Gippsland News & Views

The State Election and Climate Change – some predictions


Except for the electorate of Morwell it appears that the remaining four Gippsland seats are safe for the LNP/National coalition. However a number of factors – some local some general – could whittle down the margins in each of these seats. These margins are substantial ranging from 4% in Bass to nearly 18% in Gippsland East.

Both Bass and Narracan may be affected by the increased numbers on the suburban fringe in their electorates making the former marginal and a possible loss. How the Liberal or National party votes will be affected by the shenanigans in Canberra is impossible to estimate but is probably slight. Nor is the climate question quantifiable as a voter motivation but may have more affect in Bass where there is a ‘climate’ Independent Clare Le Serve who polled well in the 2014 election. Also there is substantial support for renewable energy especially in the south of the electorate. Narracan remains a mystery but there could be a swing of some sort against the sitting member.

Morwell I have dealt with in previous posts but with 11 candidates – all local and with some high flyers – it is impossible to predict. Three of the candidates are climate friendly – Lund, Caffrey and Richards – and the ALP decision with the SEA Electric car factory in Morwell is a possible seat winner. But unfortunately I notice they have obviously done some preference deals with not so sympathetic candidates.

The Nationals MPs in Gippsland East and South are firmly entrenched though swings against both sitting members should be anticipated. In Gippsland South with only 3 candidates both the ALP and Greens candidates are ‘climate friendly’. Issues that may have some traction include wind generation where the MP appears to be sitting on the fence and copping it from both sides with a vocal anti-wind group in Yarram and a pro-wind group pushing the fast tracking of the offshore Star of the South project still awaiting Federal government approval. The latter is further complicated by the Federal governments’ hostility to wind power. The ALP did not put up a candidate in this seat at the previous by-election.

The further east you travel the dryer it gets and the drought must be having some effect on the Nationals heartland. Both federally and at a state level the Nationals in general and the local member in particular are yet to connect the dots with regards climate change, fossil fuels and extreme weather. Most of east Gippsland (and some of south) has been suffering a severe rainfall deficiency approaching 2 years. Compared to 2014 where an outsider ran for the ALP, this time there is a strong local candidate Councillor Mark Reeves. He, along with the Greens Deb Foskey and Independents Stephenson and Neophytou are considered ‘climate friendly’. There are a number of other issues including the Fingerboards open cut mine and netting in the Gippsland Lakes which may attract a protest vote.

It is hoped that Tim Bull’s majority of 18% will be substantially eroded. It is also anticipated that climate change will increasingly become the dominant issue in elections at all levels across Australia

Drought, Climate Change and Gippsland

Former Nationals leader spruiking coal(ABC) 

Letter to Bairnsdale Advertiser – Unpublished

Our Federal and State National Party members of parliament have failed dismally to connect the current drought with global warming, either through ignorance or (more likely) the need to maintain the ‘party line’. The science has been around for a long time – burning fossil fuels (read coal) enhances the greenhouse effect. The enhanced greenhouse effect in turn means a generally dryer, warmer Gippsland. This has been measured over the last 50 years. It also means warmer days and nights, more evaporation and less soil moisture.

In June this year the Climate Council Fact Sheet “Climate Change and Drought” noted the following key findings: “Climate change is likely making drought conditions in… southeast Australia worse. Climate change has contributed to a southward shift in weather systems that typically bring cool season rainfall to southern Australia. Since the 1970s late autumn and early winter rainfall has decreased by 15 percent in southeast Australia… (and) Climate change is also driving an increase in the intensity and frequency of hot days and heatwaves in Australia, exacerbating drought conditions.”

It has also long been known that farming communities are our ‘front line’ in the ‘war’ against climate change. They are the most likely to suffer from the extreme weather events including droughts, heatwaves and bushfires but also the most likely to benefit from measures to ameliorate them, in particular renewable energy installations.

There is a direct link between burning fossil fuels and our warming climate. The National Party, with safe seats in Gippsland East and South, treat their supporters with contempt when they advocate the continued (even expanded) use of coal. This is the exact opposite of the measures required that will help reduce the alarming trends we are now experiencing as quickly as possible. Backing coal may be canny short term politics but in the long run it is a disaster for us all.

The SEA Electric Project and the Election in Morwell

For some years this blog has been advocating the adoption of large scale projects in or near the Latrobe Valley to help the region have a just transition from brown coal based electricity generation to job intensive renewable energy. As recently as a few weeks ago I outlined five projects that could possibly be part of this ‘transition’. Two of these projects would either store or generate as much power as Yallourn W and utilise valley infrastructure. These were Paul Treasure’s pumped hydro proposal connected with the Thompson River dam and the Star of the South off shore wind project in South Gippsland. The latter project is looking at as many as 12,000 jobs in construction and 300 permanent employees.

Since then we have had the Labor government announcement that they have signed a deal with SEA Electric to set up an electric vehicle manufacture in Morwell. The Latrobe Valley Community Power Hub newsletter summarised the project: “This development will create 500 manufacturing jobs in the Valley. Residents who lost work after Hazelwood’s closure will be given the opportunity to train with SEA Electric through a worker transition service. The Australian-owned company SEA Electric will set up the factory in Morwell with the first vehicle expected to roll off the production line in about a year. About 2400 electric vehicles will be assembled per year with the potential to ramp up production in the future.”

They further noted there “are currently about 10,000 electric cars in Australia but interest in them is rapidly growing so getting the infrastructure in place now means we will be ready to meet the demand” and that the “uptake of electric vehicles will help us reduce travel costs and reduce emissions to help tackle climate change.”

This is the nub of the matter. Are Gippslanders going to vote for a new coal fired power station, which because of a number of reasons including the increasingly harmful effects of climate change, is never going to happen? Or will they vote for those advocating a ‘just transition’ – a replacement of the old with the new as quickly and fairly as possible? In the electorate of Morwell Independent Tracie Lund, and the Greens and ALP candidates all recognise the ‘scientific consensus’ on ‘anthropogenic global warming’ and deserve your vote and preferences.  Fortunately the electric vehicle manufacturing with SEA Electric has been signed and will proceed anyway regardless of who wins in Morwell or the State.

Offshore Wind a local issue in South Gippsland

The Star of the South offshore wind project in South Gippsland reportedly obtained finance late last year.  I have written about this project previously and recently urged that it be fast-tracked. However the project has been delayed waiting approval from the Federal government. And the decision is in the hands of energy minister anti-wind politician Angus Taylor of whom the Australian Financial Review recently noted was “a formidable wind farm foe”. To counter this the Friends of the Earth recently ran a petition urging federal approval so that the project could proceed.

Organiser Cam Walker noted “The Star of the South (SOTS) windfarm proposed for a section of the coast off South Gippsland would be the largest offshore windfarm in the world and, in a very real sense, be a game changer for the energy system.  The project’s predicted generation capacity totals 2,000 MW.  The largest remaining coal powered generator in the Latrobe Valley is Loy Yang A, which has a maximum capacity of 2,200 MW.  SOTS would provide for the energy needs of 1.4 million households. The project would create an estimated 12,000 jobs in the construction phase and 300 ongoing positions.”

This is an important local issue in South Gippsland both state and federally, if there ever was one. Here is a major project that could increase electricity supply and thus reduce price, eradicate local unemployment, utilise the Latrobe Valley infrastructure and be environmentally and greenhouse friendly. This project if fast-tracked could be an important part in the just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. One wonders what the local (National Party) member has to say about all this.

Break the Silence on Climate Change by Deb Foskey

Climate change and drought. Coming to Gippsland with the support of the Nationals

Edited* Media Release from the Gippsland East Greens

“It’s been less than a fortnight since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report told us that we must act strongly to have any hope of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees,” said Dr Foskey. “If ever there was a wake-up call, this is it. The thousands of scientists who contributed data to the report say that keeping the temperature within 1.5 degrees will require ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ by 2030. For individuals, that means considering not just how much energy costs but how much we use and where it comes from. For governments, it means removing support from coal, gas and oil to renewable energy sources, halting deforestation and radically transforming transportation.

“Whoever forms government after the Victorian election will have to take on this gargantuan task and bring the people along with them. Let us not hear the Nationals and Liberals bleating that Australia is too small to make a difference; per capita we are among the world’s largest producers of carbon dioxide. Our Pacific neighbours are begging us to take action as their ability to survive depends upon it. If we think we have a refugee problem now, just wait until the seas wash over coastlines all around the world.

“Incumbent Tim Bull still hasn’t decided whether climate change, which he acknowledges is happening, is natural or human-induced. I can lend him many authoritative books and articles to read because it is irresponsible of him, as our voice in the Victorian Parliament, not to be fully informed on this matter. Is he blind to the impacts of temperature rise and changed rainfall patterns on East Gippsland, where agriculture is already feeling the pinch?

“While Labor has good policies on making renewable energy more widely available, it still pushes coal…The IPCC has made it clear that the time for positive actions for our future is now. The Greens want to ensure that our children and theirs experience a world at least as good as the one we have known. I challenge the other candidates for Gippsland East to declare their stance on climate change and outline the policies they will put in place to mitigate it.*”

*Editors Note: I have deleted parts of the MR that have attacked the ALP. Whilst much of it I agree with including the coal to hydrogen fiasco it is in the short term a matter of maintaining and possibly improving the Andrews governments’ momentum on renewable energy as opposed to the Lib/Nats opposition to the RET and having no climate policy. We are concerned here only with the issue and not partisan politics. In Gippsland East of the six candidates so far asked whether they accept the “scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming” four (2 independents, the ALP and Greens) have answered yes. For practical and strategic reasons as has been outlined many times here our preference is for ‘outstanding’ Independent candidates. For the full MR go here.


Bass Candidate Climate Statement & Narracan Forum Notes

We Must Demand Urgent Action on Climate Change

(Media Release from Clare Le Serve Independent candidate in Bass)

Today Independent Candidate Clare Le Serve called for urgent action on climate change. “The Independent Panel on Climate Change (recent report) is alarming. I care about my children and grandchildren and I want strong urgent action to ensure they have a sustainable future,” she said.

“The way the Canberra politicians dismissed the IPCC report is irresponsible. The Wentworth result tells us that the community is concerned, and that the community is demanding a strong focus on renewable energy and other low emission projects.

“Coal is dying, we need to rapidly move on. The new big batteries being installed are capable of stabilising the grid and we need to invest in the future not live in the past,” she said.

“However, it seems the Victorian Liberals are just as committed to the coal as their Canberra mates. Matthew Guy’s pledge to ‘scrap’ the Victorian Renewable Energy Target if elected is unbelievable. It shows he is out of touch, this would kill off new investment in renewables an area that will generate far more jobs in the longer term.

“His statement that he “will not allow our coal resources to be wasted, I will not allow such economic advantages to Victoria to be kept in the ground for the sake of ideology” shows how out of date and risky he is. The Liberal Candidate for Morwell Dale Harriman is reported to be actively encouraging the construction of a new coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley.

“I support the rooftop solar and battery initiatives of the Victorian Government (as) this is the way to go. My difference is I want to see more. But I haven’t seen a single announcement on renewable projects from the Liberals other than their attack on the ALP plan and a half-baked plan to approve onshore gas projects.

“We need urgent action to achieve a clean energy future, Mr Guy’s comments supporting coal causes me great concern,” Ms Le Serve said.

Brief Notes on Baw Baw Sustainability Forum Candidate’s Forum (Mal McKelvie)

We had an audience of 27 people with 7 candidates attending our election forum on Thurs 25th at REstore in Yarragon. All candidates who had nominated at the time of organising were invited by mail and electronically to the addresses they had given to the VEC. The 7 who attended were Christine Maxfield (Labor), Reade Smith (Sustainable Australia), Rhonda Crooks (Derryn Hinch Justice Party), William Hornstra (Greens), Geoff Pain (Health Australia), Robert Danieli (Australian Country Party/ Give it Back), Michael Fozard (independent). Gary Blackwood tweeted afterward that he had not been invited but he had been – via his registered address in Melbourne. We really wanted him there and I tweeted a question to him with a note to say hope to see you on Thursday at the forum, a few days before.

My personal impressions of their (climate) responses were…Reade Smith (candidate in the Upper House) was impressive. He has had numerous jobs, is Al Gore trained on the climate reality project. He is very aware of the climate issues and is taking action personally and politically…Will Hornstra is young and is well across the climate and social issues that he is passionate about…Michael Fozard talked a bit about climate change but also his son’s involvement in the coal to hydrogen project. He seems to want a foot in both camps.

Making every election in Oz a Climate Referendum

A recent article by Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan and Geoff Cousins in the Guardian called for the Wentworth by-election to be made into a Climate Referendum. The victory of Dr Kerryn Phelps has to a large extent fulfilled this with a record swing against the incumbent party in one of the safest seats in Australia and with every indication that climate change was a very important issue. Earlier in the year the safe seat of Wagga in NSW was won by independent Dr Joe McGirr who had climate change at the top of his agenda.

In a way my puny ‘Vote Climate Vote Solar’ efforts over the last 10 years were a prototype of the ‘climate referendum’ campaign. Those campaigns were never about winning but had the multiple aims of making climate change and renewable energy important issues, getting publicity on this wherever possible and just possibly influencing some of the other candidates. After eight elections in eight years I have decided to continue working from the sidelines mainly in the social media. (For anyone interested accounts of all my campaigns in pdf files can be found at the bottom of this page.) So the wins of McGirr and Phelps give us hope and the aims are now much higher – the removal of as many of the climate change deniers from our parliaments as possible.

Our election in Victoria is less than a month away and there are several organisations striving to make this a ‘climate referendum’ including the Act on Climate group of the Melbourne FOE and Environment Victoria. For my own part I have been asking every declared candidate the question “Do you accept the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming?” and publicising all the positive responses with pressure group Gippsland2020’s social media. This has been quite successful with 2020’s twitter post of Independent candidate in Morwell Tracie Lund’s reply getting over 200 engagements. So far 10 candidates in four of the five Gippsland electorates have said ‘Yes’.

And then there is a Federal election coming up next year in May or before as well as a NSW state election. Rumours on the social media suggest a prominent Independent candidate may line up against our climate-denier-in-chief Tony Abbott in Warringah. Let us not forget some of the others including Craig Kelly, Barnaby Joyce a number of other Nats, and Kevin Andrews and some other IPA cohorts in Victoria. The job before us all is to make every election a climate referendum.

More Basic Climate Questions for Gippsland Candidates

When asked about critical aspects of climate change our Lib/Nat pollies procrastinate and either refuse to answer the question or waffle on with the same end result.  But they are either following the party line (often deviously so as not to put off voters) or they do not understand the science, possibly both. A typical example is local member Tim Bull for Gippsland East who says that he accepts climate change but that the jury is still out on whether it is natural or not. In fact this is mere flummery trying to disguise an anti-science line by his party. It is his way of toeing the line. It is therefore a priority with anyone concerned with the urgency of global warming to expose this. This in turn requires the individuals who are asking these questions to quickly understand when the answer is scientifically incorrect, evaded or ignored.

Mr Bull the jury is not ‘still out’ on whether the global warming is natural or not. This is an argument of the status quo or ‘do nothing’ school – that because it is natural you can do nothing about it and therefore no political action is required. This argument is the main fall-back position of the climate deniers. The fact that our warming planet is caused by human activity has been accepted by mainstream science for many years and is grounded on the basic physics of the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect, in turn, has been known for nearly 200 years and the details and measurements of the ‘effect’ have been refined over the years. It is the governor of earth’s climate and increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere means the earth’s temperature will increase.

It has been noted that the BBC is now giving courses to its journalists on how to handle and ask questions on climate change which presumably includes the basic physics. Energy commentator and sustainability expert Alan Pears argued in this month’s Renew that our leaders need to be re-educated on climate matters: “But many of our leaders just don’t seem to grasp these principles. Maybe we need to set up remedial education for our leaders in basic physics…Senior managers in the ‘top 100’ businesses could also be included. And senior public servants.”

Whenever a government sympathetic to the science is elected they should immediately embark on a massive education program on the basic physics of climate change for the whole public. This is something that was missing from the Gillard government, and also missing from progressive Labor governments in South Australia and Victoria. It is only by such campaigns that the financial power of the vested interests can be matched and overwhelmed. Then, perhaps, we will get the action that is necessary.

Some Sustainable Projects for the Latrobe Valley

An article published by the ABC noted that all 3 Gippsland electricity generators in the Latrobe Valley will have to close by 2030 if Australia is to reduce its CO2 emissions in line with the 1.5C aim of the Paris Agreement. To some this is inevitable and requires a rapid but orderly transition from fossil fuel based power to renewable energy. I sketched out a very rough proposal for this in 2013. Since then I have made numerous suggestions of how this ‘just transition’ can happen quickly in the valley and will summarise a few of them below.

But for this to happen by 2030 these, or similar projects, will probably all require government assistance in some way – incentives, finances and planning, guidance etc. And these projects can, and should, be designed to take advantage where possible of the valley strengths including manufacturing and infrastructure. The following suggestions are in no particular order

1.Turning  waste fly ash into cement along the lines advocated by think tank Beyond Zero Emissions. The valley has at least 20 years supply of fly ash and this would be positive step towards a carbon neutral product. Touted by valley resident Howard Williams as a win/win situation.

2. Various floating solar farms have been advocated by Chris Barfoot and others at locations such as Lake Narracan and the Hazelwood Pondage. No site preparation is needed, the floats can be manufactured locally and electricity produced can hook straight into the valley infrastructure.

3. A major local pumped hydro project was suggested by Paul Treasure. Designed to be both local and connect to valley infrastructure Paul’s proposal would store as much energy as Yallourn W currently produces. This suggestion gained a fair bit of traction in the social media and attracted some green criticisms. A modified version or similar alternatives are well worth considering.

4. Star of the South is a major offshore wind farm off the Ninety Mile still in the planning stage. Again the power is designed to make its way to Melbourne via the valley and is a major development eventually employing 300 workers. This project should be fast tracked.

5. Heat pumps are now being manufactured by the Earthworker Co-operative in Morwell. Supporting this project with a bulk buy for public housing may help it grow quickly.

These projects are no means exclusive but combine a number of features – being as local as possible, supporting valley manufacturing and infrastructure, using various combinations of renewable energy and energy storage and with government support. So far most of the wind, solar farm and energy storage projects in Victoria have been outside Gippsland. What is needed is an enthusiastic local member in Morwell to push a variety of projects perhaps like some of those I have outlined.

More on Kalbar Resources Rare Earth Claims

Last week I wrote* generally and critically about Kalbar Resources Rare Earth (RE) claims for their Fingerboards Mineral Sands project. In short their website claimed that REs were an ‘essential’ component for permanent magnets in both wind turbines and electric motors. Their promotional material implied, but did not state outright, that the revolution in wind generation and electric vehicles could not occur without the Fingerboards mine. I disputed this but did not provide much detail.

So having published the blog I continued the search for more evidence and came across an Amory Lovins article published last year. Entitled “Clean Energy and Rare Earths: why not to worry” the article focusses mainly on supply and demand of REs and to a much lesser extent on their specific interest to us. In this article Lovins is most enlightening.

The ‘myth’ that REs are essential to the renewable energy revolution as permanent magnets in wind turbines and electric motors appears to have originated in “2015 [when a] MIT Technology Review asked, “What Happened to the Rare-Earths Crisis?”… [and]  misleadingly called rare earths “crucial to the permanent magnets used in wind turbines and motors in hybrid or electric cars…”

Lovins expanded: “Some such reports persist even in 2017. But they’re nonsense. Everything that such permanent-magnet rotating machines do can also be done as well or better by two other kinds of motors that have no magnets but instead apply modern control software and power electronics made of silicon, the most abundant solid element on Earth. The first kind is the induction motor, invented by Nikola Tesla 130 years ago and used in every Tesla electric car today. The second kind, less well-known despite origins tracing back to 1842, is the switched reluctance (SR) machine, likewise made of just iron and (less) copper, but using a different geometry and operating principle.”

It is clear that the rapid adoption of renewable energy is the first step to mitigate global warming. This includes the widespread, if not universal, adoption of both wind generation and electric motors. Kalbar’s intention is to exploit this but their claim for REs and permanent magnets is both incorrect and misleading. One wonders how many of their other claims will stand up to close scrutiny.

*In this I noted my intention to do a future blog on Kalbar’s carbon emissions. I have since learned that their emissions will be part of their Environmental Effects Statement on Air Quality. The emissions are yet to be calculated but “likely to be more than 200,000 tons of CO2 equivalent per annum.”