It’s time to revitalise the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) as the body to organise, oversee and plan the just transition from coal fired power to renewable energy. This organisation is approaching the end of its current usefulness as the State government agreement to provide Alcoa with cheap electricity finishes at the end of this year. It now needs an injection of funds, a new brief to reorganise our energy priorities to a low carbon future and to relocate back to the valley.
From its early beginnings in 1917 many would have seen the drive to brown coal generated power as an impossible task. Yet within 10 years Yallourn was up and working. The SECV was a success story that managed the growth of the Victorian power industry and provided power and economic growth through much of the 20th Century. Since the ill-advised and badly managed privatisation commenced in 1994 the SECV has become a shell principally to provide subsidies to Alcoa. Parts of the Valley – especially in Morwell and Moe – have become depressed regions. But climate change means the inevitable closure of all the valley generators.
Recent studies by the Australian Conservation Foundation have revealed what ‘Blind Freddy’ already knew – that the four brown coal generators in the Latrobe Valley are the top carbon polluters in Australia. If we are to make any significant reduction in our greenhouse gas output all these generators need to be closed in a very short time – as little as 10 years. Although this has been known for some time (I wrote a short basic essay on how this could be done 4 years ago) no progress has been made at either a State or Federal level. In Victoria there have been minor policy improvements on both climate change matters and renewable energy. But these are mainly token changes with much tinkering at the edges and consulting the electorate on too much detail. State Labor has effectively used up half their term in office without even approaching the critical connected problems of closing the brown coal generators and a just transition in the Latrobe Valley.
By reviving the SECV and giving it the brief of overseeing the just transition the organisation can immediately commence planning for its eventuality. The timetable should include a return to full employment across the valley and an extensive local media campaign to support the changes and be armed with both the teeth and the finances to complete the task in say, 15 years. If the State Labor government cannot do something along these lines before the next election their policies on climate change will be insufficient, and invariably another failure.
(Graph Ketan Joshi: first third shows excess export of hydro to mainland, middle third importing via Basslink, two-thirds Basslink fails & energy crisis begins, red line spot power price.)
My last piece on Basslink and the Taswind Project attracted some criticism on the social media. Taswind was cancelled in 2014 because the cost was too high and therefore not feasible. The 3 main factors which appear to have influenced the decision to not go ahead were the price of copper, the exchange rate of the dollar – both then very high – and the loss of the carbon price with the election of the Coalition in 2013. Two of these conditions are far more suitable now than 3 years ago, and the third will eventually return in some form or other – possibly sooner than we think.
A lesser criticism was that even if Taswind had gone ahead the second High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cable would not have been completed and thus would not help alleviate the current crisis. However Basslink was commenced in 2003 and completed in 2005 – less than 3 years. If the Taswind project had been started in 2014 then the HVDC cable should have been laid sometime this year. When the emergency associated with the failure of Basslink (and the other factors mentioned in my previous article) became apparent the completion of the Taswind cable would have assumed priority and be quickly finished and working if it was not already doing so. Now Tashydro is faced with exorbitant power costs as gas and diesel generation is brought into play. The Basslink fault (as of 1.3) remains undiscovered and Tashydro faces its first loss in 10 years.
The problems of Basslink and Taswind boil down to a lack of understanding at all levels of politics of the threat of climate change and the political failure to act to mitigate and adapt. HVDC cables generally should be a tool to help with these problems evening out power loads across the nation as they allow large amounts of power to be transported long distances with minimal losses. Peter Seligman in his Australian Sustainable Energy by the numbers (MEI/Melb.Uni. 2010) advocated connecting the eastern grid with WA in association with pumped hydro storage on the Nullabor. The HVDC cable he argued could pay for itself very quickly by exploiting price differences in the energy market (pp.45-6). The Taswind project was similar but with wind turbines on King Island instead of pumped-hydro, and of course, small by comparison. The advantages he outlined for the HVDC cables should also apply here.
As the need to act on climate change becomes more urgent what is feasible, possible and impossible changes. More than anything else these necessary actions become a matter of political will. It will then not be a question of whether it can be done but how it can best be done and best be done quickly. Also the financial (feasibility) restrictions will disappear. It will no longer be a matter of cost. It will become a matter of reordering priorities – both political and financial. And then the Taswind project can be recommenced with urgency.
Tasmania’s logging proponents are now pushing that its forests should be cut down and sold as furnace fuel – for jobs, for making forests less prone to bushfires (when in fact it’s the opposite) and as a so-called ‘renewable energy’. NSW is also trying to justify this latest nutty idea with Mickey Mouse reports issued by government logging supporters. In Victoria, VicForests is planning to add biomass burning to its future market plans.
This is in response to the export woodchip market having taken a nose dive in the last couple of years. Plantations are replacing native forest wood in building and construction as well as supplying most of the global trade for the pulp for making paper. ABC Radio National revealed the leaked ‘commercial in confidence’ documents in May 2015 showing VicForests is keen to sell our forests to fuel electricity furnaces as ‘renewable energy’. Without a new market for industrial fuel-wood, logging in many regions will be doomed.
Right across the country, the native forest logging industry remains massively subsidised; a glorified work-for-the-dole scheme. It destroys public property for the profiteering of a few. Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt cleared the decks for the burning of native forest biomass last year with the introduction of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill. So VicForests’ plans to shovel East Gippsland’s beautiful forests into power generators, coupled with the Federal government’s financial assistance for forest burning, and it’s a sinister match made in hell.
The definition of waste under the Renewable Energy Target is so loose as to allow an entire hillside of trees to be termed ‘waste’ if just one is cut as a sawlog. This is the same argument we heard in the early 1970s to justify woodchipping and clearfelling. Will the public swallow this again? We don’t think so.
To claim that it is renewable energy because trees grow again is ludicrously simplistic. The purpose of the RET legislation is to reduce emissions – now; logging and burning makes for immediate large increases in emissions, that will take 200 years to be drawn down again. For the amount of electricity generated, wood is a far dirtier and more polluting fuel than coal. Allowing native forests to be fed into power furnaces as ‘renewable’ gives another financial blessing to forest destruction. Logging can claim Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). This would make it more economical to log and burn forests but it would also rob limited REC money from helping genuine renewables like solar and wind. For further information go to http://eastgippsland.net.au/news/burning-forests-for-electricity
Tropical Barred Leatherjacket (photo Don Love)
Letter in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 19/2
Thanks for your news item about the discovery of the tropical species of the barred leatherjacket near Cape Conran. This is another example of species moving into our waters as they warm – a direct result of global warming where our lakes and ocean are warming far more rapidly than the land.
To the leatherjacket (above) can be added a number of new, and as yet unidentified, jellyfish in the lakes and possibly the Black Marlin in our nearby oceans. Initially this may be perceived as a boost to our tourist industry but this would be a big mistake.
The immediate threats of global warming are many. They include those to our health from heatwaves and mosquito born viruses, increasing numbers of Algal blooms that challenge the tourist industry and the threat to life and property of bushfires, storms and floods all of which are increasing in number and intensity as a result of global warming.
Longer term threats (which science now tells us will last thousands of years unless drastic action is taken across the globe now) will see the lakes eventually disappear and coastal towns like Lakes Entrance progressively being flooded till they go under permanently. This will occur on a timescale of 300 years and possibly as quickly as 100 years. It is time for our representatives at all levels of government to acknowledge the science and start working seriously for all Gippslanders and Australians on the solutions.
NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have deemed Earth’s surface temperatures in 2015 to be the hottest since records began in 1880. Independent analysis by these esteemed organizations underscores that climate change is globally well entrenched. Our reliance on fossil fuels, that relentlessly pump CO2 into our atmosphere, is the major contributor to this. Methane, unburned, a potent greenhouse gas, is now leaking from gas wells in Queensland, turning the Condamine River into a bubbling spa bath near coal seam gas fracking operations.
Recently we saw 250 people gather on the steps of Parliament, to remind government they want a total ban on onshore gas – 72 communities have now declared themselves coal/gasfield free. An ambitious Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET) is also called for to drive stronger growth in the renewable energy market. It was interesting to see the Liberal Shadow Minister for Renewables, David Southwick stand with Trades Hall Council secretary, Luke Hilakari and the Greens to address the rally and call for a growth in renewables. None, except the Greens, are committed to a permanent ban on onshore gas.
A strong presence by the Greens with Ellen Sandell and Samantha Dunn, (also on the committee for the Inquiry into Unconventional Gas), both addressing the rally. Ms Dunn highlighting her experiences on the inquiry committee, in particular the evidence presented by regional folk concerning the immense toll the threat of the onshore gas industry has on the lives of those affected; the uncertainty surrounding their livelihoods, way of life and environment.
Luke Halikari stated: “The Andrews government has the opportunity to put the wind back in the sails by setting an ambitious VRET. It’s the right thing for the environment and the right thing for Victorian workers.” Does the union movement see the writing on the wall with prices for coal and LNG plummeting? Job losses are imminent with the renewable energy industry sector potentially able to take up the slack. An impassioned speech by Wendy Farmer from Voices of the Valley highlighted the struggles that people of the Latrobe Valley have faced since the Hazelwood mine fire and their determination to transition to renewable energy. Later, she went on to say, “The rally is a powerful acknowledgement that Melbourne knows what’s happening in country areas and are prepared to stand by communities to make change happen.”
The Liberals support a moratorium till 2020. Bengworden farmer, Gerard Deery, described his love of the land and his feeling of edginess that the water catchment would be placed at risk if the gas industry where to develop. He talked of a hope for a future based on care and respect for the land and waterways. He called on the Premier to stand by communities who have been fighting to stay gasfield free for five years. “Nothing less than a total ban on Onshore Unconventional Gas will do,” he asserted. The event certainly registered on government and key decision maker’s radar, with the rally trending on twitter and reports filed on mainstream media. Hopefully this will generate a more assertive approach to climate change.
Marg Thomas 0408 319 397 email@example.com
Electricity use can be an expensive exercise when it comes to running a household or business. Many homes in Baw Baw already have solar power but are still finding the and running costs a big pinch on the purse. As such many householders & business owners are keen to explore alternative means to meet their energy needs. It seems that some solutions are closer than we think.
The Baw Baw Sustainability Network (BBSN) is hosting an information evening for everyone interested in home/business battery storage. The renewable energy sector is progressing rapidly and the BBSN is pleased to host three local technicians from the industry who work with a range of these technologies day to day. As a panel they will share their knowledge on the latest technology, various options and applications. There will be time for questions at the end of the information segment to help people relate the technology to their circumstances.
This not to be missed event will be held at the RSL hall, 94 Albert St Warragul on Thursday 3rd March at 7.30pm. Light supper included. $5 members/conc., $7 non-members. RSVP preferred and appreciated by Monday 29th Feb. More information www.bbsn.org.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org
BBSN is an independent, not for profit community group bridging the gap between talk and action on sustainable living. Contact: Natasha Brown, Ph. 0438 204 706
Following the failure of the Basslink cable between Tasmania and Gippsland the power situation in Tassie has deteriorated markedly. Recent news suggests that the Tasmanian premier will appeal to the federal government to finance a second High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cable across Bass Strait. TasHydro (and the Tassie government) is in diabolical trouble with the state’s largest industrial concerns being asked to reduce their power consumption and with a gas generator being imported from the Middle East at an astronomical price. There have also been calls to boost wind and solar in Tassie by the opposition – the argument being that the wholesale price of wind generated energy less than that being paid now – but such projects have long lead in times and do nothing to help the immediate crisis.
Tasmania is now suffering from a combination of the partisan politics of the Abbott era, unwise decisions by TasHydro and the Tassie government, the effects of climate change on rainfall and some bad luck. Tasmania was the one state that clearly benefited from the carbon tax. The votes of the Tasmanian coalition senators (and the PUP) to abolish this tax were thus against the interests of their state. Once the legislation to abolish the carbon tax was passed TasHydro made the poor decision to sell as much hydro generated power before the income generated by their renewable energy credits ceased. With hydro storage much lower than it should have been along came the climate change (and El Nino) enhanced drought which made matters so much worse. And then the Basslink cable failed.
With hindsight it is now clear the government and TasHydro’s decision not to proceed with the Taswind project was another mistake. The Taswind project involved the construction of 200 wind generators on King Island plus, importantly, a second HVDC cable to the mainland by a different route. Had the project gone ahead in 2014 the second HVDC cable would already be in place providing the much needed back-up for the system. Tassie is now suffering on many accounts from the perils of partisan politics and having number crunchers and accountants making the decisions instead of them being made in the public interest. It is time to put the Taswind project not only back on the agenda, but on the fast track.
Segue Community Hub and Arts Café in Stratford, plans to go solar…with a little help from its friends.
“We need our community to help by switching their energy to a provider that maximises support for renewably sourced power” said an enthusiastic Beth Ripper. “There is a company which will give a donation of $80 each time a Stratford local, swaps to them. This funding stream will then be used to install solar panels on the roof, which will provide hot water, and electricity to the cafe and the adjoining theatre”.
Segue Community Hub chairperson Beth Ripper commented “This is a win-win situation. Not only do users of the hub benefit but so do community members who want the cheapest possible power bills. Stratford can be a leader in this type of scheme. All it takes is commitment from our people to support this initiative by voting with their feet” she added.
The nuts and bolts of the arrangement are all explained if you go to the Gippsland 2020 website. http://www.gippsland2020.org “Anyone who uses power in Victoria or New South Wales can help Segue by switching power supplier via the website – so far flung family members can even help our Stratford Community Hub! This could be a birthday or Christmas present to our community that keeps on giving!” Once the Segue target is met and the panels are installed, the Segue community committee intends offering this fundraising option to other community facilities in the town.
2015 was the hottest year on record, word wide, with Australia also experiencing a record breaking Spring and early Summer. Not only are there vast areas drought declared, but also major bushfires already, and now floods. “All of this is made worse, by people around the world, pouring pollution into the atmosphere. However, we can all help to try and keep the temperature to liveable levels” explained Peter Gardner, Historian and Climate activist. “Signing up for power which does not depend on burning fossil fuels, is one step that every-one can take. It is also an investment in the future health and well-being of our grandchildren” he concluded.
Look up http://www.gippsland2020.org You will not only find information about swapping power providers, but also contact details for installing solar on your roof, and follow on Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/Gippsland2020 or Twitter: https://twitter.com/Gippsland2020 for comments on sustainability, and a host of other issues. For comment Beth Ripper: 0427456094 email@example.com
On Saturday 13th February, 2 more local districts, Forge Creek and Wy Yung were declared “gasfield free” to make a total of 11 communities in the Bairnsdale area and 72 communities across Victoria that have overwhelmingly said “NO” to onshore unconventional gas mining. This follows a door knocking survey where landholders who have an exploration mining licence over their land were asked whether they wanted gasfields on it.
“Nearly 900 landholders have been surveyed and 98% of them said they didn’t want onshore fracking for gas on their land,” Ms Debbie Carruthers, Gasfield Free Bairnsdale Coordinator said. “The event on Saturday was to celebrate all of these results.” Surveying has been completed in the districts: of Bengworden, Broadlands, Eagle Point, East Bairnsdale, Forge Creek, Goon Nure, Meerlieu, Newlands Arm, Nicholson, Perry Bridge and Wy Yung.
The first speaker of the day was Gerard Deery, a fourth generation grazier from one of the declare districts. Gerard was also invited to speak at the rally on the steps of Parliament last week as the only farmer representative. Gerard asked these questions of the large audience in attendance and received an emphatic “No” response to each one:
- “Would anyone here like to live in the middle of an industrial gasfield operating 24 hours/day, 7 days a week?”
- “Would anyone here like to see their property crisscrossed by a network of roads, pipelines and gas wells creating a nightmare for livestock, machinery and people movement?”
- Does anyone here want the worry and stress of living and working right beside settling ponds storing the poisonous wastewater created by this industry?”
- Does anyone here want our most precious natural asset – abundant, clean underground water threatened with toxic contamination?”
“To help achieve a total ban on onshore fracking, now is the time to write to the Premier Daniel Andrews as a decision is going to be made shortly on the future of this industry in Victoria,” Ms Carruthers said. For more Information: Debbie Carruthers: email: firstname.lastname@example.org or 0448 809 798
The first of the Victorian government New Energy Jobs Fund forums was held on January 29 in Bairnsdale and was attended by about 30 people. This Fund will be providing $20m over 4 years to various renewable energy projects in communities and manufacturing and is a great idea to begin with.
But because the burning of timber waste to generate energy is currently included in the Renewable Energy Target (RET) projects of this nature are also included and thus eligible to apply for funds. In many ways this defeats one of the main purposes of the NEJF – to draw down on our carbon emissions to the atmosphere. It is becoming clearer by the day that our native forests must be protected and preserved as best possible as a carbon store. Claiming that burning waste from the logging industry is ‘renewable’ is false and the entire logging process produces far more greenhouse gases than it saves.
One problem is that ‘logging’ remains a major employer in the bush as opposed to the regional centres. There is a need to phase out logging as quickly as possible but with a minimum of hardship on small communities. If the forests were properly protected they would provide far more employment than the loggers currently do. They should improve employment prospects in the bush.
I have previously suggested that private landholders be remunerated for the carbon they store on their property in the form of bush lots and substantial trees (soil carbon is currently in the too hard basket). How this could be done is unclear but implies that any trees so funded must be preserved. One of participants at the forum – obviously pro-logging – replied when I suggested to him that landholders should receive a rent for the carbon they are storing by not logging replied that they could receive compensation for storing the carbon and then still harvest the timber. Such double dipping would be unacceptable and inappropriate in the extreme.
On the upside there are plenty of attractive schemes like the Gippsland2020 – Segue Café project in Stratford and the Earthworker heat pump manufacturing scheme which will hopefully be moving to Morwell soon. The Bairnsdale forum was attended by a small group from the Valley who asked for a similar forum to be held in Morwell. It seems obvious that the projects that most need support are those that provide jobs where they are wanted. There are obvious places such as Moe and Morwell that have never really recovered from the privatisation of the SEC. The valley in general will need substantial planning and support preparing for the time when the brown coal generators are closed down. Less obvious places in need of renewable energy projects are the small timber communities spread widely across the region already suffering as the logging industry continues its long term decline. For more information go to http://www.business.vic.gov.au/support-for-your-business/future-industries/new-energy-technologies