Gippsland News & Views

A Cataclysmic Storm and Lakes Entrance

Burchardi Flood (Wikipedia)
Burchardi Flood (Wikipedia)

Recently I blogged that the Lakes Entrance foreshore could disappear overnight with a cataclysmic storm related to sea level rise and climate change. Naturally these events probably occurred only 1 in 500 or 1 in a 1000 years. One such event was known as the Burchardi flood which demolished the island of Strand (or Nordstrand) in the North Friesian Islands in 1634. The island was overwhelmed and pulverised by a cataclysmic storm that reduced the land area from over 500 sq. Ks to about 50 sq. Ks in three small islands, and 6000 people were drowned. I am aware of this event because I am descended from one of the survivors.

Modern storms such as Hurricane Sandy are similar but these are now definitely, and probably heavily, influenced by man-made global warming. Wikipedia noted that: “According to NCAR senior climatologist Kevin E. Trenberth, “The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be” and that “the storm was caused by “natural variability” but adds that it was “enhanced by global warming””. It remains a challenge for science to identify how much influence global warming has on these events.

What we do know is that climate change increases the frequency of these superstorms so that, for instance, a 1 in 100 year event may become 1 in 10. We also know that the intensity of these storms is increased dramatically, possibly exponentially. Also the geographical dimensions of these extreme weather events – the area over which they occur – is becoming progressively larger. To the slowly increasing sea level rise extra hazards such as heavy rainfall, wave size and storm surge can be added. If these events were to coincide with a King tide and if Bruuns Rule (where the coast retreats 100 times more than the sea level rise) is anywhere near accurate then the fate of Lakes Entrance and many similar coastal towns may quite possibly be similar to the Strand.

As the frequency of these storm events increases over time then the chances of these various factors coinciding also increases. When the superstorm comes the foreshore dunes between the Ocean and Cunningham Arm will possibly disappear overnight with enormous damage inflicted on downtown Lakes Entrance – if not demolishing it altogether. All the buildings on the foreshore will disappear, the Esplanade become the new coast and the modern Meyer St footbridge be the bridge to nowhere. It is not a matter of if, but when. The longer term message is that Lakes Entrance will, sooner or later, definitely be going under.

My Failed TV Advert?

During the 2013 Federal Election campaign I stood as a ‘climate emergency’ independent in the seat of Gippsland. My campaign manager and I had big hopes that a 15 second TV advertisement would alert the voting public of Gippsland to the dangers of climate change and the offer of renewable energy as a partial, but attractive, solution to the ‘climate emergency’. It was to be the key part of my ‘Vote Climate Vote Solar’ campaign. But the campaign was stressed from day one with having to collect 100 nominator’s signatures (doubled from the previous election) and putting up a $1000 bond (also doubled). My finances were strictly limited as I had recently retired and was in the process of downsizing from my place in Ensay to a unit in Bairnsdale.

The plan was to collect substantial donations from a dozen or so solar installation businesses and, in anticipation of reasonable funding, we went ahead to have the advert made. For this there was little change out of another $1000. Our fundraising hit a ‘brick wall’ when we received only one donation from our intended sources. With the advertisement made there was no choice but to scrape together as many funds as possible to run the ad. The reality was that for another $1000 the only part of the viewing day we could get any decent amount of air time was to run the ad in the ‘off-peak’ (middle of the day) with a small number in ‘shoulder’ (early morning, late evening) and none in ‘peak’ viewing time. Had we chosen to run the ad in the ‘peak’ we would have had less than 4 minutes of viewing time in total spread over 3 weeks. This was all on one channel only. (Hardly comparable with the millions poured into the campaign by Clive Palmer. The Palmer party advertising blitz must be considered a success. By doing so he ‘bought’ his own seat in the lower house and 3 seats in the senate. In Gippsland the PUP candidate from the Gold Coast achieved the magical 4%)

So basically the ‘Vote Climate Vote Solar’ ad appeared to be a failure. However an analysis of my voting results booth by booth indicated otherwise. Apart from 2 local booths, where I was well known, my best performances were with hospitals and retirement villages – all but one returning above the 4% needed for Electoral Office funding. I concluded that these were the booths where the advert would most likely have been seen. Unfortunately my overall performance was just 2.25% still a long way from the 4% and much further still from the target needed to make the sitting member sit up and take notice – at least 10%. One wonders if we had been able to run the advert for at least 4 minutes in peak viewing time and as a luxury, some time on the other 2 local channels, how different the result would have been. Just a tiny sniff of the funds that Clive had at his disposal might have done the trick.

Trees Versus Renewables & the ‘Silver Buckshot’ Approach

East Gippsland Water's panels at Woodglen
East Gippsland Water’s panels at Woodglen

On the social media there has rightly been damning criticism of the ‘20 million trees’ being pushed by the current Government through their Direct Action Program (DAP) which is pathetic, and token at best. The response on the social media has been to put the question simplistically – renewable energy or trees – rather than condemning the government’s overall performance on climate and renewable energy. It is not the right question. We have to do both as quickly and energetically as feasible.

Washington and Cook in Climate Change Denial (Earthscan 2011) talk of Hume’s solution to ‘wicked problems’: “He suggests ‘clumsy solutions’ where you tackle the problem from several aspects, some of which may even be contradictory. Rather than just one ‘silver bullet’ to solve the problem, he suggests silver buckshot. No single solution is sufficient. The silver buckshot are the multiple solutions one applies to the problem. We agree that solving climate change – and the underlying environmental crisis it is a symptom of – will require several different approaches, a number of ‘silver buckshot’” (p.119)

The 20 million trees program is laughable for many reasons. It is a simple solution to a complex problem and as a ‘silver bullet’ appears well wide of the mark. Since the abolition of the carbon tax, which the DAP was meant to replace, our emissions of CO2 are on the rise again. This feeble DAP initiative is more than offset by continued clearing of native forests in Queensland and NSW and the destructive swathe of the loggers in Victoria. The DAP may distort rural markets as the blue-gum projects did – often planted in the wrong places, on good agricultural land and now being removed in many places. Finally the 20 million trees may be a less ambitious copy of the ‘one billion trees’ made by Bob Hawke in 1989 – also a grandiose failure.

The problem of global warming is complex and immense. In the end it is not just a question of trees or renewable energy. Simple single solutions will never be enough. When we have achieved 100% renewables – hopefully in less than 15 years – we then have to work on ways of drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere of which tree planting is one. I am a tree lover. I have lived and worked in the bush for most of my life. For much of that time I have propagated and planted local species in the cleared country. Equally my house was (and still is) powered by renewable energy. These are just two of the pellets of our ‘silver buckshot’.

Flooding, Sea Level Rise & Lakes Entrance

Wheeler model 2

About 3 years ago when writing on the possible effects of climate change on the Gippsland Coast  I mentioned the interactive model developed by Dr Peter Wheeler on flooding inundation at Lakes Entrance. I then incorrectly criticised the Wheeler model by combining it with Bruun’s Rule. This rule basically states that coastlines will retreat about 100 times the amount of vertical sea level rise. The conclusion was that with some of the flood levels in the Wheeler model the foreshore at Lakes would no longer exist. However the model was looking at flooding only and in no way could it encompass the complexities introduced by Bruun’s Rule. This error was pointed out to me by Peter Wheeler and corrected in a subsequent edition.

Though controversial, Bruun’s Rule remains applicable to the Gippsland coast and to the Entrance. And the Wheeler model is applicable to flooding, whether from heavy rainfall or rising sea levels. But as has been pointed out a number of times rising sea levels are not even across the globe but merely an average. The oceans ‘slosh about’ as a result of various factors including tides, currents and storms. They rise because of thermal expansion and ice melt. It also remains that there will inevitably be a number of other influences on local events as a result of climate change including heavy rainfall, coastal erosion, storm surges, wave heights and storm frequencies on top of natural ones such as king tides.

More recently (2013?) Dr Karl Kruszelnicki speaking at a Lakes Symposium made a joke about Lakes being the first town in Australia to go under and that this could be made a tourist event. The humour of his ‘tongue in cheek’ comment was lost on most of the local media including the Bairnsdale Advertiser. Likewise the Lakes community’s response to the Wheeler model has also been disappointing. Locals tend to look at the global average sea level rise of about 3.5mm pa as a gradual phenomenon and in isolation from all these other events and influences. Somewhat simplistically they conclude that they can easily cope with this and rationalise that even if true it is an event far in the future and does not concern them.

Recent sea level rise predictions of as much as 3 metres as early as 2050 would see Lakes Entrance swamped, the Ninety Mile and the foreshore dunes pulverised and the Gippsland Lakes irrevocably doomed.  This worst-case scenario, combined with some of the other aspects listed above, is a dire threat to a number of small towns and holiday villages along the Ninety Mile. Lakes Entrance remains the largest town and the most vulnerable. We ignore these warnings at our peril and almost certainly horrendous financial cost.  Applying the Wheeler model and Bruun’s Rule with even moderate sea level rise to Lakes Entrance would see the disappearance of the Lakes foreshore – possibly in one cataclysmic event.

(for a review of the Wheeler model see here)

State Labor and the Just Transition: good news and bad

Old Brown Coal Mine fire 1929 (SLV)

Old Brown Coal Mine Fire 1929

The State Labor government has just announced a dramatic three-fold increase in the royalties paid by the valley coal mines to bring them into line with other states. With governments of all persuasions almost always crying poor one wonders why this had not been done before. They have also dramatically increased mine restoration bonds and the Hazelwood mine fire bill from Country Fire Authority is, as far as I am aware, yet to be resolved. In short the costs and problems of the privatised Latrobe Valley generators are mounting. As well as the exhaustive enquiries and reports into the Morwell Open cut fire the government has also carried out various community consultations.

With regards the mine restoration bonds Tom Arup in the Age reported “The government will now require the owners of the three big mines in the Valley – Hazelwood, Yallourn and Loy Yang – to increase their bonds to half of the owners’ estimated costs of rehabilitation by June, and then the full cost by the start of next year. That means AGL, which owns Loy Yang, will have to increase their bond from $15 million to $112 million by January 2017. The bond for Energy Australia, which owns the Yallourn mine, will rise from $11.4 million to $68.5 million, while the bond for Hazelwood’s owners will go from $15 million to $73.4 million.”  Again this is a step in the right direction but the range of estimates of actual restoration costs vary significantly. The Latrobe Valley Express has reported that there is a wide range of estimates for the restoration of  the Hazlewood Open Cut – well over $100m and probably much higher.

Then there is the CFA bill to GDF Suez for $18 million costs for the Hazelwood mine fire-fighting effort. I have been unable to establish the current status of this claim and one suspects there will be a long struggle in the courts ahead. The real cost of fighting the fire and subsequent clean-up has been estimated at $251m.

In some ways these are all token actions by government. Increasing the revenue from the power generators may become an excuse to delay action. The too hard decisions may become harder still.  Does the increased royalty mean the government has no plans for retiring even one of the valley generators? Unlike their predecessors (the Lib/Nats) at least this government is trying. The next step, which should be taken immediately, is to relocate the SECV to Morwell or create a new organisation. The purpose of this organisation will be to plan and oversee the implementation of a just transition in the valley from brown coal generated electricity to a low carbon future.  This plan should be done in co-operation with Federation Uni engineering at Churchill and with the Energy Institute of Melbourne Uni to identify the most seamless and rapid route to the low carbon economy and establish a rigid timeline to achieve the same. The political support for this should be bipartisan and have the highest priority.


Ruminant Livestock and Greenhouse Gases by Alan Broughton

Cattle Broughton

Within the climate change action movement there is a stream that places priority on reduction in livestock numbers as the key strategy to reduce greenhouse gases. I believe this is mistaken. The choice to not eat meat or other animal products should be regarded as a personal choice, not an ecological choice. There is no ecological justification for advocating a drastic reduction in livestock numbers as part of climate change mitigation. Efforts would be better spent in focusing on the real issues: energy generation, transport and the sustainability of farming systems. Livestock production can become an effective carbon sink with great potential to modify the greenhouse gas effect. The obstacle is not livestock but how the animals are managed.

There are many estimates of the contribution of livestock to human-caused greenhouse gases, ranging from 9% to 51%, depending on what is counted. The FAO estimated 18% in 2006 and then reduced it to 14.5% in a subsequent report. The higher figure, used by the anti-livestock lobby, includes animal respiration and other items which scientists say are not legitimate. However all these figures are gross figures, not net figures. When the carbon sequestration in grassland soils is taken into account, plus the consumption of ruminant-produced methane by soil bacteria, even the conventional grazing of cattle, sheep and goats provides a net greenhouse gas sink, unless nitrate fertilisers are used. With improved grazing management livestock are part of the solution to greenhouse gases.

Improved management means planned grazing systems in which large numbers of animals graze for a short time in a paddock, often only a few days, and do not return to that paddock until the pasture has completely recovered. In this system nitrate fertilisers are not used, soil organic carbon increases, costs are lower, erosion is prevented, soil absorbs rain and holds it longer, and production increases. Nitrate fertilisers are destructive of soil carbon, the mycorrhizal fungi that produce it, and the methane consuming bacteria. Reintroducing livestock into cropland and increasing the percentage tree cover on grazing land are additional carbon sequestration methods.

Effective action on any issue involves both personal decisions and political decisions, with political decision being of paramount importance. The cigarette smoking rate did not decrease because of personal decisions alone – it was because of a massive government-led campaign and a cessation of tobacco promotion. Ending the fossil fuel industry will not be due to people switching off their lights – government approval or non-approval of new coal mines and gas fields is what matters. Personal decisions can only have a marginal effect. Thus spending energy on promoting veganism is a diversion from the real campaign to reduce greenhouse gases, which is the substitution of fossil fuel energy by renewable energy.

(Alan Broughton, Vice-president, Organic Agriculture Association, Bairnsdale. A full copy of his paper with endnotes is available here.)

Another Cul-de-sac? Gippsland Offshore Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

CCS Lease Area
CCS Lease Area

Recently a press release by the Minister for Energy Lily D’Ambrosio stated that the “Victorian Government is releasing offshore acreage in state waters to investigate opportunities for storing greenhouse gas emissions safely in deep rock formations off the Gippsland coast, between Seaspray and Loch Sport” and “The Federal Government released offshore acreage in adjoining Commonwealth waters in May last year to allow investigation into the potential for greenhouse gas emission storage. The state government release finishes this process.” This indicates that there are sections of both state and federal bureaucracies that have not come to the realisation that CCS is a dead end. That there are still people employed in government departments considering CCS is a waste of time and tax dollars. That it is worth a Minister’s time to put out a press release is also a distraction from the main game which is rapid and effective action to mitigate climate change.

It has been clear for some time that CCS, pushed by the fossil fuel industry, is an unsatisfactory solution to the climate crisis. It is energy intensive, inefficient, expensive and, like nuclear energy, never likely to have an effect on our ‘climate emergency’ on a grand enough scale. Unlike solar or wind, it is still unproven technology and optimistic projections as to when it could be successfully deployed extend well beyond 2030. One source, particularly relevant to the Gippsland proposals, noted that storing CO2 underground may have ‘unintended consequences’.  CCS then is a ‘white elephant’.

The State Labour government has done some good things with regards climate change but it continues to send mixed, and sometimes confusing, messages. But it is yet to really make an impression by banning further unconventional gas and coal exploration licences – two relatively easy steps to take – which should also include a reorganisation of the mining section of the relevant department. Real action will involve the phasing out of both the Latrobe Valley brown coal fired generators and the native forest loggers. It is apparent there should be a ‘just transition’ in both these industries – meaning employment opportunities should be boosted in the relevant areas by state intervention. On the other hand state intervention as highlighted by the calling of these tenders is another subsidy for the fossil fuel industry. It is still sending the wrong message.

Small Step – Big Change for Coal Country Council by Marg Thomas

Latrobe City

In the heartland of Victoria’s coal industry, Latrobe City Council agreed to support a grassroots petition to ban coal exploration and mining in the Mirboo North/Gippsland region. Council undertook to request the Minister for Energy and Resources, the Hon Lily D’Ambrosio, for increased community engagement and consultation on coal mining and exploration by the Victorian Government with the Latrobe community.

A packed Gallery saw a unanimous vote as a result of the Coal and CSG Free Mirboo North petition to stop Mantle Mining from exploring or mining for coal in Gippsland. The eloquent and heartfelt presentations of a team of six gave added weight to the 2,039 signature petition.

Anna Hall and Terry Parker both from Boolarra South, whose properties fall within the boundaries of Latrobe City, spoke to Council about their specific environmental concerns so often overlooked in this debate. Mr Parker explained how his enterprise, Brushtail Bush Foods, depends on a pristine environment to maintain an organic status.

On forty acres of natural bushland Ms Hall pointed out that this was a critical habitat for the unique Strzelecki Koala and other flora and fauna over which she keeps a watchful eye “Is the Council aware of the environmental significance of this area?”, she asked. “It seems a cruel fate that a mining company such as Mantle mining can be awarded all rights over the land owners who have a vested interest in the preservation of the land, and water”, Ms Hall argued.

On farming, beef producer, Fergus O’Connor appealed to Council with some surprising figures that emphasized the importance of agribusiness in the region and that robust evaluation on all levels by government is needed when considering any type of mining licences. “The agricultural sector in Victoria accounts for 38% of the state’s exports valued at $11.8 billion while employing over 190,000.” Marg Thomas, Lorraine Bull and Daniel Caffrey also presented compelling arguments Council couldn’t ignore.

The mining company came off second best with Councillor Darrel White, stating Council did not want to see Mantle Mining having any involvement going forward.

The State government awarded the four exploration licences without due consideration of the strong community opposition. The residents of Latrobe City are largely dependent on coal industry jobs, an industry which now faces structural decline and the inevitable transition to renewable energy. For this Council, this unprecedented action is a brave step in the right direction.


Renewable Energy Party (REP) Registered with the AEC


Counter to my pessimistic predictions (here and here) the Renewable Energy Party  has just been registered by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). Ever since the demise of the Climate Coalition in 2008 I have been hoping that a single issue climate party would form. Efforts to do so include my own rather dismal attempts at forming the Global Warming Action Party Australia. More recently I have been a member of the Victorian based Save the Planet Party (STP) which posits itself as the only ‘climate emergency’ party in Australia. As the STP remains unregistered its influence on the political process has been minimal.

The REP by contrast has been successfully registered in a little over a year since its formation and thus is the successor to the Climate Coalition. Hopefully it will be much more successful and last a lot longer. It is based in northern NSW and is clearly a climate party as any brief perusal of their website will show. Perhaps because of their country base they have chosen a name based on the solution to the problem, rather than the problem itself. There can be no doubt that unless we can convert to 100% renewable energy in a very short space of time the ‘climate emergency’ will overwhelm us.

Hopefully the REP will be able to extend their organisation nationwide quickly if they are to have any impact on the next Federal Election – possibly by July if there is a double dissolution. The dismal, perhaps criminal, approach of the conservatives to renewable energy needs to be directly challenged. I suggest that the REP aim at the “dirty thirty” (plus the Nationals) in the Federal parliament recently identified by Australia as I have recently outlined.

The odds are heavily stacked against independent climate candidates including those from unregistered parties like the STP. Even getting 100 nominators and the $1000 deposit requires energy, contacts and resources. Without a strong media presence, a local organisation and a substantial budget the chances of getting to the level where the AEC funds your campaign – a vote of 4% – is minimal. Only outstanding candidates, mostly with conservative credentials, have any chance whatsoever. I have resigned my membership of the STP and joined the REP. Hopefully the REP will have room for some of the Climate Independents and I still have hopes that eventually a new, powerful climate coalition will emerge.

The LVSG Battery Storage Night by Dan Caffrey

Deep Cycle Lead Acid Batteries
Deep Cycle Lead Acid Batteries

The Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group with the aid of Gippsland Solar, Mirboo North Energy Hub and Latrobe City Council held a very well attended session about home battery storage options at Traralgon on the 6th of April. About 120 people heard that there are many potential options for home battery storage, but may not suit everyone yet. However, prices are expected to fall in the coming years. The average pay-back time at the moment is about 9 years.

For people in remote locations, saving tens of thousands of dollars to hook up a power line to the grid, it would be an easy decision to get solar panels and have batteries for the night-time. If you are already on the grid, it would not be a good idea to disconnect, as you would need more solar panels and more batteries.

The real potential for battery storage is for homes that already have solar panels and where the householders are at work in the day-time. It is then that solar panels are producing the most, yet most of the power produced is being exported back into the grid. Particularly if the householders were only being paid 4 cents per kWh for exported electricity, then installing batteries makes the most sense.

You can hold over some of the energy produced during the day into the evening. You can program the energy management system to charge up the batteries during the day and then when fully charged, put the excess back into the grid. In the evening, if the batteries discharge too much, then it will import back from the grid and you can even set them to charge the batteries from off-peak grid power after 10 pm. In some cases, it may make sense for the electric hot water to be heated during the day rather than using off-peak power. The variety of options is entirely up to the householder.

There are a great variety of battery technologies. Installers seem happiest with lead acid batteries, which have been used for over 100 years. They are relatively cheap and will last about 14 years if treated well. However, they can’t be discharged any less than 60% of their capacity, otherwise this will shorten their lifespan dramatically. Lithium-ion batteries, which is the type used in the Tesla Powerwall, can be regularly discharged to 20% of capacity without shortening their life. However, the presenters expressed some reticence to recommend them unconditionally as they are new on the scene and there is not a lot of data on them yet. A rare type of battery, which they did recommend was a sodium – zinc type that seems to last forever.

The most exotic of the batteries was the Australian made REDFLOW Z-Cell, which uses pumps to move solutions of zinc and bromine to charge the terminals in order to produce a galvanic cell. The makers say that this battery will happily discharge 100% and are quick to recharge, however, they can’t be considered an option for applications of less than 12kWh. Most houses would require half this.