Is Pumped Hydro part of a Just Transition for the Latrobe Valley? (16.5)

Pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) is a simple means of storing large amounts of energy. All that is required are two storage ponds with at least 90m altitude difference. When power is cheap and in low demand water is pumped from the low pond to the high one. When power is dear and in high demand the process is reversed producing hydroelectricity. This process is already used in the Snowy Mountains. 

In an article published online this week Tim Forcey and Roger Dargaville of the Melbourne Energy Institute suggest that the coal pits and storage ponds of the Latrobe Valley are ideal for changing to PHES.

They wrote that “many Australians know that Lake Eyre in central Australia, at 12 metres below sea level, is Australia’s lowest naturally-occurring location. However some of the Victorian brown coal mines have been dug as deep as 60 meters below sea level to form the deepest open-air point in Victoria and possibly on the entire continent. These below-sea-level mine pits would serve as the lower ponds for a PHES scheme. Existing cooling water pondages or new reservoirs would be used as upper ponds… a Latrobe Valley PHES facility would have the competitive advantage of being sited nearly beneath the major electricity transmission lines that supply the Melbourne market.”

The use of already made ponds is a large cost advantage as is the fact that the complete reclamation of the mines would no longer be necessary. This must give the Valley companies some financial incentive for an orderly transition to renewable energy.

They concluded that:  “The real extent of the Latrobe Valley pits (hundreds of hectares) plus the 130 meter elevation difference between the upper and lower ponds allow [for] a world-class PHES facility greater than 1,000 megawatts to be contemplated. Such a PHES facility would, in future, help balance the continuing expansion of variable renewable electricity generation (i.e. wind and solar). Retiring Latrobe Valley brown coal plants and rehabilitating their associated coal pits for a future career in renewable energy storage could be key stepping stones on the path to 100% renewable energy.” The full article can be found here http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/lets-turn-latrobe-valley-coal-pits-into-hydro-storage-for-renewables-91630

A detailed study of pumped hydro sites in Australia has been done by the Melbourne Energy Institute and is available here. http://www.energy.unimelb.edu.au/opportunities-pumped-hydro-energy-storage-australia

 

Bats of Bairnsdale and Climate Change (12.5)

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The Flying Fox colony on the banks of the Mitchell River is back in the news again with the East Gippsland Shire recently announcing that they would go ahead with removing 10% of the trees the colony inhabits without waiting for the colony to disperse. Plans to remove the trees last year were upset when the colony remained through the winter.

The gradual warming of the climate – especially in winter and at night time – increases the likelihood of the colony remaining there permanently. The winter stay of 2014 appears to be the first time that this has occurred. To date the colony is approaching two years of continuous occupation.

In a letter to the Bairnsdale Advertiser (8.5) veteran forest campaigner Jill Redwood voiced her concern at the tree removal program and dispersal attempts asking where “the bats will move to when their trees start to be cut down along the river…Will they move to the trees at the hospital next?” She noted that it’s a “shame that the benefits of flying foxes are not appreciated as forest pollinators and regenerators. They are also an easily accessible display of a most remarkable Australian species.” Redwood positively suggests the answer is to promote them as a tourist attraction.

The continuous presence of the bats may be merely an indicator of a warming Gippsland and that this warming has both extended the bats range south and their ability to winter over here. Perhaps their winter presence is a warning (and not just a mild irritant) that most of the other consequences of a warming planet are much worse.

Call for a Just Transition in the Valley (LVE 7.5.15)

In the 2010 state election I stood as an Independent “climate emergency” Candidate in the seat of Morwell with a platform of rapid transition from coal powered generation to renewable energy. This valid call is still ignored and to a great extent – aside from the Hazelwood open cut fire – little has changed.

But it is becoming obvious to everyone except our policy makers and powerful vested interests (and perhaps the drover’s dog) that the end of brown coal generation is approaching fast. This is primarily because of carbon emissions and climate change but there are also a host of other problems associated with brown coal power generation including air pollution, asbestos, mercury contamination in the Gippsland Lakes, subsidence and vulnerability to fire and flood.

The greens and some environment groups have recently renewed their calls for the closure of Hazelwood arguing that mine and power station rehabilitation will provide a boost for employment. The problem is that for any just transition, unlike the disaster of privatisation, the jobs must come first.

What is required now is some forward planning so the transition fro coal to renewable energy is done as seamlessly and quickly (10 to 15 years) as possible. Employment in the Valley can be boosted by starting the transition to renewable energy now and by beginning an ongoing process of negotiating with all interested parties for an orderly and just transition. It goes without saying that any contracting should be sourced as locally as possible.

A good example for starting the transition would be an order from the state government to start replacing every hot water service in state owned buildings with heat pumps from the Earthworker Co-operative in Morwell, conditional on factors like boosted apprentice intake, and increasing local manufacturing.

Another example is geothermal. It has been calculated by the Melbourne Energy Institute at Melbourne University that current generator’s carbon emissions could be reduced by 20% by using geothermal energy just below the coal to assist in the heating process. Why haven’t the power generators done this? Tighter emissions controls may be an incentive for generators to adopt this process.

There are a number of examples of opportunities like this. The transition from coal to renewable energy is inevitable and the question now is how to do this as rapidly and fairly as possible.

Senator Ricky Muir at ‘Frackman’ in Bairnsdale (7.5.15)

Senator Ricky Muir made a surprise appearance at the special screening of the movie of “Frackman” at Bairnsdale last night. The movie tells the story of one man’s battle – with a lot of friends – against the multi-national giant coal seam gas (CSG) companies. Senator Muir’s appearance was a surprise to almost everyone in the 150 plus audience. “I’m here to listen” said the Senator who told us how he had made contact with the NoCSG people in the Seaspray area. Senator Muir discussed the limited opportunities a senator in the Federal parliament had over the CSG question and mentioned the petition by Senator Lazarus in Queensland calling for a Royal Commission to look into the social effects of CSG mining. This petition, to be found on facebook, has already gathered 50,000 signatures and was aiming for 75,000. Muir also mentioned in passing that both he and Lazarus were part of what the Federal government calls a “feral’ Senate. The movie Frackman will be screened again in Lakes Entrance next month. The event was organised by GasfieldFree Bairnsdale. Contact Debbie Carruthers at gasfieldfreebairnsdale@gmail.com

No Coal / CSG Events May / June

Koonwarra & Nerrena Declaration Day! Saturday 6th June Koonwarra Hall. More details to follow soon Contact Margery: margerywelles@gmail.com 

Gasfield Free Seaspray Yes2 Renewables Public Meeting 6.30pm Friday 12th June Seaspray Hall 6.30pm for dinner, 7pm meeting starts. Contact: csgfreeseaspray@hotmail.com or Kerrin 0400 155 476

Gippsland Alliance meeting & old gas well tour Saturday 13th June 11am sharp. Meet at Seaspray Hall, Seaspray. Meeting, Lunch, followed by old gas well tour. RSVP a must to: csgfreeseaspray@hotmail.com A hot lunch will be provided, this will cost $5 per person

Mercury: phase out Latrobe Valley Coal 25.4.15

Mercury contamination in the Gippsland Lakes has been in the news this week. An announcement by several Gippsland doctors stated that they had found mercury levels in locally caught fish well above WHO standards. These levels may be a health hazard and “Pregnant women and young children who eat fish regularly are at risk”, they said. The Doctors called for further studies and the monitoring of mercury levels in fish. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-19/fish-caught-in-gippsland-lakes-could-have-high-mercury-doctors/6401428

Three previous studies have warned of potentially hazardous amounts of mercury in the Lakes and urged further action. The last study to examine mercury levels in fish was done in 1997. These studies and commentary can be found on the home page of the Gippsland Environment Group (see links) What needs to be realised is that burning brown coal for power generation is one of the major sources of contamination. It is estimated that Hazelwood power station alone emits 435Kgs of mercury and mercury compounds per annum. http://nofibs.com.au/2015/04/17/why-is-it-so-hard-to-close-down-victorias-dirtiest-coal-power-stations-asks-takvera/

Almost all of this, along with that produced by the other stations, eventually finds its way into the Lakes system. The threat of contamination and the threat to the fishing and tourist industries is another strong reason why coal power in the Latrobe Valley should be phased out as quickly as possible.

Gippsland’s Seas are Warming 17.4.15

A CSIRO article by Alistair Hobday and Jason Hartog entitled Sea temperatures and climate change in Victoria clearly illustrates that the ocean is warming in the Gippsland region. This warming is pronounced. They note that in “…eastern Victoria, offshore water temperatures are influenced by the East Australia Current (EAC), which flows south. This current does not penetrate into Bass Strait, as the Bass Strait flow is generally from west to east. The seasonal cycle of the EAC along the east coast is visible as warm water pulses pushing south in the summer, and then a retraction of warm water to the north in winter.”

The article identifies a 0.8C increase in our sea temperatures above the long term average. Whilst this “…doesn’t sound like much, it can have a real impact on Victoria’s marine ecosystems and fish distributions. Marine species have their own set of conditions they prefer to live in, like temperature and pH. Some biota will move (if they can) – also known as shifting their range – in search of these conditions if things get too hot at home. Others may adapt well to warming seas; while some will not survive in the changing conditions.”

An example of this is “…the Common Sydney Octopus (Octopus tetricus), usually found in NSW and southern Queensland seas, has been spotted in Victorian waters in recent years. It’s no wonder some marine animals are being spotted further south of their usual range: possibly looking for cooler waters?” A number of other species can be added to this example including four species of shark and a number of otherwise unidentified jellyfish species that are now found in the Gippsland Lakes. All this is just another example that shows that concerted action on climate change is needed now. The full article can be accessed here.

http://www.redmap.org.au/article/sea-temperatures-and-climate-change-in-victoria/

 

 

Gasfield Free Bairnsdale’s Second Declaration

Gasfield Free Bairnsdale (GFB) have just held their second declaration of gasfield free districts including Broadlands, East Bairnsdale, Nicholson, Eagle Point and Newlands Arm. The declaration was held at the picnic shelter at Eagle Point. Representatives of the areas collected their gasfield free signs representing 98% and over of the surveyed landholders who stated they did not want any CSG or unconventional gas developments on their land. GFB co-ordinator Debbie Carruthers invited Ignite Energy to “go fly a kite” as did many of the participants. Speakers included Ross Scott of Gippsland Environment Group who spoke on the importance of a healthy Lakes system, Ursula Alquier of ‘Lock the Gate’ and East Gippsland Shire Mayor Peter Neale who offered words of encouragement. After the speeches and presentations a number of the participants posed for a photo besides Lake King. Over 100 attended. Well done everyone.

Bioenergy Forum 18/19 June

The Victorian Bioenergy Network, in partnership with Agribusiness Gippsland Inc. is organising a two day bioenergy event on the 18th and 19th June in Gippsland. This event will focus on activities and opportunities in eastern Victoria for bioenergy projects and related developments. This is of particular interest to local government authorities, regional businesses, community organisations and anyone interested in looking to reduce heating, cooling and power costs, utilise waste streams or explore options for developing renewable energy alternatives to mains electricity, LPG and briquettes.

Day 1 will be held in the Latrobe Valley and whilst the program is still being developed, we do have a number of speakers confirmed. They will be covering topics including the business case for bioenergy, grants and financing options, bioenergy technologies and their application in various biofuel production systems, and practical experiences and lessons learnt from developing recent bioenergy projects in eastern Victoria. Day 2 will be a field trip to visit a number of bioenergy installations in the Latrobe and Wellington Shires. A program and event booking details will be forthcoming in a couple of weeks, once most of the speakers and the field trip itinerary have been confirmed.  Liz Hamilton Victorian Bioenergy Network  bioenergyinvictoria@gmail.com

 

Report on the Forest Fire Severity & Biodiversity Forum Bairnsdale 12.3

The Forest Fire Severity & Biodiversity Forum held in Bairnsdale on 12 March drew a good crowd of about 70. The two speakers were Dr Chris Taylor from Melbourne University and Phil Ingamells of the Victorian Nation Parks Association (VNPA).

Dr Taylor’s studies centred on how Mountain Ash plots of various ages responded to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. The Mountain Ash is a fire sensitive species and because of the height of the forest it is difficult for a fire under most conditions to scorch the crown. Taylor’s studies found that regrowth stands of between 5 and 40 years old were highly susceptible to crown fires in extreme weather conditions. This has implications for the logging industry. Is logging increasing the intensity of severe fires? Taylor concluded by noting that the frequency of both severe fires and the disturbance of the bush of the bush had greatly increased and that management must adapt to the changed circumstances.

Phil Ingamells spoke of the role of the VNPA and emphasized that the two priorities of the Black Saturday Royal Commission were the preservation of life and property and secondly the preservation of the environment with which he and the VNPA concur. He questioned the value of the 5% target of control burning and pointed out that this has been achieved only once in the history of controlled burning. Having a set target meant that a lot of country that did not need burning was burnt and a lot of country was burnt more frequently than it should. The loss of hollow trees for a diversity of habitats was also emphasized. Ingamells made a number of suggestions with regards control burning and fire fighting including control burning close to communities and purchasing a number of “Elvis” fire fighting helicopters to station across the state. He finally mentioned the affect climate change was having on fire severity and frequency. “The affects of climate change” he stated “are perilous. There is more fire in the landscape now than there has been for the last 50,000 years”.