Wilma at the sign
by Deb Carruthers (Gasfield Free Bairnsdale)
On the south side of the Princes Highway near Bomfords Road on the eastern entrance to Bairnsdale you will see a very large sign that was made by Mr Bill Reid, a local sheep farmer in the area. Bill wanted to make his concerns known about unconventional gas mining by making a large metal sign with the words “CSGas Kills Farms”. Bill said he made the sign because, “I am concerned that unconventional gas mining (CSG) will kill farms and I want to bring this issue to the attention of the community.”
“Having worked in gas plants I know firsthand about the range of constant loud noises that go 24 hours/day; this will upset the grazing and wellbeing of livestock.” Bill said, “I am worried that gas companies will take all the fresh water and we will be left with contaminated water, full of potentially toxic chemicals, it will be impossible to farm; no one will want to live in a gasfield.” Bill has also made another sign a bit further down the highway towards Bairnsdale. This is a smaller metal sign that says “No CSG”.
The flying fox issue remains active in the local news. One resident who lives near the main colony has kept a log of their comings and goings for the last 20 years. She stated that most of the colony “depart after the first frost and are completely gone by the second frost. The winter of 2014 was the first year that the colony remained.”
It is not clear whether it was the moderate winter or the supply of food (they are primarily nectar feeders) that was the vital factor in the colony wintering over. If it is the former then the gradually warming climate indicates that the colony may eventually become a permanent rather than a seasonal one.
Our source is one of the unlucky landholders on Riverine Street who would like to sell but has been unable to do so because the presence of the flying foxes has severely depressed the property market. However the removal of 10% of the trees they inhabit – about to be carried out by the East Gippsland Shire – may not be a solution if the bats merely relocate further down the river and closer to the CBD.
If the winter presence of the flying foxes is not another indicator of climate change then their (and our) vulnerability to heatwaves almost certainly is. The summer of 2013 saw a number of bat fatalities in the Bairnsdale colony during a brief heatwave where temperatures reached 42 C.(see photo). It appears the flying fox is extremely vulnerable to prolonged heatwaves and 42-3C appears to be the critical temperature threshold. Of recent years there have been substantial heatwave fatalities in SE Brisbane, Casino, NSW and other places where fatalities of five to fifty thousand have been estimated.
Whilst we wrangle over minor issues like relocation the main issue of climate change is all but ignored. And the current heatwave in India reminds us as a species how vulnerable we are.
Groups like the Gippsland Environment Group and environmentalists like Ross Scott and health professionals like Dr. Jo McCubbin have been raising concerns about the mercury levels in fish in the Gippsland Lakes for many years.
It has been announced that a “study to assess mercury levels in fish of the Gippsland Lakes will commence today followed by a broader environmental study into the accumulation of mercury and other heavy metals in the sediment of the Lakes. The first study, which will commence today will involve the catching of 100 black bream and 100 dusky flathead across 10 sites.”
The release added that the ”study of mercury levels in the fish will be conducted in line with research conducted in 1980, 1998 and 2004, each of which found that mercury levels were well within food safety guidelines and safe to eat.” Whilst this may be so McCubbin and Scott have been pointing out that mercury accumulates in the body and even very small doses may be harmful to pregnant women and small children.
The mercury in the Lakes comes from a number of sources including gold recovery operations of the nineteenth century and from the Australian Paper’s Maryvale paper mill. But the major source is probably from the continued combustion of brown coal in the Latrobe Valley.
The media release concluded: “The Gippsland community, including professional fishers, has been consulted about the research, and the fishermen will participate by catching the fish for the study. Professional fishers also participate in the annual algae monitoring in the Lakes. These studies are joint initiatives of the Department of Health & Human Services, the Environment Protection Authority, Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning, Fisheries Victoria, the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport & Resources and Primesafe.”
The State government is to be congratulated on this initiative.
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
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.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Koonwarra & Nerrena Declaration Day! Saturday 6th June Koonwarra Hall. More details to follow soon Contact Margery: email@example.com
Gasfield Free Seaspray Yes2 Renewables Public Meeting 6.30pm Friday 12th June Seaspray Hall 6.30pm for dinner, 7pm meeting starts. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 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: email@example.com A hot lunch will be provided, this will cost $5 per person
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.
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.