Gippsland News & Views

Chris Barfoot* on Pumped Hydro

My name is Chris Barfoot and I am a board member of the Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCNN). I was asked to write a short blog on pumped hydro and its opportunities.

But first I want to congratulate all involved in East Gippsland. In my short time dealing with the region I have been amazed at the level of innovation and passion displayed towards changing the future. If I can play a small part in helping it progress further I will be honoured.

Anyway, pumped hydro. This is a concept going back many years. Put simply when you have excess power you use it to pump water to a higher storage place and then when you need power (no wind or sun) you release the water back to the lower point via a turbine to make energy.

This is the fundamental systems used throughout the existing Snowy scheme, Tasmania and of course the famous Snowy 2.0.

It is becoming more popular as the need to back up renewables with storage is being recognised. Some examples have been built using tanks alongside wind turbines (Chile) and more recently there has been a trend to trying to use seawater and an inland dam where wind turbines are based on the coast.

At present pumped hydro is an economic option that can be considered. However the fundamental fact is that you are changing your energy from electricity to pumping and back to electricity. This means you will lose about 20% of your power in these changes of state. So in the longer term as the pricing drops batteries or capacitors are more likely to be the best option.

But one place where it make a lot of sense is where there are existing dams and structures for example in an old mine site. Here you already have the lower reservoir and the cost of construction can be significantly lowered by reuse of these sites. Such systems have been proposed for some the Latrobe Valley mines. Are there any opportunities out East?

*Chris worked in the power industry for 33 years as a scientist, engineer and project manager. He retired with the close of Hazelwood and welcomes the opportunity to work with the renewable energy sector.


Hazelwood’s Barramundi Blues 

The end of the Hazelwood Pondage Barramundi experiment is nigh. In an article entitled “Territory Barramundi Struggling with Southern Cold in Relocation Project” the Northern Territory News outlined its fate noting “Victoria’s winter is playing havoc with our iconic barramundi in a relocation project that has gone pear-shaped.” Of course as everybody knows it is not the winter that is killing the fish but the fact that the Hazelwood Power Station no longer keeps the waters warm.

The article noted that the “the barra have swum out of the main body of water in the Hazelwood pondage and into a hot water channel in search of the warmer water. The area where they have congregated houses a pipe that continuously delivers warm water from an aquifer underneath the nearby Hazelwood coal mine.”

At the risk of saying I told you so I stated the obvious on 1.1.17 – that the “temperature of the pondage will drop rapidly after the station closes its generators in March which will be the end of this short-lived fishery. Assuming that most of the 5000 fish are caught before the end then each fish has cost us at least $30. This amount of money could have financed an in depth study to utilise the pit and pondage for pumped hydro.” Or, I might add, a small floating solar farm.

I support the fact that State Government is putting substantial (but perhaps not enough) funds into the Latrobe Valley. Such a project if successful in the longer term may have brought many tourists and trippers to Morwell and Churchill. However this clearly showed a lack of foresight – that Hazelwood would probably shut or be closed down in the next few years and that the fish could no longer survive in the colder waters. Therefore it was not money, energy and time well spent.

What is needed for the ‘just transition’ in the valley is more co-ordination, some imagination and above all planning. The underlying assumptions are that all brown coal generation will shut down sooner or later and that renewable energy in its many forms is part of the answer to mitigating climate change. Any state funded projects that clearly do not fit these criteria should not even be considered.



Floating Solar for Gippsland

A recent paper entitled “Proposal for Renewable energy projects in Southern Victoria and Opportunities for Latrobe Valley Development” by Chris Barfoot et al examined the potential for renewable energy to be a major part of a just transition in Gippsland. In particular the paper examined solar, wind, pumped hydro and battery storage opportunities. Here I look at their case for floating solar and hope to examine other aspects of their paper, in particular pumped hydro, at a later date.

The paper lists a substantial number of advantages for floating solar including no preparation for the site is needed; that if associated with established hydro operations there is no need for costly infrastructure upgrades; that when energy efficiencies from the cooling effects of the water are taken into account costs are not that much different from that on land and most important of all the advantages it can be done almost immediately.

Possible sites for consideration included reservoirs and water treatment plants. The Thomson River dam could house a raft of photovoltaics producing 100 megawatts. Listed suitable sites included Lake Narracan, Hazelwood Pondage, Blue Rock Dam and Moondarra. I have noted previously the work of the Mirboo North Community Energy Hub and their current feasibility study where they hope to create a floating solar farm of 1.4Mw in conjunction with Gippsland Water. This was discussed at a recent Gippsland Climate Change Network meeting which also mentioned the suitability of Lake Glenmaggie for floating solar development.

In terms of the ‘just transition’ the paper noted: “Opportunity exists for production of the floats needed through local industries in Morwell under licence from the designer. One style is metal and the other blow moulded plastic. Both industries exist in the Valley. Tracking systems could also be designed and produced using local industry. This would also boost metal supply and fastener industries. Secondly employment opportunities come from the delivery of the float systems to the construction sites. Other works options are the assembly of the rafts, fitment of the panels, wiring and grid connection.”

Above all jobs now, and plenty of them, is the first and most important step in the just transition.

Heyfield, Climate Change and Jobs

The Victorian Government decision to purchase the Heyfield timber mill to save 250 jobs is recent news. The Labour government have been in a bind over this – as well as the closure of Hazelwood and another timber mill (processing plantation timber) in Morwell – for some time. On the one hand they recognise the need to maintain jobs in depressed areas – in particular the Latrobe Valley but also the rural districts in general. On the other hand, unlike their opposition, they certainly give credence to the threat of climate change and give some support to the renewable energy revolution. A similar, and much larger, problem confronts the Queensland Labor government over the Adani coal mine proposals. There they appear to be making all the wrong decisions.

To not do anything about preserving jobs is anathema to a government that supposedly represents workers and to allow mass unemployment to follow the closure of Heyfield and Hazelwood is both to invite political death and to foster political reaction. Lacking any form of imagination, and no doubt with strong union support, the government decided to purchase the mill thus avoiding local reaction and mayhem in the generally antagonistic media.

Then there is a small, but growing, persistent and vocal minority calling for end to the clear felling of native forests. The reasons for this are mainly environmental but it is becoming obvious that if Australia is to meet its Paris Climate obligations, or get anywhere near them, they have both to cut carbon emissions drastically and preserve and protect natural stores of carbon. Our native forests are one of the latter. Hence the bind for the government.

The problem now arises as to what will happen tomorrow. In the short term it will probably be business as usual – continuing to factory harvest a dwindling supply of timber and as a tactical move this purchase may have some attractions for the incumbents. The big decisions come after the next State election. More than ever we need governments planning for a just transition, giving it priority in business and in funding. Hopefully governments are thinking a bit further ahead of the electoral cycle.

The mechanics of a just transition are simple. Before the mills and power stations close governments must recognise this inevitability and provide and stimulate alternative employment in these areas. There should be more jobs available in the areas where they are needed than the projected redundancies. Because these closures must be done as soon as possible now is the time to boost jobs dramatically in these areas. On Coal Seam Gas the State Labor Government has done the right thing but on both coal, and native forests as a carbon store, they are lagging a long way behind.



Notes on Bairnsdale’s Record Frost

The East Gippsland News (5.7.17) featured Bairnsdale’s record cold frost last Sunday. The report seems fairly accurate but it was accompanied by a front page photo of a wall of ice on a Calulu farm. This was misrepresentative as the farmer, due to the very dry June, had left his spray irrigation on overnight making his system an ice making machine.  Invariably what follows these cold snaps is the usual ‘climate change is bullshit’ claptrap. Of course it is not – the frost merely a tiny contribution to even Gippsland climate records where for this one day Bairnsdale was colder than Mt Hotham.

As one who has spent most of his life in the high country winter frosts were, and no doubt still are, the norm. These were common and often severe during dry winters with clear skies for weeks on end. Anecdotal accounts of solar hot water panels (incorrectly called ‘solar panels’ and confused with PVs) freezing to bursting went round Bairnsdale. If correct the owners of these panels had neglected to have cheap protection systems installed on them. These have been available for many years and I had them installed on my solar hot water panels in Ensay (frost country) in1986. Basically a thermostat opens a valve when the temperature gets too cold and drains cold water from the panels and replaces it with hot water from the tank.

Being used to frosty weather the frost in town did not seem so bad and was probably only minus one or two degrees. This is probably because of the ‘heat island effect’ (where the towns store heat in roads, masonry and buildings) and because of the need to eliminate this bias from records the Bairnsdale weather station is at the Airport about 8 kilometres from town.

It may come as a surprise for some that such record colds are still quite compatible with global warming. The CSIRO calculates that the ratio of heat related records to cold that are broken is six to one. In other words we still get the cold events and records but these are far outnumbered by the hotter ones. In a steady climate system (if such a thing could exist) hot and cold record events should be roughly even. I have written about this a number of times before (see here) using a normal or bell shaped curve as representative of our climate. With climate change the curve is moving to the right or the warmer side of the graph and the average days are also doing so, that is getting warmer. Sometimes for the ease of simplicity the shape of the bell curve remains unchanged but in reality the curve is also getting flatter. This means we have less average days but far more warm ones with still the occasional extreme cold.

The Bairnsdale frost was a significant local weather event but nothing major in the scheme of things except perhaps as an indicator that the country is drying off.


Climate Change and the Media

Nothing annoys me more at the moment than the current treatment of climate change by the media. I am not referring to the denialist diatribes that regularly emanate from the Melbourne Peoples Daily or, worse still, the Australian. Theirs is a combination of some of the worst aspects of journalism – propaganda based on ignorance and approaching criminal negligence.

However the liberal media – amenable to the challenges of science – seem to have two major faults in their treatment of global warming. These faults are based on the misconception that climate change is just an environmental problem. Whilst it clearly is an environmental one it is also, more importantly, an existential one. By the latter term I mean that life as we know it, and even human existence itself, is threatened by climate change. It should not be confused with the French philosophy of Sartre and Camus concerned with individual freedom and free will.

The treatment of climate change as an environmental issue only and not an existential one enables the issue to be politically exploited. An issue that almost all the science indicates should be bipartisan and treated with urgency becomes politicised. It becomes a left – right problem with one side (the greens) having some reasonable policies on the issue and the other side in extreme denial that there is a problem at all. This is made more complicated still by the fact that the greens have little traction outside the main cities and their occasional flirting with animal liberation has left them on the nose in the bush. Farmers, who have most to benefit from actions to combat climate change and most to lose with no action, are represented by a party of inaction and denial – the Nationals.

The second problem with compartmentalising the issue is that it does not get anywhere near the prominence or intensive treatment it deserves. The real debate in climate change is not between mainstream science and the deniers but between scientists considering how bad the outcome will be. There are a number of eminent climate scientists (Hansen, Wadhams) expressing alarm at the current state of affairs and that we are heading for worst case outcomes that threaten civilisation and possible human existence itself. The irony of course is that we all will suffer including the children and families of the deniers, and the deniers themselves.

Of the main news sources I peruse online on a daily basis all categorise climate change as an ‘environmental’ issue. Both the Melbourne Age and the Guardian deal with climate change under the ‘environmental header’. Occasionally one of these articles sneaks through to the home/front page. Likewise the Conversation – a continuing source of accurate and up to date information – have their climate change articles under the header ‘Environment and Energy’. On the ABC – again a good source – anything on climate is sometimes hard to find. The most important issue of our times deserves a massive and thorough treatment in all the media – on the front page or as lead news item – again and again and again.


Land Required for Renewable Energy


Floating solar farm China

Recently a friend sent me an article from UK academic Steffan Bohm which outlined some of the problems with the renewable energy revolution and pointed out, correctly, that even if we could change overnight to non-polluting energy we will still have the serious global warming problem to solve. I agree with the latter conclusion but see the problems for renewable energy he postulates – if they are problems – as obstacles that have to be overcome.

One problem he outlines is the matter of space and land. Under the heading ‘Land Shortage’ Bohm wrote: “the massive amounts of land required for installing gigawatts of solar and wind power will destroy natural habitats and take away valuable farm land.” This is in part a geographical problem with the shortages and competition for land occurring in the more populated areas of the northern hemisphere including the United Kingdom.

There are many solutions to this and it is not really a problem at all. In Australia about one in ten residences have solar panels on their rooftops and there is still room for massive expansion in this area on both residential and especially commercial premises. The possibility of having a roof made of solar tiles is almost upon us with Tesla manufacturing them in the USA and no doubt there will soon be other competitors on the scene.

As well in the USA there are solar roofs being erected over car parks – mainly to charge electric vehicles. Experiments have been carried out with solar roads in Europe and in China solar farms are being erected on water. The cost of floating solar is almost the same as erection on land once allowance has been made for increased productivity of the cells with the cooling effect of the water.

Whilst large solar farms take up land this is in part a result of historical precedent and the institutional idea that power has to be produced by centralised generators. Even so with these farms the land is mostly poor or offers limited grazing underneath. With solar thermal operations the land chosen is usually the sunniest and driest available hence the utilisation of unproductive desert and drylands for this purpose.

Wind generators also take up land but are far more attractive than that of the Coal Seam Gas miners. Grazing still is possible under the wind generators and rural communities and landowners receive a steady and substantial boost to their income. Wind generators are also being established over water with a recent plan to establish a 250 wind generator farm offshore in South Gippsland. Whilst this is still a positive step it should be noted that local communities are missing out on an extra $2.5 million pa if the generators were built on land.

Land is not a problem or impediment to this surge in renewable energy. We must transition to 100% renewable energy as quickly as possible if we are to have any chance of combatting the more serious challenges of global warming.


Mirboo North joins fight to stop mega coal mine by Marg Thomas

Growing opposition in the Mirboo North district to the proposed Adani Carmichael coal mine was shown when a screening of Guarding the Galilee attracted over 45 people, despite the threat not being in their own backyard. This region can identify strongly with the affected Queenslanders as the threat of coal mining and unconventional gas (fracking) has recently been averted after a solid community campaign. Many felt the upset that their Queensland counterparts are going through.

Coal and CSG Free Mirboo North hosted the screening – a harrowing insight into the struggles Queenslanders are facing in their fight to preserve their way of life, water, environment, tourism and farming industries. Farmers have raised concerns over groundwater impacts, and local communities are worried about the Adani project’s environmental impacts on the local region and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. If built, Adani’s Carmichael coal mine-rail-port project will add 4.6 billion tonnes of Greenhouse pollution, right at a time when emissions need to be urgently cut. It will also open up one of the largest untapped coal reserves on Earth.

Dr. Marg Lynn, Chair of Mirboo North and District Community Bank, had this to say, “The documentary provided a frightening insight into the devastation that mining will wreak in the 600 square kilometres of the Galilee Basin, destroying farming livelihoods, with dubious economic benefit to the region. Unlikely tax paid to the nation, all coal intended for India, despite that Government’s decision to wind back thermal coal imports, whilst doubling the carbon emissions of the whole of Australia” and “The Adani saga is incomprehensible in its logic, and brings shame to the Federal and Queensland Governments and the Commonwealth Bank which is still considering funding it.”

Following the film screening guest speakers briefed the audience on the related issues of climate change, health effects of burning fossil fuels and renewable energy.

In her presentation Aileen Vening a retired English and Geography teacher, explained the processes that are driving climate change at a global scale, and discussed how some of these have contributed to severe weather events across Australia, and to ongoing changes along our coastline. Stephanie McKelvie, a trainee doctor, spoke about the effects of climate change on respiratory, cardiovascular, and infectious diseases. She also addressed the impact of the changing climate on the social determinants of health and the ways in which an unstable environment threatens wellbeing.

Coordinator for Act on Climate, Leigh Ewbank, travelled from Melbourne to explain how communities can take action on the issues that affect their wellbeing in terms of climate change, transitioning to renewable energy and opposing the fossil fuel industry. In the past 3 weeks, the Mirboo North district has sent over 100 letters to Commonwealth Bank head office, calling on the bank to refuse loans to Adani. People have undertaken to contact State and Federal Ministers and meet with Commonwealth Bank managers to highlight their serious concerns regarding the Carmichael project.

The event caught media attention with Channel 9 Gippsland filming and conducting interviews. Contact Marg Thomas

GCCN meeting and Community Energy


Frank McShane of EGW (Photo Tom Crook)

Along with more than 20 others I attended the Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN) meeting held recently at East Gippsland Water’s (EGW) office in Bairnsdale where the theme was Community Energy. Ian Southall, the secretary of GCCN, spoke on the work of the Mirboo North Community Energy Hub, especially in getting the community onside and the current feasibility study where they hope to create a floating solar farm of 1.4Mw in conjunction with Gippsland Water. GCCN member Chris Barfoot explained the difficulty of having power lines capable of handling the extra current from large projects and suggested those near currently operating hydro schemes to be favourable and not requiring substantial infrastructure upgrades.

Rebecca Lamble, shire Environment Officer, spoke on the recent grants the shire has received of $180,000 to explore all the avenues for community energy projects. I am a strong supporter of the work Rebecca does, but feel she is often restrained by a conservative political organisation or in this case possibly restrictive funding requirements of the grants. But another feasibility study is surely not necessary with some of the sites obvious. A solar array on the Bairnsdale library covering their peak daytime energy consumption is one. My preference is for small solar projects behind the meter that can be done now on sensible locations – the grant money could probably have purchased more than 100kw of solar panels erected on all East Gippsland libraries.

Tony Smith spoke on EGW plans and what they are doing with mandatory targets for greenhouse gas reductions. John Hermans of Gippsland Environment Group offered thanks  for the work done so far by EGW as a leader in the community. Pride of place in EGW’s projects is the methane digester at their sewage facility on Macleods Morass which I have visited and written about before.

Since my visit nearly 2 years ago the digester has been completely insulated and is functioning with thanks to the imaginative work of engineer, Executive Manager of Operations, Frank McShane. With the solar panels on the office/workshop the digester covers all the energy use on the site and excess gas is flared to the atmosphere as CO2 rather than methane. I hope to do some more on Frank’s project in the near future.

On the downside it appears for the GCCN and the local shire are considering a bioenergy project in Orbost. This can only be supported if it genuinely uses agricultural and residential waste product. If on the other hand it is designed to use waste from the timber industry then it should in no way be considered. A rapid phase out of the logging of native forest, due to its huge impact on greenhouse gases is urgently needed.

‘Our Weird Weather’ by Aileen Vening

“I saved a series of satellite photos during the SA blackout event. This one shows the warm moist air from the Indian Ocean feeding into the low pressure system that led to the extreme weather event. (see date)” AV


A presentation at Mirboo North on 4 June 2017

The purpose of my presentation ‘Our Weird Weather’ was firstly to tease out examples of recent weather in Australia that could fit within this definition. The heatwave across the northern half of New South Wales, NE South Australia and the southern third of Queensland in February this year, where maximum temperatures were 6C or more above the long term average for two weeks, surely meets the definition ‘weird’ if not ‘frightening’.

Extreme rainfall, temperatures and humidity in several parts of Australia in December 2016 were also described.

My second focus was on the ‘big picture’ – what is happening in the atmosphere as a result of global warming, and the mechanisms operating to change natural processes at a global scale. The north polar jet stream is weakening and allowing warm air to ‘leak’ polewards and cold air to move south. So the usual development and movement of Highs and Lows is changing. White Arctic ice and glaciers at reflect most of the incoming solar radiation is being replaced by dark heat absorbing ocean & rock. A feedback loop has been established which has resulted in a 2/3 decline in the amount of Arctic ice at the end of the northern summer.

This melting process is now changing ocean currents including the Gulf Stream. In Antarctica, a huge ice covered land mass, melting is having a lesser though significant effect. Glaciers are being undercut by warm ocean currents.

The third theme of my talk was the South Australian power outage last September. Warm Indian Ocean water off Java, plus a northward bulge in the Antarctic jet stream contributed to an intense low pressure system forming over south eastern South Australia. The Bureau of Meteorology later reported there were wind gusts of 260km/hr from a ‘supercell’ thunderstorm and 7 tornadoes, some of which cross transmission lines and destroyed towers.

My presentation added some more pieces to the energy and climate jigsaw. In Australia, plans to allow more coal mines, and particularly the monsters proposed by Adani, will exacerbate already dangerous climate conditions.