It has been known for some time that Gippsland has promising geothermal energy resources. In 2010 I stood in the state seat of Morwell on a platform of developing the geothermal energy under the coal. This policy was based on work done by the Melbourne University Energy Institute (MUEI) where the main principle was that the thick layers of brown coal act as a blanket and that enhanced temperatures were to be found below the coal.
Previously the valley generators could have used the geothermal resource below their power plants. The heat which is as little as 700m below them, could have been used to augment electricity production and reduce their CO2 output at the same time. Due to the looming climate emergency this is no longer an option. However direct production of up to 2gw (equivalent of 500 wind generators) of electricity from geothermal energy is possible within 10 years according to the MUEI.
Two companies have had Geothermal Exploration Permits (GEP) over Gippsland for many years. Greenearth Energy (also connected with Lakes Oil) has permits that covers the Latrobe Valley / Gippsland region and the land running south to the coast. Within the area lie four of Victoria’s major brown coal fired power stations as well as various existing and potential large consumers of electricity and heat. Although Greenearth have had permits since 2009 little progress has been made. Likewise Petratherm has had a GEP over East Gippsland since 2008 and has achieved little or nothing to date. (See Map above)
Obviously geothermal energy is not a priority with the Energy and Resources division of the Department of Name Change which is still issuing coal exploration licences. The MUEI is calling for a Geothermal Institute to be established to get the ball rolling. Perhaps this could be accommodated at the Federation University Churchill Campus? Or perhaps it could become part of a revitalised SEC also located in the Valley?
Gasholder with Methane Digester in right background
Recently a good news story has been hard to find. But a friend at the recent Bioenergy Forum in Traralgon found one in my own backyard. East Gippsland Water (EGW) are in the process of recommissioning an old methane digester as part of their sewage treatment plant in Bairnsdale. The plant is due to begin operating in a few months.
The plant will operate as a continuous digester and will use cogeneration and heat pumps to maintain a stable optimum digester temperature of about 35 degrees. The gas will be stored in a newly constructed gasholder and used to generate electricity for onsite use. There are plans for taking food waste from local food processors down the track to use as additional digester feed.
EGW are also adopting numerous energy efficiency projects and beginning to employ solar PVs on a large scale. They state that their waste water treatment plants and provide 100% recycled water for beneficial re-use. Fully treated fresh water re-enters the system at the top of Macleods Morass helping to keep the increasingly saline lake water at bay from entering the Morass.
EGW are certainly working in the right direction looking for win-win situations for energy use, efficiency and energy production. At least here sustainability is not ‘greenwash’ jargon. Their website is at http://www.egwater.vic.gov.au/
The Government’s early morning announcement of its 2030 target of 26% reduction in emissions, is way less than Obama’s plans for a 32 % reduction and Europe’s 40%. They suggest that this is in line with other similar countries – much as they are immune to facts with baseless mantras about coal curing poverty etc. etc.
Victoria’s brown coal fired power stations are the Nation’s worst carbon emitters and also major emitters of mercury, as well as dangerous fine particles. Obama achieved significant progress, by mandating expensive scrubbers to reduce mercury, which led to the closure of some plants … and CUT CARBON EMISSIONS! Daniel Andrews could do worse than to follow suit!
The Federal Government’s underwhelming response for Paris, stinks of a win to the “Tea Party” element within Coalition ranks and their fossil fuelled lobbyists who tell them what to think. If we stopped burning fossil fuels, not only would we get healthier lungs and live longer, we could stop the emitted mercury from falling on our schools, our farms and the catchment of the Gippsland Lakes!
A renewable energy invention by a local inventor has not received the publicity or support it deserves. The low head water turbine designed by Fred Sundermann of Heyfield has been around for some time. The first prototype was tested at San Remo in 2009.
The turbine is designed to operate in slow to medium flowing waters and is ideally suited to tidal situations. The unlisted public company set up to commercialise the invention claims that “they are leading the way revolutionising water turbine technology” and that their aim is “to capture the full potential of ocean and river currents”.
“The Sundermann low-head water turbine is a submerged water turbine which drives a generator. The turbine has been specifically designed to maximize operational efficiency in slow to medium water flows of 6 – 12 knots.” And “the company’s core technology is a unique Modular Micro Hydro turbine, the main component in a complete renewable energy system.”
Each turbine can deliver 100kw and they can be arranged in banks to produce up to 1mw. Amongst its advantages are that of providing low cost baseload power with “minimum visual impact on the aquatic environment” and “minimal visual impact.” The latter should please our current batch of pollies in Canberra no end, but one suspects that they are opposed to any form of renewable energy that threatens coal.
As far as I am aware the only Liberal politicians in Australia to speak out in favour of wind energy recently are the Tasmanian Minister for Energy Matthew Groom and the Federal member for Corangamite Sarah Henderson. Across the nation politicians on the conservative side of politics have been condemning wind energy and promoting coal with the aid of a compliant media. No doubt there are others out there – both Liberals and Nationals – who favour the opposite and whose position the media ignores.
According to analysis done before the 2013 election just over half the elected conservatives supported the science of climate change and one must assume were therefore sympathetic towards renewable energy. Where are they now?
Where is the federal MP on the Conservative side of politics that accepts the science of climate change and is prepared to support all forms of renewable energy including wind generation? Is there a conservative MP with enough courage to realise that the issue is far more important than party loyalty, personal ambition or power?
There is a need to give conservatives a voice on climate and renewable energy. Farmers and country people in general have the most to gain by adopting efforts to mitigate climate change and will be the first to suffer from its damaging effects. There is a need to give farmers who are the forefront of the fight to stop climate change and who recognise the seriousness of the problem a voice.
Before he was deposed as leader of the Liberal Party by one vote in 2009 Malcolm Turnbull said: “Climate change is a global problem. The planet is warming because of the growing level of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. If this trend continues, truly catastrophic consequences are likely to ensue from rising sea levels, to reduced water availability, to more heat waves and fires”.
All that is required is just one MHR or Senator to resign from their party and quickly garner 30 members to create and register the Conservative Climate Party. To put the boot into the current dinosaurs in both houses this is a party I would gladly join.
A recent article by Tom Arup entitled ‘Gippsland Water Table Could be Hit Hard by Coal Seam Gas’ (The Age 6.8) outlined a potential drop in aquifers in the Gippsland basin of 15m. (see map) These predictions form the basis of a government report to the current Coal Seam Gas Inquiry.
This report listed that the aquifers may drop from 2-15m as a result of various CSG and other unconventional gas activities. The report outlines the threat of subsidence of land in the highly vulnerable Gippsland basin but considers it low i.e. up to 2m drop. This the report argues is within ‘historical parameters’ and is therefore an acceptable risk.
However even a 2m drop in the aquifers ignores other continuing uses of the ground water and that the drain on the aquifers may be cumulative. Parts of the Latrobe Valley have subsided by as much as 2m and subsidence of even a fraction of this on the Gippsland coast as a result of CSG activities may be severe.
The other aspect of CSG that is getting little publicity is that it is a direct contributor to climate change and fugitive emissions of methane from pipes and wells probably means that it is as damaging as coal if not worse. That it is being considered at all is an indictment of our political processes.
Each year the sea-level is rising about 3.5mm pa in Gippsland. Worst case climate scenarios of business as usual have this rise doubling in as little as ten years. That combined with even a small amount of subsidence will be truly catastrophic. I examined these factors in a paper some years ago which is still valid today. See http://petergardner.info/publications/gippsland-coast-2100-4th-ed-pdf/
Recently a bioenergy forum was held in Gippsland about the same time as the Senate was passing an amendment to include so-called “sustainable forest waste” in the Renewable Energy Target. This was an unfortunate coincidence. As well a number of the presentations at the forum were dependant on this ‘forest waste’ as part of their process. These should not be considered sustainable in any way or form.
With a climate emergency looming preservation of native forests as a carbon store must be a priority. As soon as the forests are preserved and protected this feedstock will dwindle if not disappear. Secondly burning pelletised wood waste still produces CO2 when our aim should be restrict output of greenhouse gases as much as possible.
There are at least two ways to do this. The first is using anaerobic digesters to produce methane gas and manure. This process was represented by several presentations at the forum including by East Gippsland water who have recommissioned a digester built in the 1980s. I will comment on this more fully later. The second is the Flannery pyrolysis generator which does not appear to have been represented at the forum. This process produces liquid or gas fuel and has a residue product called agrichar or biochar which is stable charcoal or carbon.
Also presenting at the forum was Heartwood Plantations who currently manage 50 plantations in Victoria. They pointed out that bioenergy was quite compatible with their operations but as yet it was not economic to do so. Up to 40% of their product would be available for bioenergy and cogeneration (heat and power). Since we need to phase out native forest logging we should be encouraging operations like these as much as possible.
A participant at the forum noted that “Due to the nature of the energy market current being over supplied with electricity, and falling demand, the message around the applicability for using bioenergy was consistent. There is a place for bioenergy energy current in small scale, site or precinct applications where users have a ready supply of biomass material (a biomass waste material) and a need to meet the localised demand of combined heat and electricity.”
Gasfield Free Bairnsdale (GFB) was formed by local residents in November 2013; we are all volunteers. When we heard there was a huge exploration mining licence (EL4416) for unconventional gas mining in our area, the biggest licence in Gippsland, we decided to hold a public meeting and information night in Paynesville on 5th December 2013. Over 150 people attended. As a result of attending that meeting, members of the Meerlieu & District community requested a public meeting for their community; this was held at the Meerlieu Hall in February 2014.
Local residents have been door knocking where there is an exploration mining licence to inform landholders about the licence and to ask a survey question, “Do you want your land gasfield free?” Lock the Gate signs have been sold and put on gates where landholders chose to do this; this is a “no trespass sign” to mining companies. When the surveying has been completed, community declaration events have been held to present the outcome of the survey question.
So far over 600 yellow triangular lock the gate “no trespass” signs are on gates and 2 declaration events have been held: the first was on 5th October 2014 at Meerlieu where 450 people were surveyed in the districts of Perry Bridge; Meerlieu; Goon Nure; and Bengworden. 98% of the survey respondents said “no” to gasfields on their land. Over 200 people attended and participated in a “No Gasfields” sign made from utes. The second declaration was on 12th April 2015 at Eagle Point where 207 people were surveyed in the districts of: East Bairnsdale, Nicholson, Broadlands, Newlands Arm & Eagle Point. 98% of survey respondents said “no” to gasfields on their land and over 130 people attended the declaration.
Another 100 people have been surveyed in Forge Creek. Surveying will be completed there and in: Hillside; Calulu; Wy Yung; Bairnsdale (district not town) and Lindenow in the next couple of months. A total of over 750 people have been surveyed where there is an exploration mining licence on their land, with 98% of the respondents saying “NO” to gasfields on their land. The movie “Frackman” screened at the Bairnsdale Sun Cinema on 6th May 2015. Bairnsdale had the largest audience in Victoria with 177 of the 200 seats filled. Senator Ricky Muir attended and spoke during the Q&A session (at the Senator’s instigation).
Initially my house up the bush was powered by wind and wind remained its major source of power for many years. The reconditioned 300w wind-light generator resurrected from a farm by Tony Stephenson of Going Solar was installed in 1982. To minimise power loss the generator tower was built as close to the house as possible – uphill and about 15 metres away. Aside from manually turning the blade off and on – the former when there was too much wind and the batteries were fully charged – there was minimal work involved.
Two small solar panels were added to the system in 1986. Due to major maintenance requirements after 18 years operation wind was replaced by 500w of solar panels. Since decommissioning (about 2000) the windmill blade has been turned off.Now aged 70 my knees have gone – probably from either from living too close to the turbine or from having to climb the 30 foot tower once a year for the generator’s annual inspection. With all this experience of living right next to a wind powered system and such obvious health affects I wonder why I wasn’t called before the Senate Wind Inquiry?
Unfortunately the spinning and invisible blade at high speeds also killed the occasional magpie. The mortality rate of the magpies – about 1 every 2 years was about the same as those for birds flying into the windows of the house. This affected a range of species including some smaller varieties. Perhaps windows should be banned too?
Overall though I remain a wind fan at heart. These wind-generators – of which our PM and Treasurer are so enamoured – are the real threat to local coal fired polluters.
Formed in 2007, the Gippsland Climate Change Network Inc. (GCCN) is an incorporated not-for-profit network of approximately 50 diverse member organisations across government departments and agencies, private businesses, community groups and other organisations, covering the six local government areas across the greater Gippsland region.
The GCCN mission is: “To provide Gippsland, at an individual and organizational level, information, consultation and facilitation to enable action on climate change, whilst also providing a voice for Gippsland on Climate Change issues” and the three pillars of action are through Informing – Connecting – Acting.
Chairperson Beth Ripper recently noted that: “The GCCN board has met with Sustainability Victoria and the other Green House Alliances across the state. The GCCN is unique in the state. Although financially supported by some of the Gippsland councils GCCN has risen out of a community desire for action on climate change. GCCN membership is therefore open to Government and Non-Government organisations, community groups as well as individuals.”
“The GCCN board is keen to ensure that the new State Government is well briefed on what climate change action (both mitigation and adaption) is happening across Gippsland. It is also important that the State Government hears from Gippsland about future aspirations for the region and support for Gippsland communities into the future.”
The Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN) looks forward to working with the new State Government through its commitment to Climate Change Action. If you know of anyone or any organization that would benefit from being on the mailing list please contact Beth Ripper on Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the email list for future GCCN ENewsletters.