Just Transition Part 2 by Dr Michael Borgas

Reproduced from Just Community

Why would we focus on fossil fuels if there are alternatives? It turns out South Gippsland is the potential home to Australia’s first offshore wind farm, the Star of the South project. It aims to produce nearly 20% of Victoria’s energy needs. The project is currently undergoing environmental approvals and community consultation to determine if the trade-offs are acceptable to provide this resource. The Danish investment and leadership in the Star of the South project comes from their scientific expertise in wind energy. This emerged from the Riso Labs near Roskilde in Denmark, a former nuclear reactor site, which suddenly lost its social license in a democratic vote. The wind and dispersion scientists that worked to protect Danish citizens from nuclear hazards reinvented themselves as wind energy scientists and are now transforming the energy world.

In CSIRO we also had wind scientists who formed successful companies to map wind resources, and my group in Melbourne calibrated accurate anemometers commercially for local wind farms in our wind tunnels for many years. I spent a few weeks at Riso working with turbulent-wind-flow experts in my own research career and I have worked on air pollution hazards around Australia, including the Latrobe Valley.

The rest of the world is investing heavily in offshore wind farms, with French President Macron announcing an extra 3 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind generation (on top of a planned 5GW) as a COVID-19 recovery response. This French investment amounts to five Star-of-the-South projects, but importantly highlights that the cheapest form of new energy extraction is renewables, even for a country already heavily invested in nuclear energy and its associated regulatory infrastructure and supply chains. Now is not the time for Australia to consider nuclear energy start-up as a sensible post-COVID-19 change.

Our group’s interest in Just Transitions goes beyond the cheapest form of energy production for Melbourne’s consumption and Viking profits, but instead asks what useful work can be done and what social outcomes that energy could drive in South Gippsland. The past century has been one of mass urbanization with more than half the planet’s people now living and working in major cities. The social distancing, robotic factories and online work now required makes it unclear what role cities now play in efficient economic growth. The economic growth we have previously seen from mass immigration, tourism, and international education will be greatly diminished. It has never been more appropriate to think about how to develop non-urban regions and find value in greater decentralization and better tree-change living.

South Gippsland may end up as a major renewable energy hub, and while it has considerable potential for growth of regenerative agriculture with new jobs and economic benefits, local recovery from the pandemic will require more advanced activity, consumption and energy use in and by the people of South Gippsland itself.

This change all starts with ideas, like using energy locally to create bio-fertilizer from brown coal, or scaling up regenerative agriculture, or expanding creative industries, social housing, expanding local amenity for a larger population, social-distance safe eco-tourism, to name just a few. It seems to me that it is an important time to respond to the call for new ideas, not the least in South Gippsland. So please make your ideas known, none can be much sillier than a desperate ongoing fetish for polluting fossil fuels.

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