by Brian Reed
MSEG has two strands to its approach to electricity issues in Mallacoota. One is to improve our use of renewables and reduce our CO2 footprint, and the other is to improve the reliability of the service. It is the second of these strands that involves the use of micro-grids, or ‘islanding’. Micro-grids are becoming more common in remote or mining towns, and now often include renewable energy, but Mallacoota would have been an Australian pioneer in ‘islanding’ had we been able to secure funding to proceed with the recommendations of the feasibility study.
Islanding is a type of micro-grid that involves being able to disconnect a site or town already connected to the grid safely when there is a problem. It is most useful in ‘end of grid’ situations such as ours, where most problems occur on the incoming line, rather than locally. Although this has been done overseas, it was a technical and regulatory challenge in our proposal, having never been done before in Australia with a grid connected town.
Islanding Mallacoota if there is an incoming line fault allows our considerable rooftop solar resources to continue to be used (what is more frustrating than to have the power out on a sunny day, and not be able to use your own solar power?). However, an islanded site must be able to supply its full energy requirement at any time, day or night, or there will be brown-outs or worse. Consequently, islanding is only feasible if there is sufficient local generating capacity in place. In our case that means 1Mw plus, 24 hours a day. The original proposal would have provided that, including a large solar component, but it was a large project which would have been reliant on government support, which was not forthcoming at the time.
While we still hope for support for a project of this scale in the future, in the meantime we intend to investigate options for smaller, step by step Community Owned Renewable Energy projects, to address our first strand objective. Any increase in renewables in town helps our community carbon footprint, and the more success we have, the closer we will be to having sufficient local capacity to support islanding. Proof of success in such smaller projects should also improve our chances of ultimately getting support for the cost of islanding.
Islanding can also occur on a domestic/household level with solar and battery storage minimising reliance on the grid. There a few such systems in Mallacoota (including my own), and they are now becoming available in the general commercial market, with improvements in Li ion battery technology.
Rooftop of Unit before Solar panels installed
During the heatwave preceding Black Saturday in February 2009 we were living in our solar powered stand-alone house in the bush. Normally the mudbrick construction with walls 20cm thick was reasonable insulation. The cathedral roof had a small, and as it turned out, inadequate air space insulated with foil. But the series of hot days of over 40 degrees with nights not that much cooler meant that after 3 days the heat inside the house at 6am in the morning was still about 33 degrees. Basically intolerable. With our stand-alone system there were power restraints and thus no air conditioner – just 2 small portable fans draped with damp cloths.
The solution we adopted was to get the iron roof painted with white reflective paint. This is geo-engineering on a very small scale – but one practiced for hundreds of years in the Greek islands with their regularly white washed cottages and town buildings. The job was done by the contractor in about 3 hours and the results were highly satisfactory. The roof temperature difference was an amazing result for such a simple action. After the job had been completed I could easily hold my hand down flat on the painted surface but a small piece of exposed iron was far too hot to handle. The downside was that the house was cooler in winter thus requiring some heating or an extra jumper on the occasional frosty morning. It is apparent that the winter is also getting warmer although every now and then we still experience an extreme cold event. The exercise to make the house still liveable in very hot weather was successful.
After moving to our retirement unit in town we have repeated the process. The tiled roof was restored and painted with reflective paint (though cream rather than pure white) before our solar panels were installed. To this we have added extra insulation, a reverse cycle air-conditioner and are working on window curtains and shades. Now with grid connected power all this is fine until the grid fails. Hopefully the insulation, draught proofing and other features will be functioning well and ameliorate the heat when this occurs.
When passing through suburbia on our way to the city we see plenty of PV panels and solar hot water systems. But mainly we see endless numbers of large oversized houses, with no eaves and dark roofs – an architectural folly unprepared for the increasing number of heatwaves we are only beginning to experience.
Hepburn Community Wind
A community owned renewable energy workshop was held recently in Bairnsdale with about 40 people attending from across Gippsland. This followed on from a workshop in Leongatha earlier this month. There were representatives from Mallacoota and Orbost, Heyfield, Sale and Mirboo North with active or aspiring community energy projects in various stages of progress. These varied from an aborted plan of Heyfield to install one of Fred Sundermann’s low head submerged hydro-generators to the ambitions of the Mallacoota Sustainable Energy Group to cover their sewage facility with solar and establish a micro-grid. (blog from Brian Reed to follow soon)
Gippsland2020’s work with the Segue Community Cafe in Stratford was one of the few projects making progress. In conjunction with Rod Horton of NRGwise Gippsland2020 have already installed a heat pump in Segue to replace their aging and inefficient hot water service. They now intend to place enough solar on the roof to completely power the Café. Basically it is financed by persuading consumers to change their energy retailer to Powershop (a renewable energy retailer) and direct the funds from this transfer to Gippsland2020 and through them to the Segue Café. Hopefully savings at Segue can then be directed to other projects in Stratford. Unfortunately this work has received no publicity so far and thus generated little community interest.
The workshop was organised by Rebecca Lamble, environment officer at the East Gippsland Shire. Other shire representatives were present along with a small group from East Gippsland Water who have a number of interesting renewable energy projects in progress. The facilitators of the workshop were Luke Wilkinson of Sustainability Victoria, Taryn Lane of Hepburn Wind and Embark, Gavin Ashley of Moreland Energy Foundation and Nicky Ison of Community Power Agency. Taryn briefly outlined the pioneering and inspiring work done by Hepburn Wind.
The Victoria Government has provided an excellent guide (with a few blemishes) which “consolidates existing knowledge and resources and provides links to further information, resources and assistance.” The Guide is available to download at: http://www.energyandresources.vic.gov.au/energy/sustainable-energy/community-energy The Coalition for Community Energy website is at http://c4ce.net.au/
Having solar on every rooftop, plus community projects for storage, energy efficiency, micro-grids, wind generators, bioenergy (not native forest) and pumped solar is a step in the right direction. Now that Australia has signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change events like these should mushroom across Gippsland, Victoria and Australia. It’s time for the community owned renewable energy revolution.
I have recently been blogging on examples of species moving polewards in response to a warming planet as per the predictions in the CSIRO publication by Holper & Torok Climate Change (2008) where species (presumably land based but not specified) were moving southwards at a rate of 6km per decade. An article sent to me recently notes that the Black Marlin (Istiopmax indica) are moving southwards at a far greater rate.
The article by Bridge, Tobin and Reside noted that the “coastal waters of south-eastern Australia are a climate change hotspot, warming at a rate three to four times the global average. This is in part due to an increase in the strength and southward penetration of the East Australian Current (EAC), which carries warm water from the tropics down Australia’s east coast” and significantly “also identified a strong effect of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with black marlin habitat extending up to 300km further south during La Niña phases.”
Bridge et al concluded: “We found that [their] habitat is shifting faster during summer months (111km per decade) in contrast to the rest of the year (77km per decade). This suggests that suitable habitat is extending south quicker than it is contracting at its northern edge.” This means the Black Marlin – a prized trophy fish – may already be in the ocean waters of Gippsland. Unfortunately we cannot “cherry pick” the few pieces of ‘good news’ associated with global warming. For every benefit we derive from the warming there is a long list on the downside. If not arrested in the coming decades, climate change threatens the downfall of civilisation. For further information on the Black Marlin story go to
I attended the morning session of this forum run by the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (EGCMA) held at Forestech, Kalimna West. A barrage of highly qualified speakers had excellent presentations with only very brief periods for question time or debate – in effect a one way process rather than an “exchange”. To me Climate Change was the “elephant in the room” though mentioned by at least 2 speakers one wonders why there was not a presentation precisely on this subject in relation to the Gippsland Lakes.
Engineer Rex Candy of the EGCMA and his organisation, to their credit, have used the phrases “climate change” and “sea-level rise” for some time even though the local public is still resistant to their usage. They tend however to treat this as just another influencing factor rather than the overwhelming problem that it is. The marvellous work by Martin Potts on revegetation at the Western end of Lake Wellington, and the work by other academics on algal blooms, salinity, invasive and threatened species will all be lost if we face anything like worst-case scenarios of sea level rise.
Professor Paul Boon in his presentation about his studies on ‘salt tolerant phragmites’ mentioned climate change and “sea level rise” several times. His presentation gave a brief geomorphological history over the last 20,000 years and pointed out that sea level rises had risen 120m during that time and the level have been relatively stable over the last 4000 years. He also pointed out that the sea-levels were currently rising by about 3.5mm pa and briefly mentioned a possible 1m rise in 100 years.
This prompted a question from the audience that included a calculation based on the long term sea level rise comparing it with the current rate. The questioner calculated that the average sea level rise over the 20,000 year period Boon used was 6mm pa. Based on his calculation he then inferred that the current annual rise of 3.5mm was not so bad. The comparison he made is fallacious for a number of reasons. One is that there were no civilisations or coastal cities when those seas were rising. But the main reason it is faulty is because it assumes a neat linear progression in rising sea-levels and takes no account of abrupt changes.
A number of experts from James Hansen down have pointed out that the essential figure in the sea-level rise is the period in which the rate of increase doubles – that it is decidedly non-linear. For example the average annual rise in the last century was 1.7mm. It is now double that. If the rate at which the sea was rising was to double every 30 years or so this would present us with catastrophic outcomes. I have gone into this in some detail in my slightly dated essay on the Gippsland Coast in 2100 (downloadable pdf on Publications page) where I consider a number of other factors including subsidence, storm surge and Bruun’s law of coastal retreat as well as sea-level rise. Should anything anywhere near approaching worst case scenarios of climate change and sea-level rise eventuate this will make much, if not all, of the valuable work presented at the forum redundant.
Previously I have emphasized the overwintering of the grey headed flying foxes on the Mitchell River in Bairnsdale as a sign of global warming. However it is possible that gradual warming is only one of a number of reasons that the population, which previously left during the winter, appears to be coming permanent. But there are plenty of signs of the warming on both land and sea. A variety of different species are responding to the warming. It is amongst readily observable species – in particular birds – that are obviously extending their inhabitable regions southwards as the planet warms. Climate Change a CSIRO publication by Holper & Torok (2008) noted “that climate change is forcing the location of species towards the cooler poles by an average of 6km per decade”.
At our shared holiday house at Lake Bunga the White-headed Pigeon(Columba leucomela) has recently made an appearance. One of our members noted that “Due to effects of Climate Change this once rare visitor to Southern coastal Australia (Victoria in particular) is now a regular visitor to our area, nesting and raising young on the foreshore of Lake Bunga”. In suburban Bairnsdale we regularly listen to the distinctive call of the male Common Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea) now a visitor for the third summer in a row. According to Simpson & Day’s Field Guide to the Birds of Australia (1986) both these species were to be found only as far south as southern NSW.
A well-known Gippsland biologist has listed a number of avian species that are either new arrivals or visitors as they extend their range southwards at least partially in response to the warming. His list includes both the Common Koel and the White Headed Pigeon but also the Channel-billed Cuckoo (Skythrops novaehollandiae) “similar to the Koel in its range, but now been observed more frequently further west”; the Osprey (Pandean haliaetus) “up till 15 years ago, a very rare sighting in Victoria”; and the Scarlet Honeyeater (Myzomela sanguinolenta) “A bird of northern NSW and Qld, now often being recorded in Vic as far as Melbourne”. He cautiously noted that the colonising of the “rainforest species…may not be all climate change, but forest practices and changes to vegetation structure that has forced them to move further south for food. It is probably both.”
Whilst the sighting of these new species may be an enjoyable occurrence it is also a harbinger, a warning sign, of other more harmful things to come. Their arrival is telling us that action on many fronts to mitigate and adapt to climate change is required now.
Thirty-two residents attended the screening of Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” on 3rd December at the Paynesville Community Centre. Organised by local resident Laura Owen the movie was just one of a number that I have recently viewed over the last week including “Time to Choose” (Huffington Post) and “How to Save the World” (ABC Foreign Correspondent). As such the production did not stand out.
It is difficult for me to attempt to explain Klein’s full thesis without an examination of her book which I have just got from the local library. But the general direction of the movie is clear and with most of which we could all agree; geo-engineering is a no/no; tar sands, coal and centralised energy developments around the world are a disaster; Germany is a ‘shining light’ for the move to renewable energy; that the Heartland Institute is comprised of a bunch of extremely wealthy yobbos (Klein is generous – I would call them ‘climate criminals’). Robust demonstrations against wealthy companies and governments and mindless economic growth are the answer she offers. I agree that they can be part of the mix but they do not suit everyone – especially the mainly mature audience at Paynesville. Climate Change effects everyone and there is a range of actions any individual can take that are both personal and political.
There were a number of benefits of the public screening. If you wanted to see the movie you could not sit in your lounge room or office and watch it. The screening brought together 32 people. Of these I had met or knew 7 of them. As I have been active locally for nearly 8 years this was a revelation for me. Another benefit was the wide-ranging discussion and questions afterwards and the need to keep in contact. Laura noted that it was “encouraging to see some youth attend the session” and that the current facebook page is titled Paynesville Community screening ‘This changes everything’. https://www.facebook.com/events/846864415430600/
By nature I am a loner, an outsider, and definitely not a party political animal. However the publication of The Cold and the Dark: the World after Nuclear War by Carl Sagan et al (1984) and other material on the ‘nuclear winter’ influenced me to join the Nuclear Disarmament Party (NDP) and stand as a candidate on this single issue. In the federal election in 1984 I stood for the NDP in Gippsland, campaigning solely on the threat of the ‘nuclear winter’ and received about 5% of the vote. The following year the party split and I, along with about 30 others, departed.
Over the years it became increasingly obvious that the opposite of ‘nuclear winter’ was global warming. I was aware of this but remained preoccupied with the threat of nuclear war throughout the 80s and into the 90s although once or twice I penned the words “global warming” in a poem, and wrote an occasional brief article on the subject. The early years of the new century were absorbed with the madness and futility of war, principally in Iraq. But in 2007 the striking summer retreat of the Arctic ice sheet required me to drastically rethink my priorities and activities. I started by trying to form a Climate Change party that appealed across the political spectrum called the Global Warming Action Party Australia. The acronym GWAPA amused my daughter who told me the name was a joke and sounded like a frog croaking. She was right and I am still searching for a political party of this kind.
One previously strong argument against climate change was the ‘pause’ in global temperatures between 1950 and 1980 until they resumed their upward trends in the 1990s. It has recently been argued that this ‘pause’ may have been influenced by atmospheric nuclear testing – creating a mini ‘nuclear winter’. Some well qualified friends treated the idea with extreme scepticism and concluded that there was not enough ‘dust’ from the atmospheric tests to have caused the pause. Thus the evidence that a mini ‘nuclear winter’ halted the warming between the 1950s – 1980s, or even contributed to it, is unsubstantiated. Could the atmospheric nuclear tests have contributed to the warming pause? Along with other factors such as particles of lead additives from petrol in the atmosphere? Science hopefully will eventually identify the cause or causes. In the meantime those interested can read the article at
Harry Barton of Bairnsdale & AYCC photo by Peter Campbell
The late afternoon timing of the Melbourne People’s Climate March allowed me to take the mid-day train from Bairnsdale. But ‘Murphy’s Law’ was in control and following delays in Sale and Rosedale the train ended up 75 minutes late. Being joined by members of the Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group in Traralgon made the journey pleasurable anyway. ‘Lock the Gate’ and ‘Baw Baw Sustainability Group’ people also joined the train along the way.
I left my train friends at Flinders St as I trotted up Swanston to meet another just as the march was about to start, led by some young Kooris. By accident I ended up as a “ring-in” singing with the ‘Trades Hall’ and ‘Home Brew’ choirs. We sang from beside the march between Lonsdale and Bourke as the marchers went past. From start to finish – with a few stops and shuffles – they took about 45 minutes to pass and must have covered 2 to 3 blocks. As there were only 2 songs, printed words (You knew Grandpa you knew Grandpa / Tell me what did you do?) and a leader with squeeze box everything went well, we sang till we were nearly hoarse, the marchers often applauded and we joined at the tail end. Being late to start and on the end we missed most of the speeches.
The media response, with exceptions, was generally poor. This may partly be because of the timing of the event in the case of the visual media but there was no excuse for the sparse coverage in the printed media. As far as I am aware there was nothing much on Television, a page 8 article in the Saturday Age with an abominable estimate of numbers (hard to believe the journo was there for more than a few minutes!) and nothing at all from the climate criminals at the Herald Sun. There were no aerial views to show how big the march was – how many blocks it covered. The Guardian gave a fair online coverage with a crowd estimate of 40,000 which approached the organisers estimate of 60,000 plus. As a veteran of the Vietnam Moratorium Marches of 1970 -72 I estimated the crowd at about 50,000 and comparing favourably with some of the old marches – except the massive first Moratorium in May 1970 – an event I was unable to attend as I was overseas.
The Melbourne March was the first of an estimated 2000 events around the Earth to precede the Paris Conference. As I write this the marches are still happening. Saturday saw marches in Brisbane and Auckland and another 30 places around New Zealand. Sunday will feature marches across the remaining capital cities of Australia and include a local march from Phillip Island to San Remo across the bridge. A wonderful folio of photos of the Melbourne March taken by Peter Campbell of Victorian Climate Action Network can be viewed here https://goo.gl/photos/ay1cE4S7dRN3vfsY9
The Melbourne Age remains by far and away the best of the local printed media (possibly all media except social) in its handling of the huge problem of climate change. On the plus side they have regular features and news items by excellent journalists – in particular Peter Hannam, Tom Arup and Adam Morton. The letters columns are also equally informative sometime more so than the rest of the paper. Also they occasionally editorialise in favour of some action on climate. It should be noted that they have no competition – the Murdoch press is still operating in the Dark Ages.
On the downside we have to tolerate the climate denialist cartoons of Spooner, occasional put downs from the Institute of Public Affairs regular column, and worst of all, giving opinion pieces to outrageous Climate Change deniers in the guise of balanced presentation. A recent example of this was a piece by Christopher Booker attacking the upcoming Paris talks as a waste of time. (The Age 3.11) I found this distressing in the extreme and went so far as to threaten to cancel my subscription.
The problem is that the Age persists with the false dichotomy of balance and debate. There is no debate about anthropogenic climate change. The science is well established, documented, and various indicators including land and sea based temperature rises are occurring exactly as predicted 30 years ago. Since the science is 97.5% sure (perhaps even 99%) the Age should present 98 articles to ‘balance’ each item of scientific illiteracy by Booker and his ilk. To present Climate Change as a ‘debate’ – both for and against – is itself a grand distortion and can be likened to arguing about gravity or the shape of the earth.
Where are the front page headlines informing the public that the October just past was the warmest ever recorded in Victoria, Australia and the Earth? Where are the investigative pieces outlining worst-case scenarios of climate change on security, refugees, health, food production and the life threatening heatwaves, bushfires, droughts and floods? Where are the headlines specifically linking climate change with our gradually expanding bushfire season? Or examining how warming influences El Nino? And many other questions far too numerous to mention.
The Age emphasises the momentary (a murder) the parochial (Essendon Football Club) and false balance. They appear too timid to get too far ahead of their opposition – many of whose journalists are probably criminally negligent – instead of leading public opinion. As a long term reader my subscription remains, but only just.