we welcome people who flee submerged coastlines and sinking islands – or will we imprison them?” (p.14) Questions of vital importance to Gippslanders and Australians generally.

So how does all this apply to Gippsland? Various aspects including subsidence, salinity, beach erosion and the amount and rate of sea level rise are important. A large part of our coastline is vulnerable to erosion and a sea level rise of a metre or more will probably destroy the Gippsland Lakes and make large parts of coastal and lakes towns and villages uninhabitable including Lakes Entrance, Paynesville and Raymond Island. See my somewhat outdated paper The Gippsland Coast in 2100 for more detail.

The time for drastic action to reduce our carbon pollution is now. And attempts by governments and the status quo in the Latrobe Valley to rescue the dying brown coal industry – like the current coal to hydrogen project in the Latrobe Valley – are pure folly. Governments of all persuasions take note.

*copy in the East Gippsland Regional Library


Monaro Climate News by Jenny Goldie

(Monthly Newsletter. Jenny is the President of Climate Action Monaro – fb page )

As if it wasn’t bad enough to have a lump of coal brought into parliament a few months ago, 20 or so Parliamentarians led by Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Barnaby Joyce, Kevin Andrews and Craig Kelly, have formed the Monash Group to push for a new coal-fired power station. To his credit, Treasurer Scott Morrison (a wielder of coal in the earlier stunt), declared it was not economic and rejected the idea. The next day, the descendants of General Sir John Monash, who was a civil engineer and an Australian military commander of the First World War, complained about the group using the name Monash for their “anti-science, anti-intellectual” proposal.

Despite Morrison’s rejecting the idea of a new coal power station, the Prime Minister clearly thought a sop to the backbench was in order. He is pushing Alinta to buy the ageing Liddell coal-fired power station from AGL so that base-load power can continue after its planned closure in 2022. PM Turnbull wants another three years or so of it so it coincides with the opening of Snowy 2.0 (pumped hydro). Fortunately, the heroic Andy Vesey of AGL is standing firm and not selling, and using it as a base to develop renewables.

Someone needs to tell the PM that base-load power is not what is required any more, rather dispatchable power is, and old power plants like Liddell do not deliver dispatchable power. And he needs to know that coal-fired power stations caused a surge in airborne mercury pollution, according to a study done in Victoria’s Latrobe valley.

David Spratt, from Climate Code Red, released a report two days ago that finds we will reach 1.5oC warming within a decade, based on a number of recent scientific papers. This of course, was the more ambitious limit of warming (as against 2oC) set by the Paris Agreement. You can read the report here.

One of the world’s leading climate activists, Bill McKibben, is coming to Australia soon [ ]. He will speak in Canberra on May 2 [and Melbourne May 3 ed.] on accelerating climate action. He’s always worthwhile but you have to pay.

Good to see our federal MP, Mike Kelly, standing firm against a nuclear power plant for the South Coast. While nuclear power does deliver carbon-free power once built, building the plants uses a lot of energy as well as the decommissioning.  And as he says, the waste and risk issues have still not been resolved.

Meanwhile, it’s been a hot, dry start to the year. Rather than being a source of pleasure as some news readers would have us believe, for anyone who worries about climate change, it simply provokes anxiety.

For full newsletter see here.

Coal to hydrogen project reliant on carbon capture pipe dream


(Press Release from FOE 12.4)

National environment group Friends of the Earth has expressed disappointment at the announcement that the Andrews government is proceeding with a trial led by Kawasaki Heavy Industries to convert Victorian brown coal into liquid hydrogen for export.

There are many significant problems with this project:

“Firstly, it is most unlikely it will ever move to commercial phase. This project will only proceed if carbon capture and storage (CCS*) technology is employed” said Friends of the Earth campaigns co-ordinator Cam Walker. “New uses of coal would come with an unacceptable climate burden unless CCS is deployed and would be inconsistent with the government’s commitment for the state to be carbon neutral by 2050.”

According to the government’s own Statement on future uses of coal, major new coal projects will need to operate within mandated emissions standards. Without CCS, it seems very unlikely that the Kawasaki project would meet this requirement. “Why is the government promoting a project which is at odds with its own policy?” asked Mr Walker.

Friends of the Earth say government expenditure on coal projects is a waste of taxpayer dollars. “Governments have squandered over $1.3 billion on carbon capture projects with no return on investment. This is money that could have been invested in healthcare, education, infrastructure, and climate action.”

“Secondly, the $100m of new public funds allocated to this project represents wasted money that should have gone to job creating projects in the Latrobe Valley that use technology that is already viable. Obvious candidates include renewables, energy efficiency and retrofitting of houses, energy storage, high tech research and developing a business case for the geothermal resource that exists under the Latrobe Valley.

“CCS has already absorbed well over $1.3 billion of public funds and each new dollar invested in this technology represents a dollar that is taken from technology that works.”

“Thirdly, we have to ask who is driving this project? The federal government lacks the state government’s commitment to ensuring CCS is linked to any new coal developments. And government officials continue to promote ‘clean coal’ technology, despite the fact that this technology is going nowhere.”

Friends the Earth say the Victorian government needs to hit the reset button on the matter. “The state government needs to seek more informed advice from energy experts to ensure that future projects reflect best practise technology suitable for the 21st century, instead of relying on advice which is clearly aligned with promoting the ‘clean coal’ pipe-dream.”

*we have commented on CCS and the coal to hydrogen project here.

John Monash, the Brown Coal Industry and Science


John Monash was a celebrated military leader of World War I and the guiding light in the establishment of brown coal generation in the Latrobe Valley. Unlike his predecessors during the war he did his best to protect his soldiers from the slaughterhouse in front of the trenches using all available technology (tanks, planes and artillery) to advantage. As an engineer he used the scientific information and technology of his former enemies to build the solid foundations of brown coal fired electricity generation that has lasted nearly 100 years. He was, in short, a man of science.

One of the posthumous honours bestowed on this hero was the naming of Victoria’s second university after him. Established in the early 1960s it was a place of intellectual fervour and the hotbed of criticism surrounding the Vietnam War. Now a small clique of parliamentarians have adopted (or stolen) Monash’s name to call for a new, supposedly clean, coal fired electricity generator in the valley.

It must be stated at the outset that there is no such thing as clean coal and lignite or brown coal has about 60% water content making it ever so much ‘dirtier’. Thus the self-proclaimed Monash Forum are either ignorant of climate science or wilfully (and perhaps criminally) disregarding it. Their stance is anti-intellectual, anti-science and the antithesis of Monash’s life. It also offers false hope to many in the valley still clutching at straws to save the old economy instead of firmly grasping the opportunities of the new.

The front men of the Monash forum with its 20 odd members are the usual suspects – Kelly, Andrews Abbott, Abetz – climate change deniers to a man. More frighteningly it is rumoured that more than half of this number is made up of National Party members. It is yet to be revealed whether this includes our local member Darren Chester.

It would seem that the best way to confront the urgency for decisive climate change action is a return to bipartisanship and being governed and acting on the best science available at the time. This is not going to happen whilst the reactionaries in the Monash Forum are in effect holding the balance of power.

Thus the return to bipartisanship requires either the removal of the reactionaries from their power base or from parliament altogether. This is an exceedingly difficult task and almost certainly beyond the immediate abilities of the more science friendly parties – the ALP and the Greens, as all the lower house members appear to be in safe conservative or regional seats. What is desperately needed now are new centrist or conservative candidates that can appeal in these seats – independents who accept the overwhelming evidence of climate change and the urgency to act upon that evidence.


A Gippsland Pumped Hydro Alternative to Snowy 2.0 by Paul Treasure*

Overview of Baw Baw Pumped Hydro Energy Storage Proposal

Numerous column inches have, and continue to be, devoted to the impending shutdown of the Liddell power station in NSW, and how the grid will cope without it. Closer to home, the supposed crisis that closing the Yallourn Power station will precipitate – and who or what policies may be to blame (or thank?) for bringing this forward – appears to be a growing preoccupation for some in the Murdoch press. With the dubious honour of being Australia’s dirtiest power station following the closure of Hazelwood, along with an increasingly patchy reliability record and challenges accessing coal going forward, the case for closure is compelling. As with Liddell, none but the most ideologically driven (or those with a political narrative to perpetuate) are questioning ‘if’ closure in the short to medium term is necessary. The ‘when’ and ‘how’ – particularly what is to replace it – are more pressing.

Whilst Yallourn has, over its lifetime, burned through a large chunk of our ‘carbon budget’, it has also provided a number of benefits to the state. Victoria’s power grid was built around the large, synchronous generators of the Latrobe Valley, delivering not only large volumes of energy to the residents and industries of Melbourne and beyond, but also stability (frequency and voltage control) and reliable power capacity. Through construction and operation it has also provided steady jobs for many in the Valley.

Despite a lack of policy certainty, renewable energy generation is taking up the slack of delivering energy to the grid, with the 3.5GW of projects under construction or completed nationwide in 2017 alone eclipsing Yallourn’s 1.5GW. This intermittent generation does, however, raise new challenges with increased requirements for peaking capacity and spinning reserve, and contributes less to grid stability than traditional synchronous, ‘base-load’ generators. There may, however, be a replacement not so far from Yallourn that replaces its grid stability and firm capacity functions, whilst providing the peaking and reserve capacity that will be increasingly required going forward. And, of course, jobs.

In November last year, ANU released a report on an ongoing study which identified 22,000 potential Pumped Hydro Energy Storage (PHES) sites around Australia, including 4,400 in Victoria. PHES accounts for 96% of installed energy storage capacity worldwide, and requires an upper and lower reservoir- water is pumped up when the wind/sun are blowing/shining, and let down when power is needed. Many of the potential reservoir sites identified by ANU are relatively small and distant from the existing grid, and work is currently ongoing to identify potential lower reservoir sites. There is, however, one site that appears to stand out from the pack, and could rival or surpass the proposed ‘Snowy 2.0’ expansion in scale and value.

At an altitude of over 1000m, the upper reservoir would be created off the north-west boundary of the Baw Baw national park with a 600m dam, impounding approximately 30GL of water covering up to 140 Hectares. Tunnels under the Baw Baw plateau would connect this new reservoir to the Thompson dam approximately 15km to the east and 650m below. A two gigawatt power plant (equivalent to the Snowy 2.0 proposal, and 30% larger than the existing Yallourn W generator) could be run at capacity continuously for up to 40 hours- sufficient to firm up much of the renewable capacity expected to be installed in Victoria over the next decade.

By comparison to Snowy 2.0, tunnelling (the major cost of that project) is reduced by almost 50%. A new reservoir is required, unlike in the Snowy scheme, entailing a longer environmental approvals process, but using rock excavated from the head-race tunnel to build the dam wall should mean construction costs are not prohibitive. The key differentiator between the two, however, is likely to be in connecting to the existing grid. Whereas the cost of integrating Snowy 2.0 has been estimated in the order of $2b, owing to its location adjacent to large existing peaking capacity (the existing Snowy scheme), the Baw Baw power plant would be 33km as the crow flies from the Victorian 500kV backbone, and only 40km from Yallourn. Associated cost are, therefore, expected to be an order of magnitude less- the grid is designed for large, synchronous generators at this point. If planned well, the Baw Baw PHES could well provide a seamless transition to support the Victorian grid in the way Yallourn now does.

So next time the press or politicians infer that extending the life of our dirtiest power station is the only way to support the Victorian grid, provide Latrobe Valley jobs, and keep downward pressure on energy prices, our response should perhaps be to turn the question around. The descendants of Sir John Monash – the visionary behind the Victorian grid as we know it – have objected to the use of his name by these group to support extending the use of technology that no longer suits the times. We should likewise challenge our leaders to think as he did: consider how today’s technology can meet the needs of tomorrow, and plan accordingly.

* Paul is an Engineer and Project Manager with over ten years of experience in the large-scale wind and solar industry

Donations as climate activism

Hardly a day goes by when I do not get an email request, usually from an organization I am sympathetic with, for donations of one kind or another.  These organisations all require funds to function and the more they have the better are their chances of success. The problem in part is that the bulk of the people they are often appealing to have little or no funds to part with.

For most of my life I have been in this category and at times so broke that I could not maintain my financial membership of the two organisations I have continued to support – the ACF (Australian Conservation Foundation) and the ATA (Alternative Technology Association). Now, since retiring and beginning the process of downsizing I have accumulated a small ‘nest egg’ through the sale of assets, and thus in the position to respond to donation requests.

At the same time as downsizing I have continued my political campaigning through candidacy in various elections as a ‘climate independent’ and the funds required – legal deposits (all lost) advertisements, travel – have been substantial and a serious drain on my savings. More recently as secretary of the now defunct Renewable Energy Party I was putting aside funds for its use, promotion and possible political candidacy. With my active political career now coming to a close I can look to use these freed funds elsewhere.

To date with one exception, my political donations have been small. The exception is donating $500 (with my wife) for the last two years to the ATA’s East Timor solar project – which covers the cost of installing solar systems on village houses and the training of a technician. One attraction of this project is that it is technology based and thus apolitical – something some of our dimmer politicians have yet to recognise. Other small donations have gone to local organisations (Earthworker) and climate activists (Climate Council).

The example of a recently discovered second cousin is inspiring.  Following the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour in 1985 he decided to make a regular monthly donation to Greenpeace and has done so ever since. For someone in regular employment this remains a possibility.  I prefer the ‘one off’ donation as I still function mainly in the old economy – I can make electronic transfers but prefer the chequebook. Hopefully I will make a few more of these in the coming years helping to promote the climate action cause and a few of its solutions.

Tony Seba, Autonomous vehicles and Public Transport Solutions

Of recent times I have been a follower of Stanford University futurist Tony Seba. His message appeals strongly to me as one of hope so I dearly want most of his predictions to materialise. Consequently I can be called a ‘sebarite’ (not to be confused with ‘sybarite’). Some of his predictions of 10 years ago especially of cheap solar energy are happening now and in fact have turned out far cheaper than his prediction. Seba has made similar predictions about costs and adoption of batteries, electronic vehicles and sensors but his most contentious predictions are about autonomous (ie driverless) vehicles.

A recent pedestrian fatality in Arizona caused by a collision with an autonomous vehicle resulted in a flurry of mostly unfavourable news items around the globe. An article on the accident in the Conversation noted that 5,984 pedestrians killed in 2017 did not warrant similar news items and examined questions of legal liability. Autonomous vehicles or ‘vehicles as a service’ may take some years more to be adopted than Seba predicts. Certainly Gippsland will probably be one of the last places to do so.

Other more readily and rapidly adopted solutions to the public transport problem have been recently offered by retired CSIRO climate scientist Barrie Pittock. He noted “The solution is really rather simple and quite economic. It is to install rapid express…buses on all our existing major urban transport main roads/freeways, with connections to feeder buses on major crossroads. We could economically generate the required electricity by installing solar panels lining all freeway cuttings and noise barrier fences and bridges, and bus stop shelters. These would be close to where the demand would be and on free public land, and often exposed to good sun lighting. They could have their reserved express bus lanes, which would speed transit and help people to decide to use them. Short-term energy storage would be necessary, but this is becoming cheaper and more economic by the day…” *

It should be noted that unlike Seba, Pittock has no preference for fuel to transport the express buses and whilst the quote above specifies electricity it could easily be by “solar generated hydrogen or ammonia, which can be quickly and economically converted back to electricity or else used directly in hydrogen or ammonia driven engines in buses.”

How the suggestions of Pittock and predictions of Seba can be applied to Gippsland is another question but is no doubt linked to the train in some way with improved services. Any drastic improvements in the Melbourne transport jungle will also greatly benefit gippslanders. Perhaps autonomous electric vehicles could also be trialled in the suburbs of Sale or Morwell?

*from Barrie’s notes for an ACF workshop on Public Transport

Notes on our 2017-18 Bushfire Season

Recent Tathra bushfires (District News Bulletin)

I can recall reading a CSIRO publication on climate change that was published in 1989 predicting that fire seasons would become worse and the fire season would grow longer. The latter extended season is now definitely with us in south-east Australia and Gippsland. Large bushfires at Cann River in November 2017 and Licola in March 2018 are hopefully the bookends of an otherwise moderate fire season.

Recently Climate Council’s Dr Martin Rice noted: “Intensifying climate change is exacerbating extreme weather events including rising temperatures, severe heatwaves, supercharged storms, flooding, intense rainfall and even bushfires…” and “High bushfire danger weather has been increasing in Southeast Australia over the past forty years due to worsening climate change, which unfortunately has increased the odds… [of] dangerous fires…”

Due to loss of property it has been the recent bushfires at Tathra (which apparently was experiencing record warm temperatures) and in the Western District that have been in the news. The Age ran an article on Tathra councillor Jo Dodds headed “’I’m furious’: Tathra councillor says now is the time to talk climate”.

Ms Dodds’ anger was directed at PM Turnbull. The article further noted: “Mr Turnbull may well have picked the wrong community to be dismissive about climate change…” and that “Tathra, and the wider Bega Valley area, has long had a goal of reaching 50 per cent renewable energy sources of electricity and cutting energy use by half from 2006 levels by 2020, led by the Clean Energy For Eternity group.” She sensibly called for a return to bipartisanship on the climate question.

For the first time in living memory – perhaps the first time ever – there have been bushfires in northern and southern hemispheres at the same time. Whilst bushfires devastated property in California’s autumn and into their winter with a large fire in December at the same time as a substantial bushfire in Gippsland at Cann River was burning out of control. This fire eventually burned an area of over 8000 ha but did little property damage.

Following closely climate change predictions our weather patterns have been all ‘topsy turvy’ with dry spring and autumn but a relatively benign summer – three months with normal temperatures, certainly no heatwaves, and regular rainfall giving us an almost bushfire free summer. I can’t recall east Gippsland having a ‘total fire ban’ day or an ‘extreme fire danger’ day this season.

The long term Bureau of Meteorology forecasts for the next quarter for south-east Australia are for above average rainfall. So we await the autumn ‘break’ and in the meantime wonder if there is a right time to talk about bushfires and climate change?

Greenwash in the Valley?

On 19 March Australian Paper, owners of the Maryvale paper mill, had a public relations exercise on their Waste to Energy proposal feasibility study. At least one third of the cost of this $7.5m study has been contributed by State and Federal governments. Accordingly Gippsland MHR Darren Chester and Harriet Shing MLC were featured in the publicity.

A report commissioned by the company stated “Over the past few years there has been an increasing interest in Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities across Australia. EfW plants have the potential to contribute to Australia’s renewable energy targets, reduce carbon emissions and divert waste away from landfill. They also have the potential to improve the energy mix in Australia by supplementing wind and solar production through base load generation.”

“The proposed EfW Plant at Maryvale will assist Australian Paper in its commitment to managing waste responsibly and ensure future sustainability and reliability in energy production. The EfW plant will promote low carbon network emissions, economic development and employment growth in the Latrobe Valley Region of Victoria.”

The report concentrates on economic aspects and employment generation. The quote above contains the single reference in 17 pages to greenhouse gases. Supposedly about 500,000 tons of greenhouse gases will be saved and a report in the Latrobe Valley Express emphasized the large amounts of municipal waste diverted from landfill.

Energy from waste is a sustainable concept and I campaigned on this in the State Election in Morwell in 2010 (using pyrolysis the other plank of my platform was exploiting geothermal energy under the coal). However what the reports and publicity fail to mention is that the whole process appears to be diverting attention from Maryvale’s dependence on logging native forests. As such it has a limited future and no doubt currently produces far more greenhouse gas than it saves.

It is an example of another proposition (see other examples below) to bolster the old carbon economy that recently includes the coal to hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, the clean coal power generator projects and the purchase of the Heyfield timber mill – all supported (read subsidised) by State and Federal governments and ‘good money after bad’.

By all means have a waste to energy plant but preferably owned and financed by council or the state and independent of Maryvale. And Australian Paper should be looking at alternative sources for their paper including hemp, crop waste and plantations instead of wasting their time and money on public relations exercises and greenwash.

Gippsland Jobs and the Heyfield Timber Mill

The recent purchase of the Heyfield Timber Mill by the Victorian government is a monumental mistake. It is not the involvement of government that is the problem. A strong, probably dominant, contribution will be required from government to achieve any just transition to a low carbon economy. The mistake is investing in the continuing destruction of Gippsland’s native forests – probably amongst the best carbon stores in mainland Australia.

They government have invested in a lose/lose situation almost certainly because of the influence of the unions – in this case the CFMEU. This union is the natural power base for the Labor party in Gippsland and the timber workers jobs have become sacrosanct. This is regardless of the fact that they are in electorates that are most unlikely to return Labor members and from anecdotal accounts many of these workers will not vote Labor anyway. The decision was also probably influenced by Vicforests – a government business tied to the continuation of the logging industry. Aside from shoring up their base support any political gains of the purchase are hard to find.

Labor (and eventually we all) will lose because of the loss of this precious carbon store. As it becomes increasingly obvious that the remaining forests must be retained and protected the union base of the old economy will decline. So too will their political support diminish unless they can also change to support and even promote the new economy. They will also lose because there will probably never be a return on the so called investment. The mill purchase was only ever a short term political fix.

A just transition in the bush should take no more than ten years. Employment should be the primary concern. As areas are closed to logging all bush workers should be offered work with DELWP changing their tasks from forest destruction to forest protection. Likewise, as mills close, the workers should all be offered employment preferably near their current jobs. In the remote mills the main employment may be with DELWP. In Heyfield employment could be offered in large government projects such as floating solar on Lake Glenmaggie and plantation or reafforestation projects. No doubt there are many other low carbon economy options.

The rapid changes in the South Australian renewable energy should serve as an example to the Andrews government. Although SA Labor has lost political power their achievements in renewable energy and energy storage will stand the test of time and emphasise how mediocre successive governments have been across the nation.

The task of change in Victoria is much harder given the power of big business, the unions, bureaucracy and the status quo. This is not a criticism of unions alone, but of all those power blocs that have yet to comprehend that we are in a climate emergency. And Gippsland is the base for the two carbon intensive industries – coal powered electricity and logging – where planning and action on a just transition is urgently required.