Gippsland News & Views

Wine and Climate Change by Ken Eckersley

Introduction to an article published by the Baw Baw Sustainability Network

Climate Change is happening throughout the world and one of the consequences is changing the wines that we all enjoy. There will not be an impact on many alcoholic beverages, like beer and spirits, because they are essentially manufactured. Natural beverages sourced directly from fruits, like grapes, that grow, ripen and reflect the season are certainly influenced.

Fruits are ripening quicker and are sweeter. Vintage (grape picking) is now 3-4 weeks earlier that 40 years ago. Paradoxically the frost damage risk in Spring is now longer by 3-4 weeks because the air is drier and there are more clear night skies.

Climate change means that everything is on average getting warmer. Over my lifetime alone temperatures have risen an average of 2 degrees. I can remember as a boy in Sydney the newspaper’s front pages in large letters shouting “40 Degrees!!”. Today, east coast temperatures often exceed 40 degrees and the novelty has long passed.

All would be well if we only drank sweet wines and ports, like our 19th century forbears, as they require grapes with high sugar. However, the most popular wine styles today are dry reds and whites, commonly consumed with food at the table. In the past these wines were between 11 to 13.5% alcohol.

A walk through your local bottle shop looking at red wine labels will show a range of alcohol levels, from 13 to 17%, with most 15-16%. A definite shift towards port styles (18 to 20%). The question is does it matter? The wines will be different in unexpected ways…

The full article is here.

The author is the proprietor of the Nicholson River Winery

Does our local Member get Climate Change? by Tony Peck

Letter published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 12.8

There is surely irony in Darren Chester releasing the draft East Gippsland Recovery 2030 Plan without once mentioning global warming, climate change, climate targets, impacts of global warming, renewable energy or electric vehicle infrastructure.

The Paris Agreement also focuses on 2030, with the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5ºC. It is astonishing that in his 2030 plan Mr Chester does not include climate change and its impact on our vulnerable region. 

Many of the very worthy initiatives proposed are needed as a direct consequence of the bushfires that ravaged our region just months ago. Climate scientists have concluded that these fires were so devastating and widespread as a result of climate change. It is predicted that we are likely to have further, equally severe events in the years leading to 2030, exacerbated by ongoing global warming.

Mr Chester’s plan includes much needed and welcome tourism initiatives across the region. Hopefully people will be encouraged to experience our amazing scenery, attractions and businesses. Other initiatives support fishing and key industries that form the lifeblood of our coastal and rural towns.

Unfortunately much of the plan will be pointless due to dramatic long-term changes to our climate reducing amenity and productivity. We need the same coordinated, largely successful disaster response that has occurred with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Please Mr Chester: when you revise your plan it must focus on dramatic reductions in fossil fuel use, and implementation of regenerative agriculture, renewable energy, increasingly energy efficient homes… and so much more. Your government must take the urgent action needed to contain rising temperatures before it’s too late.

The author is a climate activist and member of EGCAN

Climate Change and the Coronavirus Again

Inverloch artist Ray Dahstrom’s 23 58

Commentators have drawn obvious parallels between the climate emergency and the coronavirus pandemic many times. One of these has been adopted by many governments, and in particular our own. On the one hand we accept and follow scientific advice on the coronavirus but on the other still ignore (and even oppose) that given by an overwhelming body of science on climate change. This is something our Liberal National Party governments have been doing for twenty years. The governments that have either ignored the public health science, or acted belatedly on its advice – including the UK, Brazil and the USA – are those that have suffered, and continue to suffer, horrendous numbers of fatalities from the coronavirus.

And the well-worn post pandemic recovery option called variously a ‘green revolution’ and here, Australia as a “renewable energy superpower”, is a conclusion drawn by science and activists across the country but again ignored, restrained or manipulated by a government anchored in the past. One less obvious and more subtle parallel with the coronavirus pandemic is that any delay in action can have catastrophic results. The prime example of this is the response of the USA where there mortality statistics lead the world and currently (early August) show no signs of respite.

Similarly, it was also possibly a delayed decision in Victoria that has led to a resurgence of the coronavirus and the correspondingly severe lockdown here. The slogan “go hard and go early” does not appear to have been applied, with some opposition politicians and irresponsible sections of the media urging a return to economic ‘normality’. The ‘go hard, go early’ slogan should also have been applied to global warming as we have known this was a serious problem for more than 30 years.

There can be little doubt the effects of global warming will be far worse than the pandemic. Already the fatalities associated with climate influenced events like the 2009 heatwave and bushfires and last summer’s bushfires are large – about 500 and 450 in each case. Whilst these grim statistics may be overwhelmed, in the short term, by a growing coronavirus fatality list in Australia, they will be surpassed quickly by fatalities from climate induced and exacerbated extreme weather events – the grim reaper of global warming in action.

Each delay in concerted action on climate change means that we will have to go even ‘harder’ and this will involve much more government direction and control. Global warming is a long-term problem that will be with us for generations. We have already had a generation’s delay. That is why the continued delaying actions of many of our politicians and the fossil fuel industry are criminal.

PPAs in Gippsland

Sometime ago I wrote praising the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) being organised by the East Gippsland Shire Council (EGSC). The blog commented on the EGSC release in December last year announcing a PPA for close to 100% of their energy for the next 10 years. It then explained how the PPAs worked and that they were a win for both the purchaser, by providing renewable energy at a fixed cost, and the provider by guaranteeing sales and income into the future. The latter in turn enabled the producer to secure capital for the development and/or expansion of their renewable energy project.

I concluded that the “PPAs are an obvious way for the shire to get in on the ground floor and switch to 100% renewable energy use immediately. The East Gippsland Shire’s push for solar energy is… commendable..” and that “while the PPAs are encouraging the rapid expansion of solar and wind farms it is a shame that more of them cannot be located in Gippsland where the flow-on effects of employment in construction and maintenance are added benefits.”

Last month the Bass Coast Shire announced that they were also going down the PPA path. Promotion of this news on the social media led to correspondence with Wellington Shire Councillor Darren McCubbin on their own plans. Darren wrote of this in some detail: “My understanding is that we are only putting up 25% in the first instance, sort of a dip our toe in the water. I was not keen for much more as I am really keen for us to negotiate bigger PPA’s with local suppliers – we have been working on Ramayuck as a possible site with the income being used to generate indigenous employment plus a great rate for the Council.”

He added: “The current PPA is through a group which was headlined by Darebin Council although there were some problems and now the Municipal Association of Victoria are doing it… I know you can do better by working with others but I still would like to encourage local solar farms and believe in the long-run this is a better way to go. On another note, we announced our new sustainability strategy on Monday and put “sustainability” as one our pillars of governance and good policy (as it of course should be).”

It is now time for large businesses in the region large to go down the same path, especially those enterprises which can only capture a small part of their energy consumption or have substantial power consumption at night. With both local governments and business on board the target of 100% renewables will be more readily achieved.

Climate Change, Forests and Fires Part 2

Robyn and John Hermans’ house after the bushfires

Article first published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 22.7

John Hermans* continues:

The resources needed to ‘fight’ and manage fires are now being increasingly stretched. For example, we have always shared firefighting aircraft with the U.S.A. With fire seasons now so much longer and challenging in each country the overlap in aircraft demand is limiting availability of this resource.

The same is true of our more local resources, CFA trucks, volunteers, heavy machinery, communications networks, water availability, aircraft and people power. They are all in greater demand, in more places, for longer periods of time than ever before.

Longer, hotter fire seasons are also compressing the amount of time available to conduct fuel reduction/management activities, with the window of suitable conditions now shorter than we have ever experienced. More fuel reduction fires are escaping and becoming major events in their own right. Another trend set to continue.

Overwhelmingly, the findings from successive fire inquiries, including royal commissions, supported by virtually all the experts and an ever-increasing body of evidence from Australia and around the world,  show that fires are getting harder to manage due to the increased temperatures caused by human induced climate change.

We know numerous and repeated research has shown that fuel reduction burning in close proximity to assets, such as houses and schools can be very effective at minimising property loss. But research also shows this depends on forest type, only works for the first few years after the ‘controlled burn’, and only helps when fire weather/behaviour is not extreme. Some forest types become less likely to burn if left alone and frequent burning reduces biodiversity. There are always trade-offs with fire management.

Urgent action on global warming is probably the single most effective way to stop fire behaviour from getting exponentially worse. We must address the ‘elephant in the room’ that is climate change.

*John Hermans and his family successfully defended their East Gippsland home from the recent fires. John was also assisted by four decades of informed preparation and understanding of how bushfires work, including consultation with fire agencies, scientists and personal research.

Climate Change, Forests and Fires Part 1

Robyn and John Hermans home before the bushfires

Article published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 22.7

Recent claims by the Institute of Foresters that “climate change was not the cause of the summer’s bushfires” is at odds with the overwhelming scientific consensus which shows it played a major role. Furthermore the risk of similar events continues to increase with rising global temperatures. The current Bushfire Royal Commission has heard that there are likely to be two more similar fire events by the end of the decade.

Baseless assertions that “the fires were primarily the consequence of decades of poor fire management” is an attempt to draw attention away from the real reason why these fires were so damaging, extensive and unprecedented; changing climate.

The Institute of Foresters dismiss Greg Mullins and other ex-fire and emergency management chiefs because they have a ‘mostly urban and rural’ background. An interesting comment when Greg Mullins, the ex-fire chiefs’ spokesperson, is an internationally recognized expert in responding to major bushfires over decades and has 50 years of fire-fighting experience including 39 years with Fire and Rescue NSW.

Throughout history, fire managers have used various tools to try and keep fire as a welcome tool rather than a bad master. Many of these tools and strategies are still used, and while not without valid criticisms, remain relevant but increasingly difficult to utilise, such as fuel reduction in areas close to towns.

Mr John Hermans, Forest Ecologist and member of East Gippsland Climate Action Network, pointed out that other approaches are less used but increasingly relevant. He suggests Government authorities assist property owners to reduce the potential of their homes and assets being lost by removal of flammables and installation of water sprinklers at the building interface. This is especially pertinent in light of the millions of dollars of State funds spent on private property fire debris clean up.

Other ideas, largely obsolete, are advocated by the Institute of Foresters in the recent article ‘More Fuel Management Required’ (Advertiser, July 1 2020).  These ideas include percentage driven targets and the burning of large remote forested landscapes miles from town. This strategy is expensive and poorly targeted. In fact research has shown that this type of burning can actually increase the likelihood and intensity of a forest fire.

Fire seasons are getting longer, starting earlier and ending later.  The country is drier with more days with a higher fire index than ever before, leading to wildfires extremely difficult to control. These trends were identified decades ago and will continue to get worse if there is no effective action on climate change.

(To be Continued.)

*John Hermans and his family successfully defended their East Gippsland home from the recent fires. John was also assisted by four decades of informed preparation and understanding of how bushfires work, including consultation with fire agencies, scientists and personal research.

A Victorian Renewable Energy Zone for Gippsland?

It is obvious that the Latrobe Valley’s greatest assets are its infrastructure – in particular the high voltage transmission lines and to a lesser extent a skilled workforce. There are four 500KV transmission lines between Hazlewood and Melbourne, which with the closure of Hazlewood have plenty of spare capacity. Elsewhere in the state, solar and wind farms have had their energy output restricted or closed down due to the inability, at various times, of the transmission lines to carry the extra power load. 

It is also obvious that, with the climate emergency, we have to move rapidly from our greenhouse polluting coal generators to clean energy. As the brown coal generators close, hopefully well before their ‘use by’ date, then further spare capacity will be created. This can easily be utilised and balanced by encouraging a large number of renewable energy projects within a reasonable distance of the mains transmission lines or the Basslink high voltage direct current interconnector.

One way to do this is by creating a renewable energy zone, similar to those currently promoted by the NSW government within, say 100K of Traralgon. Such a project would be a win / win opportunity for the valley with abundant jobs, and for the State government with its renewable energy rollout and climate obligations.

There are already a number of projects within this area that I have been promoting over the years include the Baw Baw Pumped Hydro project of Paul Treasure and the Star of the South Offshore wind farm, each of which could generate the energy now produced by Yallourn. The best projects to start with are those near or adjacent to the mains transmission lines including the Delburn wind farm west of Morwell.

One possibility is the utilisation of the Hazlewood pondage with floating solar. There are a number of similar projects, proposed by retired valley engineer Chris Barfoot, and he pointed out the required floats could be manufactured locally. Another project that deserves consideration is turning the Hazlewood open cut into a huge solar farm by placing solar panels on the reclaimed banks, as was suggested by Dan Caffrey of Traralgon many years ago.

Further afield, but well within the 100k zone, are the Fulham solar farm and the Gippsland Renewable Energy Park. Both these projects, proposed by Solis, are already on the ‘drawing board’. No doubt there are many other renewable energy opportunities here, including smaller pumped hydro sites and even battery storage.

All that is required is for the State government to come on board, and using the ‘renewable energy zone’ model as established by the NSW government, create a Victorian zone in the best place to do so – Gippsland.

Some Gippsland Pumped Hydro Plans Revisited

A recent tweet by Professor Erik Eklund of the Centre for Gippsland Studies highlighted the pumped hydro opportunities in Gippsland, particularly in the Baw Baw area. He outlined the work of Andrew Blakers and team of ANU who identified more than 22,000 possible pumped hydro sites many of them in Gippsland.

I used Erik’s tweet to bring to notice again the work of Paul Treasure’s proposal of 2 years go for a pumped hydro project in the Baw Baws that was about the same size as Snowy 2 and had far less of the latter project’s environmental downsides. Paul’s proposal had numerous other advantages including jobs for the Latrobe Valley and a ready labour pool; it utilised the Thompson dam as the lower dam in the project; it was close to other infrastructure, in particular the high voltage transmission lines to Melbourne. When completed the project would have the capacity to replace the aging Yallourn Power station.

The Friends of the Earth in their Blueprint was one of the few organisations that acknowledged the value of this proposal when they stated: “The blueprint also noted that the selection of pumped hydro projects should be fast tracked of which there are a number of possibilities in Gippsland including Paul Treasure’s Baw Baw Thompson Dam pumped hydro proposal.” Paul’s proposal was also republished by the Independent Australia website.

As well there have been a number of other smaller pumped hydro projects energy storage options including one proposed by Chris Barfoot, which, from memory, used Lake Narracan as the top dam and the Yallourn open cut as the bottom one. The Hazlewood open cut appears unsuitable for this purpose.

This leads us to the question of whether there is anyone working on any of these pumped hydro proposals anywhere in government at a State or local. As far as I am aware, there is no one. Yet the benefits to the state and the region could be enormous if one (or more) of the larger of these projects was seen through to fruition. I am also unaware of any politician at the State or local level to have considered the advantages of pumped hydro for the region, let alone promoted them in any way.

Bass Coast embraces green power by Michael Whelan

Republished from Bass Coast Post

This week Bass Coast Council committed to buying all its electricity from renewable sources in Victoria. We are teaming with several metropolitan councils to source 100 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources through the Local Government Power Purchase Agreement, a project led by the City of Darebin. By working with the large metropolitan councils, Bass Coast gains access to strong expertise and will achieve significant purchasing power and better pricing. Power purchasing agreements are a powerful tool in encouraging renewable energy projects and this agreement may well underpin new projects in Victoria.

This is  another step toward net zero emissions for Bass Coast and sits well with other low emission projects by Council that include significant solar projects and work to plan for the uptake of electric vehicles in the region. The renewable electricity project further demonstrates significant leadership from local government in addressing Victoria’s carbon emissions.

 Last year Bass Coast declared a climate emergency and committed to zero net emissions by 2030. Since then we have set about a thorough process to plan for the council to achieve net zero emissions and to work with the community to achieve community-wide net zero emissions by 2030.

Importantly, the Local Government Power Purchase Agreement is flexible, allowing for Bass Coast to withdraw demand and commit to a local purchasing agreement to support local community energy projects in the future. Such projects may form a significant part of the climate emergency plan currently being worked on by the council.

Community energy projects could play a significant role in reducing emissions while giving communities price certainty and protection from the price spirals driven by the major retailers and the gold plating that has occurred on the grid. Local projects support local investment and lead to local green jobs. The Energy Innovation Co-operative recently completed a renewable energy project involving solar panels and battery storage at the State Coal Mine historical precinct. This project employed local contractors and provides income for other community projects.

The rate of take up of rooftop solar has been excellent and rewarding for those who can afford it. However, many people in the community – renters and those struggling to make ends meet – are left behind. Community energy projects are a way of supporting the whole community to benefit. The council will soon consider the shire’s Climate Emergency Plan. It will provide a comprehensive roadmap for achieving net zero emissions by 2030 and plan for addressing the impacts of climate change already being felt across the Shire. It is pleasing to see our council is already on the way to achieving 100 per cent renewable energy.

Cr Michael Whelan is Bass Coast Council’s representative on the South East Council’s Climate Change Alliance, the Western Port Biosphere Reserve and the Regional Renewable Energy Roadmap.

Gippsland Renewable Energy Park

Recent news in the renewable energy sector has been concentrating on the proposed New South Wales Renewable Energy zones located in the State’s central west and New England regions now being fast-tracked by the NSW government. In terms of gigawatts capacity the proposals and expressions of interest for the central west zone have been nine times greater than the figure of 3GW that the government nominated. There is no doubt that this high level of interest will continue for the planned New England Energy Zone and it indicates there is no shortage of finance or project ideas when there is strong government support.

A similar, but much smaller, project – a park rather than a zone – initiated by private interests, and located in South Gippland near Giffard, has been on the ‘drawing boards’ for some time. A company representative recently provided details of this project at a zoom lecture delivered to Bairnsdale U3A and similar details were published in the Gippsland Times last December.

The 2347 ha of land the project has acquired is low value dry land pasture and, importantly, sits on top of the Basslink cable. Many of the solar and wind projects in the west have had trouble with the mains power line capacity being insufficient to carry the total power they all generate. Strategically locating by Basslink will enable the full energy production of the park to be utilised.

The Park will carry both wind and solar generation and has had expressions of interest for the production of green hydrogen and the inclusion of a gas ‘peaker’. During the lecture to the U3A I queried the company representative on the last part of the plan and he assured me that the ‘peaker’ will be powered by green hydrogen. The basic project plans for 500 MW of solar panels and another 500 MW of battery storage and be built in stages.

The Times article noted that: “the proposed Gippsland Renewable Energy Park had received support from the Victorian government, proponents had briefed Gippsland MHR Darren Chester and Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien, and the project was also fully supported by the Wellington Shire Council”. Whilst this is encouraging it is not enough. This project should be promoted by all of these individuals and administrations, loudly and continuously, and be fast-tracked by the state government. So far the voices of the local members, both State and Federal, remain unheard on this, and other related matters.

*The development company Solis has two other solar farm plans in the pipeline including Perry Bridge which will be ‘shovel ready’ by November.