Gippsland News & Views

Renewable Energy & the Latrobe Valley by Lorraine Bull

Loraine Bull Letter

(letter in Latrobe Valley Express 28.1)

NASA reports that 2015 was the hottest year on record globally. This is attributed to increased greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Increased carbon dioxide comes from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas).  Many people query how we can overcome this dependence on fossil fuels.

As with coal-fired power stations, alternative sources of energy will take time to construct, but unlike our current centralised national electricity grid, the future power will come from many sources.  Well over one million homes have PV solar panels.  AGL has just opened two large scale solar plants at Nyngan and Broken Hill, bringing the Australian large-scale solar capacity to 245MW feeding into the national grid.   Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has shortlisted 22 large scale solar projects vying for $100 million funding to produce about 767MW capacity.

The recently commissioned 106MW Bald Hills Wind Farm near Tarwin Lower [has] contributed to Victoria’s 12% renewable energy in 2014.  In December Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio released a ‘Guide to Community Owned Renewable Energy’ to encourage development of grassroots projects, and the jobs associated with manufacturing and installing new energy production.

Exciting technologies under development include wave power, bioenergy, concentrated solar thermal storage and battery storage. Australia is forecast to attract $36 billion in renewable energy investments by 2020.  It is vital that Victoria, especially Latrobe Valley, captures a share of this.  Indeed, I feel that a Government body with authority to finance the transition of the Latrobe Valley is vital for our future.

Signs of Climate Change in Gippsland Waters

osprey-with-bass

I have written previously of the growing list of new species occupying or visiting our shores and seas. Most, if not all, have arrived (at least partially) because of global warming. They include a, as yet unidentified, jellyfish being found in the Gippsland Lakes, new bird species appearing in Gippsland, and the likelihood of the Black Marlin visiting our ocean reaches. As on land the ocean and lakes temperatures are also rising allowing previously rare or unsighted species to now appear. We tend to forget that the waters around us are also warming, sometimes at a much faster rate than the temperatures on land and it is clear that Gippsland waters are warming far faster than the land mass.

Commenting on this a Gippsland Environment Group spokesperson noted that the: “Osprey, up till 15 years ago, [was] a very rare sighting in Victoria, but [is] now often being recorded on the east and central coast. The reason for this is they are a true fisherman, and only take live fish off the surface. Traditionally, fish that frequent the surface did not occur in Vic, but with currents changing, and as a result so has fish species, they are often being recorded in Victorian waters. The breeding population is still based in SA (Kangaroo Is) and North of Sydney, but … non-breeding birds are coming into Vic.” He also noted the increase in “King and School Prawn. In the 60’s and 70’s, a prawn season only occurred in the Gippsland Lakes every 3-4 years, due to the fact that they do not breed here, but the young move south in the Eastern Australian Current. Now we have a prawn season every year (some years better than others) and it is worth many millions of dollars to Lakes fishers…”

Ross Scott, a passionate advocate for the Gippsland Lakes, has also identified a number of new species in the Lakes including: “CRABS…most from offshore following the increased lakes salinity; and the Queensland crab following the warmer offshore currents.  JELLY FISH.  We still do not know the name of [one of] the jellyfish found in the lakes…but it appears to be from the north.  SHARKS… we have always had Gummy shark around the entrance. But now we have Hammerhead; Thresher sharks. And the Draftboard and Leopard sharks followed the European Green Shore Crab invasion in 2008 as well as another crab eater, Stingrays.”

One wonders how long we will have to wait before our representatives at various levels of government come to grips with (or at least recognise) the huge problem of climate change, and begin to consider actions to mitigate and adapt. Two actions in Gippsland are obvious, switching from coal to renewable energy sources as quickly as possible and conserving and protecting what remains of our native forests as a carbon store.

 

Climate Change: Sea Level Rise and the Gippsland Coast? 27.1

Proposal for coastal research to be done on the impacts of sea level rise.

A. Barrie Pittock - Climate Change

When recently sorting through boxes of notes in the process of downsizing I came across an interesting 6 page proposal for coastal research to be done on the impacts of sea level rise. The note was by A. Barrie Pittock author of the standard Australian text Climate Change (http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/6010.htm). Barrie regularly holidays near Lakes Entrance and has done so for 30 years. He is now retired but worked as a climate scientist in the CSIRO Department of Atmospheric Physics for many years. In 2008 he roughed out his brief “Outline for Proposal for Research on Coastal Impacts of S(ea) L(evel) R(ise)” as a response to climate sceptic Bjorn Lomborg’s claim that “nobody noticed” the 15cm sea level rise that occurred in the 20th Century and that “therefore a 30cm rise in the 21st century will be of no consequence.”

Pittock pointed out that Lomborg’s 30cm may be a considerable underestimate and suggests that a 1m rise was more likely. He then stated that “what interests me is did anyone notice a sea level rise last century, and how widespread was this?” Anecdotally I am aware of a storm that destroyed a toilette block at Lake Tyers Beach in the 50s or 60s. They may be many other local examples. But severe storm damage only appears to have been noticed when human constructions have been threatened or destroyed.

Pittock suggests an in-depth historical survey as part of an exhaustive coastal survey covering sea level rise including local changes, erosion, sediment transport, subsidence and extreme weather events. He suggests that then we should “attempt local modelling exercises of past changes, taking account of sediment transport, and other local factors…” and then analyse “options for adaption including coastal defences, zoning, infrastructure design, retreat…” Barrie Pittock may have had the Gippsland Coast in mind when roughing out his proposal. As far as I am aware a study along the lines suggested by Pittock is yet to be done.

Exxonmobil: Gippsland No 1 Climate Criminal? 24.1

Esso 2

Rupert Murdoch and multinational Exxonmobil are close contenders for title of the world’s greatest climate criminal. Unlike Murdoch Esso has had a long association with Gippsland and been producing offshore oil and gas from the Gippsland basin since 1969. EssoBHP – now Exxonmobil – has played a leading role in our development which must be recognised, especially in the area of employment. Whilst agriculture in our region has continued to go through its ups and downs Esso has been there to provide work in otherwise difficult times. Of the many Gippslanders who have obtained employment on the rigs or onshore I know at least three.

But it is now clear that at the end of the 70s Exxon scientists knew, and warned the company, about the dangers of global warming and its direct association with burning fossil fuels. Senior management chose not only to ignore the threat but to actively oppose and attempt to discredit the science. Apparently they are continuing to do so. A vast amount of money has been directed to sceptics, denier groups and individuals to create doubt about the science and ‘muddy the waters’ of public opinion. As a consequence concerted action to minimise global warming, as called for by Margaret Thatcher and others as early as1989, has been delayed by more than 2 decades.

But the science is gradually identifying and quantifying the cost of inaction on climate change. Events heavily influenced, exacerbated and exaggerated by climate change including heatwaves, bushfires, floods and droughts have already come at great cost to both life and property. As a single example amongst many, 370 extra lives were lost in south-east Australia in the unprecedented heatwave that came before Black Saturday.

The removal of oil and gas from the Gippsland basin has also been associated with the possibility of coastal subsidence along the Ninety-Mile beach. In the 1990s geomorphologist Eric Bird warned that the removal of oil and gas from the Gippsland basin may lead to subsidence. One study by the CSIRO in 2007 estimated that subsidence of up to 3 metres could occur in places. Thus the Gippsland coast could be hit with a ‘double-whammy’ – subsidence caused by the removal of fossil fuels and sea level rise caused by the burning of them. In 2013 the company obtained permission to vent large amounts of CO2 directly into the atmosphere from their gas conditioning plant at Longford showing their continued and complete disregard for the science and a determination to continue ‘profitable’ operations.

Finally, and as an aside, we now have the news that Exxonmobil with a turnover of $9.6 billion in Australia in the last financial year paid no tax. This is further illustration, if any was needed, of the immoral operations of this organisation. On balance history will judge Exxon poorly. And all the money in the world cannot change the law of gravity or the basic physics of the greenhouse effect.

Two Projects to Help Solve our PM’s Climate Conundrum 20.1

 

BZE VFT

Prior to returning to the leadership of the Liberal Party and assuming the role of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made many statements about the inadequacy (to put in mildly) of his party’s, and his predecessor’s, climate policies. “Direct action,” he said, “was an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing.” But now as leader his hands appear to be tied by the rump of ‘climate change deniers’ in the coalition including most of the National Party. So Malcolm has been treading softly and adhering to whatever agreement he made with the denier faction and the Nationals. But there are many actions that can be taken that bypass the rump or even recruit some of their members.

Two that come readily to mind, that would probably attract overwhelming support, are “Snowy Mountains Scheme” style projects – a very fast train from Melbourne to Brisbane and a high voltage direct current (HVDC) cable that links WA to the eastern grid. The former has been studied in great detail by Beyond Zero Emissions and the detail is available here http://bze.org.au/zero-carbon-transport-high-speed-rail

The latter has been proposed by climate scientist Barrie Pittock (letters The Age 3.1.16) and by engineer Peter Seligman in his Australian Sustainable Energy – by the numbers (Melb. Energy Inst. 2010). Seligman details his proposal for a HVDC cable from Perth to Port Augusta (pp.41-4) and suggests it be combined with a large scale pumped hydro storage on the Nullarbor. The BZE and Seligman proposals have been carefully costed.

Both these proposals would take up the slack in employment now occurring with the slide in the resources sector. Both would require large amounts of spending – so you can forget about the balanced budget which was so much propaganda anyway. Since each of these projects would pass through National Party homeland it may appeal to some of their number. But most of all both projects offer huge savings in either transportation or energy efficiency. As our economy appears to be slowing and interest rates are at an all-time low Keynesian economics dictates that now may be the time for some ‘pump priming’ – something similar to Labor’s “home roof insulation”  scheme in 2009 on a grander scale and done so much better.

Basslink in the News 17.1.16

Basslink

Some years ago a member of my family criticised a suggestion I made about the energy advantages of using High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cables to connect electricity grids. I may have inadvertently left the high voltage bit off which detracted from my argument. I also forgot to mention the example functioning on our doorstep – Basslink. For those unaware of Basslink it is an undersea HVDC cable that connects Tasmania to the mainland eastern Australia electricity grid via Bass Strait and south Gippsland.

Basslink is currently in the news as it has recently failed and repairs appear to be taking much longer than originally estimated. The failure is causing political ructions and claims are being made that power rationing in Tasmania may be required. The water stored in Tassie’s hydro-electric dams is very low as the island is experiencing an extremely dry spell heavily influenced by the current El Nino and climate change. Hydro Tasmania also sold off far too much energy whilst the carbon tax was in place to take advantage of price differentials – hydro-electricity as a renewable energy attracted no tax. Prof. Mike Sandiford noted: “that Tasmanian hydro generators have been selling electricity into the mainland market at unprecedented rates, drawing down storage levels dramatically since the carbon price was implemented in July 2012.”  For more details on this go to https://theconversation.com/how-much-will-tasmania-pay-for-shorting-the-carbon-price-29106

As a consequence Hydro Tasmania has had to reopen the Tamar Valley power station – gas powered and expensive – which they had ‘mothballed’. An alternative longer term solution is to have a second cable. Ironically Hydro Tasmania proposed the ‘Taswind’ project in 2012 where a second cable would be routed via King Island in conjunction with a 200 turbine wind farm. This proposal did not go ahead due to ‘economic reasons’ but was probably due to the downgrading of the Renewable Energy Target and the carbon ‘tax’ legislation being repealed. Was this another casualty of the reactionary “anti-climate science’ views of the Abbott government? It’s time to put the ‘Taswind’ project back on the drawing board and into action.

Company Tax. Are we the Fossil Fools? 13.1

Tax Crims

Recently Australia’s big news has been the number of large companies not paying any, or minimal, tax. There are so many ways of manipulating the books that paying tax for many of them has become optional. Many of these companies are of particular interest in the climate crisis – coal and petroleum companies and other large fossil fuel consumers generating copious greenhouse gas emissions. The list of the top ten earning multiple billions and not paying any tax is illuminating. They include 2 airlines, Exxon (who, for their actions in creating doubt and funding the ‘climate denialist’ movement deserve to be named and shamed as a climate criminal), 4 coal companies (GHP, Citic Resources, Mitsubishi Resources and Glencore) and only 2 that are not obviously tied to fossil fuel industry.

This revelation is all the more inflammatory when the generous subsidies to the fossil fuel industry are included, not to mention donations by some of these companies to political parties. There can be little doubt that money buys access to politicians and is the main influence on policies and legislation. For instance Mr Adani, the Carmichael Coal promoter and owner of Abbott Point, recently had access to the new PM Malcolm Turnbull over some undisclosed matter.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald noted further tax offenders, including Mr Adani: “Chevron, which recently lost against the ATO in the Federal Court, but will be challenging the decision, had turnover of $3 billion but paid no tax. Adani’s Abbot Point Terminal in Queensland – with a turnover of $268 million – also paid no tax… News Australia, which had a turnover of $3.9 billion between its Australian arms, had $97.2 million in net income last year and paid $4.2 million in tax.” Thus we have Coal Promoters (Adani et al) and the Climate Criminals (Exxon, Murdoch) directing government policy though their financial contribution towards it has been negligible.

There are a large number of ways that governments can stop this haemorrhaging of their budgets including a turnover tax (say on businesses earning more than $100 million that pay no tax) or a Tobin tax, both of which are obvious and frequently mentioned examples. A coal export tax (starting at say $1 per ton and increased annually) could be followed up by a coal excise tax – a backdoor reintroduction of the carbon tax. Pollies speak about ‘balanced budgets’ and an ‘expenditure problem’ when they really have a ‘revenue problem’ but more than anything else they have global warming problem – of gigantic proportions.

The Baw Baw Sustainability Network

An overview of the BBSN by Mal McKelvie.

BBSustain

The Baw Baw Sustainability Network (BBSN) was started in 2007 by a group of ordinary people from throughout West Gippsland.  The establishment of the BBSN was supported by individuals, local community groups and the Baw Baw Shire, who recognised the need for a specialist group to deal with the escalating and complicated sustainability issues and concerns facing the local community. The Network has since flourished with a growing membership of over 130, and hundreds more casual participants and interested parties across our region.  As an independent, not for profit, local community group, we provide a vital and unique service, bridging the gap between talk and action on sustainable living in Baw Baw.

We provide awareness, education, a forum for local discussion, a voice for our local issues, and a vehicle for community and government to collaborate and act on environmental issues. Our very professional shop front in Yarragon, REstore, provides a permanent, highly visible and physical presence, with fabulous gardens and great partnerships.  We also employ a professional Sustainability Project Officer, and enjoy the benefits of hugely diverse expertise from our members.

Other services and activities include:Newsletter, Website (a link is on the side bar), Bulk Food Buying Group, Re-skilling Workshops, Produce Swaps, Domestic Energy Workshops, Sustainable House Day, Food Gardens Day, Community Garden in Yarragon, Gardening Days, Cooking Pizzas in a Wood-fired Oven, Film Nights, Information nights with notable Public Speakers, Lobbying & Action on Local Issues (i.e. Coal Seam Gas) and Networking & Partnerships

The BBSN is an incorporated organisation, and is fully compliant with the Victorian Government Associations Incorporation Reform Act (2012).  As detailed in our constitution our “Aim: [is to] Establish the Baw Baw region community as a model of environmentally sustainable living. Objectives: To promote lifestyles, technologies, community household and business systems that are environmentally sustainable. To increase community awareness about climate change and sustainable environmental practices. To monitor and measure progress toward achievement of environmentally sustainable practice in the community. To inform and educate the community about environmentally sustainable living practices through appropriate media. To implement community projects that promote environmental sustainability. To establish and maintain a Public Fund to be called the Baw Baw Sustainable Environment Fund for the specific purpose of supporting the environmental objects/purposes of the BBSN.”

The BBSN is a group of every-day people getting together to do extraordinary things today and for the future.  This is an enormous journey we have embarked on. We’re constantly coming up with new ideas and welcome any suggestions!

The Moving Image and Climate Change 6.1.16

DIGITAL CAMERA

Our old TV less lounge

I have always had a preference for the written word and my wife and I remain in the 1% of the Australian population that do not have a TV. However in retirement I have used the ABC’s iview occasionally on my computer for entertainment (a timewasting ‘whodunit’) or work (Mediawatch, climate and renewable energy programs). I also have a number of friends and relatives who contact me when something is being shown relevant to my interests. Recently I have seen three programs or films on climate and renewable energy worth commenting on.

The first was the Naomi Klein film This Changes Everything which was screened at the Paynesville Community Centre on 3 December with an audience of 32. I have a brief blog on this event here http://petergardner.info/2015/12/this-changes-everything-screened-at-paynesville-6-12/  The second was Time to Choose which was sent by my sister in Canada. Unfortunately I was continually disrupted by the phone and other household chores whilst trying to watch this. http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/time-to-choose-watch-the-new-film-from-oscar-winner-charles-ferguson_565c5678e4b079b2818acee0?section=Australia

The third was an ABC Foreign Correspondent program called How to Save the World (no longer available on iview). It was more succinct than the Klein film and delivered a precise message – tying renewable energy advances to the end of coal. The organiser of the Paynesville screening Laura Owen noted: “After watching the foreign correspondent on iview on Tuesday night I did wish I was screening that rather than the film [This Changes Everything] because I felt it had a more uplifting/encouraging tone to it. I thought Klein’s book gave a strong message of hope and empowerment that was not portrayed so much in the film. Anyway, it got people together and got a discussion happening so that is the main thing.”

On a personal note the messages become repetitive. I do not have to be persuaded but because climate change has been so politicised many in the general public do. They need to be alerted to the dire consequences of doing nothing. They need to be made aware how damaging ‘denialist’ opposition is. And these messages needs to be repeated continuously. There remains a huge knowledge gap between what the general population know and the basic science of climate change; how the greenhouse effect works, how the greenhouse effect became established science, how climate change influences weather, the connection between fossil fuels and warming and many other aspects that are either established or can be demonstrated.

A series of short educational adverts is needed to build an understanding of basic science of climate change in the wider community. These (mainly TV) ads should not be political. For a relatively small investment in public education our PM could help educate the masses and at the same time defeat the denialist faction within his party.

 

Gippsland 2020 Stratford Community Energy Promo! 3.1.16

Segue 2020

Have you ever thought how it might be to be free from electricity price hikes, power slumps and surges, and blackouts? Have you thought how it might be to have you and your own community control local power generation through clean and sustainable technologies? Small communities across Gippsland, Victoria and Australia are doing just that through participating in joint projects for renewable technologies, therefore enabling stronger community cohesion and creating energy. Based on the number of panels installed in solar power alone, Gippsland participants have saved themselves over $4 million in power bills (Australian Government data) and created hundreds of jobs.

Community energy offers small towns the opportunity to generate their own power through individuals, community and business groups, and local government uniting. Together you can invest in the purchase and installation of technologies like solar panels and wind turbines, and sell the power on to return the investment to your community.

An example of such a community is SUSTAINABLE SEGUE, your Stratford Community House, showing that all this is possible in three easy steps:

1.         IF YOU SWITCH to Powershop using the gippsland2020.org link, by ringing the Powershop’s main number 1800462668 or ringing Peter Brownstein on (03)83702147 and mention you are supporting Gippsland 2020, they will help fund your community’s solar power and hot water from heat pumps.

2.         IF YOU UPGRADE your electric or gas hot water with a heat pump through NRGWise they will give you a 5% discount, plus donate a further 5% to the Segue project. In addition, Laser Plumbing will donate $50 per customer to the Segue’s project.

3.         IF YOU BUY solar panels from NRGWise or Gippsland Solar, they will donate 5% to the Segue project.

The power is in your hands. Help yourself save money and help your community through Segue. For further information please contact Beth Ripper 0427 456 094. For information on solar installation and hot water upgrades through NRGWise, please call Rod Horton 0421 820 411.