Gippsland News & Views

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.


  Climate Change: Debate and Trust

Recently a member of my family was surprised when I informed her that there was no debate about global warming and that it was merely the consequence of basic physics. The widely held belief in the community that there is a debate about climate science is a myth. For decades the man on the street has taken his cue from the conservative media heavily influenced by the vested interests. Taking advice on climate change from the likes of Bolt and co in the Murdoch press is like having your local garbo give advice on a heart operation. Unfortunately it is mainly bad news we don’t want to hear. So we rationalise our mistake with personal (anecdotal) weather accounts – almost invariably wrong. The media sow the seeds of doubt and do it very well.

The truth is that the science has been ‘in’ on man-made global warming for more than thirty years. The ‘greenhouse effect’ is as established a part of the scientific lexicon as anything can be. I apologise for repeating myself but to deny the greenhouse effect is like denying gravity or the shape of the earth. If we increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere the temperature of the planet will rise. Humanity has been doing just that since the industrial revolution and the planet’s temperature has increased by an average one degree over the last 100 years.

The statistic commonly bandied around is that 97.5% of climate scientists consider that global warming is happening and is man-made. This figure comes from a study by John Cook who describes in detail here how scientists arrive at a consensus on any particular issue – in particular examining, testing and retesting various hypothesis until only one remains. He notes: “But the testing period must come to an end. Gradually, the focus of investigation narrows down to those avenues that continue to make sense – that still add up – and quite often a good theory will reveal additional answers, or make powerful predictions, that add substance to the theory.” So it is with climate science.

This aspect of science should never have been politicised. Mostly we just accept best science as a normal part of our lives as in the case of medicine. We take the advice of our doctor and if there is a problem we may get a second or third opinion.  But do we go to one hundred before we find a diagnosis we like or agree with? There are various analogies about things we do based on trust and experience. We fly and trust the expertise of airline pilots.  We use a mobile phone without understanding its inner works.

Who then to trust? If we accept the basic physics and the building evidence from various sources which all substantially support one another then we can safely conclude that the global warming is real and that most of the news will be bad. Conversely we can also conclude that any article, news item or other information source that denies or questions the basic physics is to, say the least, suspect and almost certainly wrong. Some years ago when speaking to a group on the Nungurner foreshore I pleaded with them “to trust the scientists, not the politicians”. To the pollies we can add a small, but influential, number of mostly unqualified journalists.

Off grid on a Shoestring by Kay Schieran

This abridged version republished with permission of the author. For the full article and photos go to OneStepofftheGrid

I have been off grid for over 30 years, starting with just one 40W panel made in Australia from American components. That panel must be close to 40 years old, as the builder of my place fitted it when they first moved into the house – there were 5 x 12V neons powered by this, via 6 x 2V ex-telecom 12V batteries. The regulator was a zenar diode and a heat sink.

Above is a photo of the old panel, which still manages to put out 19 Volts on a sunny day, and charges my 12V power tool batteries, etc., via a $12 Chinese regulator. This panel originally cost over $400. The second panel I bought was a factory second, and only lasted a few years. It puts out only 9 Volts in full sun now. There’s also a tiny 12V 10W panel which just charges small batteries or maintains bigger ones.

I do all my house lighting from a few other 12V panels / batteries powering 12V LEDs without the need for inverting. All my other power needs in the house are via 2000W @ 24V, 4x 256 a/h AGMs and a 3000W continuous inverter (Powerstar 7) which has been faultless in reliability and performance, costing under $600 delivered in 2012. And still for sale now at that price from various brands.

I have, now, all the appliances I only used to dream of in 1989, like an electric fridge, a washing machine, e-bikes and trikes, power tools, etc. I’ve had to add to my system in bits and pieces, and now have built an almost solar powered welder (just got to wire in the other four panels to complete the job) and a workshop power supply on a tiny trailer set-up which runs my fabricating needs on a rural property 100km from the shops.

Now an age pensioner, I am struggling a bit to finish all I have started, but I hope to get there soon, for the next generation to get the benefit. I have done all my own system design and installation – for a total cost so far under $15,000. That includes my own mobile internet access point, as the Broadband Guarantee and NBN systems were, and are, a sad financial and functional disaster.

Kay’s house Sunrise Farm W Tree

The thing which blows my mind – where have our movers and shakers been for the last thirty years? Maybe on a planet that has unlimited growth potential, like the fairyland inhabited by the bankers and economists who are hell bent to send us into terminal decline via over-exploitation of everything?

How is it that an old man on a tiny income can do this, when the rich and famous are failing utterly in their endeavours, unless their agenda is to destroy all? With marketing expertise they have generated and exploited fear, greed and ignorance – to enrich themselves in the short term, I suppose.

Offshore wind farm for Gippsland?

In the news across the media recently has been the bold plan to erect up to 250 wind generators on offshore Gippsland.

The ABC noted that “Plans for an Australian-first offshore wind farm off Victoria’s south-east coast, which could provide almost a fifth of the state’s energy, have won cautious government support. The Wind farm could provide 18 per cent of Victoria’s energy and power 1.2 million homes. The Project still needs government approval. Federal, state ministers have given early support.”

“Offshore Energy has been working with the Federal Government on a feasibility study for the 250-turbine proposal, and will present details of the plan to a Victorian Government-led energy roundtable in Churchill today. The wind farm — which would be built 10–25 kilometres offshore in waters near Port Albert — would spread over 570 square kilometres in Commonwealth waters, and could provide 18 per cent of the state’s energy. Offshore Energy’s managing director Andy Evans said the $8 billion project could reduce carbon emissions by about 10.5 million tonnes per year.”

Reneweconomy noted: “On the upside for locals, the offshore wind farm is expected to generate investment of around $8 billion, create 12,000 jobs during the construction phase and 300 ongoing operational and maintenance jobs” and that the construction price per megawatt was dropping all the time.

As can be expected there was some reaction on the social media. Someone, for instance, tweeted that a fraction of the money proposed for the offshore wind farm could have kept Hazelwood open. Hazelwood however was closed by private enterprise and if you don’t like that blame Jeff Kennett or your local member. Also the prospect of keeping Hazelwood open only prolongs the agony of the ‘just transition’ from coal to renewables. Thirdly it is in a planning stage only with lots of bureaucratic and financial hurdles to pass and will be built gradually over time.

On the downside farmers will miss out on any rental that they would have received from on shore installations – currently about $10,000 pa for each generator, or $2.5 million per annum to the region. On the bonus side it is in Gippsland, it connects to the Latrobe Valley infrastructure, provides substantial employment and is supported by the local member Darren Chester, though he appears yet to get the link between coal and global warming. But it is a plan of substantial size and vision and the first of many needed for the ‘just transition’.

Longford gas plant locks in further Global Warming Part 2 by Cam Walker

Reproduced with Permission of Author. Full article here.

Locking in Further Investment in Fossil Fuels

Anyone who is paying attention to climate science knows that the time for any form of new fossil fuel development is over.

Investing $5B in new gas infrastructure means that ExxonMobil will do its best to maximise gas production in order to offset their costs in establishing the plant. The decision to approve the new plant went against the precautionary principle. Compelling evidence about fossil fuels contribution to global warming and the need to keep the majority of know fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change was widely available at the time the plant construction was approved.

Inconsistent with State Government Policy

In early 2017, the Victorian parliament approved changes to the Victorian Climate Change Act, which commits our state to net zero emissions by 2050. There will be emissions reduction targets announced for each five year period to meet this target. This means that in each five year period we must be producing less emissions.

Allowing an additional 800,000 tonnes of CO2 pollution a year is inconsistent with this commitment. While the approval occurred before the 2050 target was set, it underscores the fact that the state government cannot allow any further development of fossil fuels in Victoria if we are to meet our emissions reduction targets.

What’s the Deal with Esso?

Esso is part of the oil and gas giant ExxonMobil, which has a terrible track record on climate change. Exxon was aware of climate change, as early as 1977, 11 years before it became a public issue, according to a recent investigation from Inside Climate News. This knowledge did not prevent the company (now ExxonMobil and the world’s largest oil and gas company) from spending decades refusing to publicly acknowledge climate change and even promoting climate misinformation.

Then there is the issue of them not paying taxes: The company has managed to pay zero tax in Australia for two years, despite making $18 billion in sales. As noted by Michael West, “Exxon is BHP’s partner in the Bass Strait offshore oil and gas fields and a big beneficiary of rising gas prices. While East Coast commercial and industrial gas customers have been getting slugged astronomical prices of $12-$15 a gigajoule for long-term supply contracts, Exxon shareholders have been pocketing record dividends”.


Longford gas plant locks in further Global Warming Part 1 by Cam Walker

Reproduced with Permission of Author. Full article here 

ESSO has officially opened its new gas conditioning plant at Longford in Gippsland, promoting it as the largest domestic gas project on Australia’s eastern seaboard, and one that will give certainty to the state’s gas supplies for about 40 years. The development will supply 1.6 trillion cubic feet of gas to eastern Australia, which Esso says is enough to power a city of one million people for 35 years.

The conditioning plant represents the completion of the $5.5 billion Kipper Tuna Turrum project in Bass Strait, which has resulted in the development of two new gas fields and the upgrade of a third. The plant will remove excess carbon dioxide and mercury from the gas taken from the offshore gas fields, which will then be processed at Longford.

This is certainly welcome news for local employment. The company says that construction of the plant ‘generated more than 800 direct jobs’. But there are some significant environmental problems with the plant.

Greenhouse Pollution

Wellington Shire Council granted planning permits for the plant in 2013, despite fears that it would increase the state’s greenhouse emissions by one million tonnes a year. Back in 2007, Phil Hart, a petroleum facilities engineer, and representative of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil said:

“The gas conditioning plant is required to treat new production from the Kipper gas field. The downside is that it would emit a million tonnes of CO 2 every year. While not quite in the same league as a coal-fired power station, this is not the right approach to achieving urgent CO 2 reductions. Natural gas piped from Longford to our stoves must be quite pure. Esso therefore plans to build a processing unit to separate the CO 2 from the gas. The result will be a concentrated waste stream of CO 2, perfect for sequestering in an older oil or gas field nearby. So, what does Esso plan to do with it? Its proposal is to vent it to the atmosphere”.

Phil suggested that “perhaps the sequestration option is less profitable and Esso/BHP would rather not lead us down that path”.

After the opening of the plant in 2017, Friends of the Earth approached the company to find out whether the plant would be emitting this much CO2 into the atmosphere. The company did not respond.

The current estimate is that around 800,000 tonnes will be emitted per year. This is equivalent to adding 200,000 cars to Victoria’s roads (this figure is based on a report into the SaskPower carbon capture and storage facility at Boundary Dam Power Station in Canada).

How a Melting Arctic Affects Gippsland


Lakes Entrance at high tide + .74m (source )

A recent article in New Scientist by Fred Pearce (8.4.17) outlined the sorry state of affairs in the Arctic. The greatest warming on earth has been occurring above the Arctic circle. Over the last 30 years not only has the minimum summer sea ice drastically declined so too has the ice volume – now about a third of what it was in 1975. Compared with the average (1981-2010) the air temperature was 2 degrees warmer, the ocean 5 degrees warmer and during the 2016 heatwave an incredible 15 degrees warmer. Pearce noted: “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. Studies show that the shrinking ice cap is effectively helping to warm the rest of the planet. It may also be changing your local weather.”  Arctic expert Peter Wadhams has been predicting the complete loss of summer sea-ice in the near future –within 15 to 20 years

Put simply the two poles are the earth’s air conditioners and the Arctic is in diabolical trouble. There are a number of factors – called feedback systems – that are already increasing the rate of warming and may help increase it dramatically. Two of note are the ice albedo affect and the release of methane. Ice and snow reflect most of the energy from the sun back into space. As the Arctic warms the sea ice melt increases exposing more ocean which in turn absorbs more energy and gets warmer. This in turn melts more ice and exposes more ocean. There is a large amount of methane – a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – locked up in ice, the ocean floors and in the permafrost. As the arctic warms more of this is released causing more warming. As with the loss of ice each warming forces a further and increased warming. Under some circumstances this could constitute “runaway” global warming.

So how does this affect Gippsland? Most of extra heat in this process is absorbed by the oceans which in turn is transported around the globe. The extra heat also causes the water of the oceans to expand and gradually increase sea levels. Any disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice puts a lot more pressure on the Greenland ice sheet causing melting which contributes directly to sea level rise. The latest worst case scenario is now a 2.7m rise by 2100 and at that rate downtown Lakes Entrance, and a score of low lying coastal villages on the 90 mile and around the Gippsland Lakes would be inundated. Well within the lifetime of someone born today.

But sea level rise is only one of many aspects of a warming planet. Often accompanying the rise will be storm surges (east coast lows) and heavy rainfall causing floods – the so called ‘perfect storm’. Flooding will increase and be more severe over the years until eventually Lakes and other places will go permanently under. The coast will also retreat from 50 to 100 times each metre of sea level rise. Thus with the worst case scenario the foreshore at Lakes will have disappeared well before 2100. At the same time there will be an opposite and probably far more frequent chain of events – droughts, summer heatwaves and bushfires – as well many other warming threats to existence not clearly understood or recognised.

Solar Revolution in the Nationals’ Heartland

New solar array on the Albion Hotel Swifts Creek

As far as I am aware the first solar panel operating in the old Omeo shire was in 1976. It was a tiny strip (10 X 45cm) powering a six volt battery for the radio on the Mt Nugong fire tower.  Ten years later my original installation of two 30 watt panels was one of the first done privately. These panels were prohibitively expensive at the time at about $12 per watt. But after 30 years they are still producing.

This was closely followed by installations on remote locations such as TV relay stations by solar advocate Richard Darby. Although these relays are no longer used, like mine the original solar panels are still active. Richard still installs panels on boreholes as ground water pumps, around a gold mine he has an interest in and has 5kw on his house.

From 2002 Tom Jack (“Solar Tom”) of Tambo Valley Electrics installed stand-alone power systems and solar arrays on isolated houses. The introduction of generous solar feed-in-tariffs (FIT) of 60c per kwh by the Victorian government in 2009 saw the first rapid expansion of rooftop solar. Tom and his family at Cassilis were among those who took early advantage of this installing 2 kws of panels on his large work shed. At the premium FIT this installation created income for the household and though the property is sold, will do so for another seven years.

The first business to install a large rooftop solar array was the Swifts Creek General Store in 2014 of 30kw – six times as large as the then permitted residential array or about 10 times the size of the average. Although expensive to install the array runs the store when the sun is out – equivalent to providing $600 of electricity per week. The value of this is many times better than bank interest. When they have too much power the excess is used to heat hot water for the store and an adjoining residence. The store has recently been followed by other commercial interests in town – the Swifts Creek Bakery and the Albion Hotel.

Swifts Creek baker Artie de Vries said their 10kw installation has cut their power bills by about half and he thought that the payback period was ‘about five years’. Being on the south side of McMillan Street the Albion Hotel’s array of 20kw is the most visible. That businesses are now installing much larger arrays than your average residential installation is the real revolution in the power industry. The daytime operation of many shops and offices is almost perfect for solar energy matching energy supply and demand.

In the meantime the Nationals at both State and Federal levels are doing their best to oppose and delay this revolution. Even their rusted on supporters must eventually see the contradiction this involves as electricity prices creep even higher and the energy security they promise fails to materialise. The solar revolution is going to happen anyway and the sooner it does the better for us all.

US Speakers Tour the Valley by Gippslander

On Wednesday 26th and Thursday the 27th of April, the Australian Environmental Grant Makers Network (AEGN) supported a tour of the Latrobe Valley, bringing their philanthropic supporters, and two community organisers from the US to share their learnings of a coal dependent economy transitioning to something new. The intent was to learn how regions that rely principally on coal extraction can reshape their future and grow a flexible modern economy. Justin Maxson, Executive Director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and Lisa Abbott, coordinator of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth travelled and connected with the communities of the Latrobe Valley in Victoria and the Hunter region in NSW.  Justin and Lisa live in the state of Kentucky, in the Appalachian region.  This was once the largest coal-producing region in the US, and coal extraction through strip mining and mountaintop removal has left a terrible environmental footprint. Once a large employer, the coal industry in now in decline.

In a number of public events and stakeholder meetings, Justin and Lisa shared their experience, and listened to Latrobe Valley stories, success and plans for what is next.  In a sessions facilitated by the Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN), Justin, Lisa and AEGN were provided with a high level proposal overviews of grass roots initiatives looking at transition for the region.  These included: Hot Water and Battery Factory from Earthworker Co-Operative; Energy Efficient Homes from Latrobe Valley Sustainability Network; Floating solar concept from GCCN;  Biohubs feasibility project from GCCN; Transition plan from Voices of the Valley; Mirboo North Community Energy Hub; and Zero Net carbon Communities from Baw Baw Sustainability Group

On the Wednesday night, over 150 people attended a presentation by Justin and Lisa.  This was co-hosted by a Mirboo North Community Foundation and the Morwell Neighbourhood House.  The crowd was a very diverse group, not the usual make up you might think would attend a discussion about a community moving away from Coal. Observed were council  CEO’s, councillors, industry and business leaders, state government leaders, young, old, innovators amongst the midst of community grassroots leaders in the Valley. Many commented after on the fantastic mix of the crowd, and the number of new faces. Justin and Lisa began to by setting the scene of what they experience is of their community in transition.  See this powerful intro here.

As an observer, I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with the respect and dignity Justin and Lisa brought to the conversation, one which remains raw and emotional in Latrobe Valley. The similarities and relevance of the two scenario’s (Appalachia and the Latrobe Valley) had lots of heads nodding. It was reassuring and sobering that their community, possible 5-10 years ahead of the Latrobe Valley, doesn’t have all the answers, but is happy to share the learnings. It is also reassuring that a number of positive initiatives are similar.

“If we can grow an economy that works better for people in the region, if we can grow a politics that is more participatory and gives folks a voice in a place that has been dependent on the coal industry, where our politics and our economy have been shaped by the same extraction that is threatening the planet, it is an example that will resonate across the country and potentially the globe”. Justin Maxon

If you want to learn a little more on what is happening in the Appalachian transition, which refers to the some of the initiatives that Justin and Lisa’s organisations support see this video and an article by the New York Times. Also of interest here.