Gippsland News & Views

Caught in the slipstream Part 1 by Michael Whelan

First published in the Bass Coast Post *

When it comes to climate change, it is easy to be overwhelmed by negativity and despondency. I choose to talk of the productive things we can do to address climate change that will reduce carbon emissions and also have positive impacts on other aspects of our lives.

The transition to the renewable economy will be as revolutionary as the move from horse and cart to the steam engine. But Australia needs to act quickly and decisively to embrace a vital business opportunity or we will be left in the slipstream of other more far-sighted countries. The problem, as we all know, is that we are being held back by obstruction from Canberra and a lack of urgency at other levels of government.

The level of government that is acting most decisively so far is local government. In 2019 Bass Coast Shire Council declared a climate emergency and earlier his year we adopted a climate action plan that identifies actions that individuals, businesses, the agricultural sector and Council can take to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.

Since July 1 all council activities have been powered by 100 per cent renewable power in a landmark deal with 46 other Victorian councils that also cuts the shire’s energy bill.

Part of my work as a Bass Coast councillor involves chairing a group of councillors representing nine councils in Melbourne’s southeast, from Port Phillip to Bass Coast. We make up the councillor advisory group to South East Councils Climate Change Alliance or SECCCA, which is proactive in advocacy and support of climate action projects.

At our meeting last week, the group expressed its concern at the extremely serious and devastating climate events occurring in the Northern Hemisphere. The “heat dome” weather system that settled over much of North America led to the town of Lytton in British Columbia hitting 49.6 degrees, shattering the temperature record by 5 degrees. The system was slow moving and did not cool at night. This was followed by extreme forest fires that swept the western half of the continent. Forest fires have been a feature of the European continent this summer in areas not used to fighting such fires. (to be continued)

* see here. Michael Whelan is a Bass Coast councillor and chair of the councillor advisory group to South East Councils Climate Change Alliance.

The Anti-vaxxers and Climate Change

My wife has just received a political text message from climate change denier and anti-vaxxer Craig Kelly MP. A blog by Lakes health worker Mark Kilpatrick of nearly three years ago briefly explored the links between climate change and vaccinations. He noted, “if we look at denial of the science, there are many similarities. Our understanding of the world is based on centuries of scientific inquiry, hypotheses, experimentation, refutation and discussion before agreement is reached as to the validity of the theory explaining how things work. Vaccinations came about through a gradual understanding of germs and how the body defends itself against disease.”

Since Mark wrote his blog the nation has been overwhelmed by the Covid-19 epidemic and the now virulent Delta strain. With the latter, the science took some time to realise how rapidly it could transfer and infect others. But generally governments around Australia have adopted a best science approach – something that has been lacking with climate change. I hope that the lockdowns and the rollout of vaccinations will enable our health system to cope with the inevitable increase in hospitalisations.

Meanwhile, we have some anti-vaxxers in parliament* and political exploiters like Palmer using their positions of power or their buckets of money to promote their own political agenda and exploit the divisions in the community. Like the Kelly text, the freedom adverts in the Age, the promotion of lockdown and anti-vax protests are clear examples of this. I wonder how many of those exploiting the anti-vaxxers and so called ‘freedom’ movements like Palmer have been vaccinated.

There is also the far bigger question of politicising science – in this case medical science but also including climate science. Science always wins in the end but exploiting ignorance, fear, and gullibility of the populous is perceived as politically advantageous in the short term to the anti-vaxxers as it has been for the climate deniers for many years. Since the results of these actions are often fatal, they are also criminal.

Some also need reminding that the measures taken during these lockdowns are miniscule compared to what will eventuate when the climate emergency is taken seriously by the nation. For then we will be on a ‘wartime’ footing and many of the ‘freedoms’ Palmer and his cohorts support will simply vanish. Governments will drastically increase their activities for the greater good at the expense of individualism. They will be bipartisan, internationally co-operative and intervene in all corners of our lives. The longer actions are delayed the more severe these government impositions will be.

*in the LNP (or ex-LNP in the case of Kelly) and One Nation

Charging Electric Vehicles in East Gippsland

Home charging Nissan Leaf with solar

The recent edition of the East Gippsland Shire Council’s Environment Connect Spring 21 reported on the expansion of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the district. They noted that “Omeo, Orbost, Bairnsdale and Cann River are earmarked to have electric vehicle charging stations installed using $400,000 in federal Local Community Infrastructure Funding (LRCI) in the coming months.”

Further “In addition, last month Council applied for a Destination Charging Across Victoria grant to install additional electric vehicle charging stations in Lakes Entrance, Mallacoota, Bruthen and Buchan. This program aims to establish a fast-charging network across Victoria, with 80% earmarked for fast-chargers in regional Victoria. With the increasing availability of affordable electric vehicles, this is one way Council can encourage tourism after COVID-19 and support our community to make the switch to electric vehicles.”

It is not clear, but it is assumed, that the Shire will own and operate the new EV chargers. The article added that from next year “this means anyone who charges their electric vehicle from one of Council’s charging stations will be using 100% renewable energy…” due to the shire’s recent Power Purchase Agreement. The obvious advantages of EVs reducing emissions was noted as was the equally obvious fact that most of the charging can be done at home, preferably by solar energy.

The article concluded with the note that “Transport accounts for 17% of the community’s emissions in East Gippsland. Making this shift supports the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) advice that ‘strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change’…Walking, cycling and public transport are still recommended above driving!”

Mention was also made of the State Government’s Zero Emissions Vehicle Subsidy of $3000 (for new EVs only) but did not point out that Victoria is the only government in Australia (or the earth?) to have an EV tax. Since the need is to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy as soon as possible and a basic requirement for sound climate policy, this is a retrograde step and an indicator that parts of Government are yet to comprehend the enormity of the problem they face.

Bass Coast CAN Winter Workshop

From the BCCAN Newsletter

With a captive audience at home, BCCAN hosted the first of our seasonal workshops on Sunday August 8th – BCCAN and the Climate Action Plan. With around 20 participants including council officers Benita Russell and Simon Woodland, and Councillor Leticia Laing and Michael Whelan, we were given a comprehensive picture of the efforts Bass Coast Council have made in reducing emissions and tackling climate change since declaring a climate emergency in August 2019, and how our zero emissions target is tracking for 2030.

Benita took us through the dynamic data sets on Bass Coast’s projected emissions and targets – I highly recommend people click on this link to find out more about emissions by sector. Hovering over any of the bubbles gives a detailed breakdown which helps us as a community to understand our role in reducing the emissions in the residential sector.

Leticia and Michael answered many questions put to them on a diverse range of topics such as vegetation and the biolinks project, growing food on verges and council owned land, affordable sustainable housing, community grants specifically targeting climate action projects, and charging stations for EVs.

We heard from our passionate BCCAN members on current projects. Jessica and Aileen gave an update on the Cosy Homes Project, which aims to help our community connect with energy efficient solutions at low or no cost, whilst building awareness of the need for climate action. Maddy and Sharon spoke about the Edible Gardens Open Food Garden Project for early 2022. Gardens showcasing a range of approaches to sustainability are being recruited. The weekend will include a community dinner hosted at BCAL featuring locally grown food.

Mary reported on TRPI’s transport initiative and interest in the Good Car Co., a group who import used EVs from Japan with low mileage through a bulk buy program in communities. TRPI will survey the Bass Coast community to identify how much interest there is in working with the Good Car Co. We will send the link to the survey to our mailing list when it’s ready.

Ed gave an informative report on the Infrastructure Victoria Review on domestic gas supply, asking that Council and individuals make submissions on Engage Victoria, closing August 16. More info here. We also heard about the Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty and will put in a formal submission to Council to endorse the Treaty, which has been signed by Moreland Council, the ACT parliament and internationally by Vancouver, Barcelona and LA amongst others. We heard from Jessica about The West Alberton Forest Protection Campaign, which has a number of our members protesting near Yarram.

If you are interested in further details but missed the Winter Workshop, the recording of the session is here, and the chat is here.

Gippsland Geothermal Update

More than ten years ago I was enthusiastic about the rapid adoption of geothermal energy in Gippsland. In particular, it was the idea that the coal beds would act as an insulator and the thermal energy resource beneath the coal would be high. The potential was there to replace the coal-fired generators with geothermal ones in the same or nearby locations, helping avoid some of the problems associated with a just transition. In my enthusiasm I ran as a climate independent in the seat of Morwell in the 2010 State election with geothermal energy adoption as my main policy, with far from satisfactory results.

In 2016 I noted “Most of Gippsland is still covered by geothermal prospecting licences which are best described as ‘inactive’. In East Gippsland Petratherm still holds the licence. This company, a ‘penny dreadful’, lingers at the bottom of the market and is obviously starved of capital.” Then there were at least two companies exploring geothermal options in Gippsland and one selling geothermal heat pumps for heating and cooling residences was located in Traralgon.

A recent article from Earth Resources Victoria reminded me of the potential for geothermal energy: “More and more economies around the world are exploring geothermal as a renewable energy source. Gippsland isn’t being left behind, with the Latrobe Valley Authority working with the state’s geoscience agency, the Geological Survey of Victoria (GSV), and the University of Melbourne to carry out geothermal mapping of the region…Dr Graeme Beardsmore, says it is coal that makes the area a prime location for harnessing geothermal power.”

The report noted that “The Latrobe City Council recently opened the Gippsland Regional Aquatic Centre in Traralgon, the first public aquatic facility in Victoria to incorporate a deep bore geothermal heating system.  The Centre taps into an aquifer more than 600 metres below ground where the water is above 60 degrees Celsius, heating the community pool naturally and cheaply…Earlier this year saw the announcement of the Metung Hot Springs after funding from the Gippsland Tourism Recovery Package and Local Economic Recovery program was confirmed in the wake of the bushfires.”

Whilst these advances are interesting, it is disappointing that this huge and sustainable energy resource remains untapped. Instead, our region remains stuck with the declining energies of the past and the criminal exploitation of our most valuable carbon store – native forests. Perhaps the Earth Resources mapping will assist the transition from old to new in some small way.

This Government and Climate Change by Tom Moore Part 2

Note that, despite the government’s protestations that the fossil fuel industry is not subsidised, the latest G20 report shows that since the Paris agreement in 2015, fossil fuel subsidies in Australia have increased by 48%! Amongst the G20 countries, Australia tops the list in this respect.

Note that we recently learned that businessman Geoff Cousins and his good friend Bob Carr had to by-pass the Morrison Government when they successfully petitioned the Chinese Ambassador to ensure that China’s Banks refused to finance Adani. They did it again when they convinced the Ambassador to prevent insurance companies covering Adani’s operations in Australia. This government was not happy with Cousins and Carr.

There are so many examples of this Government’s total disdain for action on Climate Change – I purposively have not included some of the most publicised examples – and it is obviously its inaction is designed to extend the lifetime of fossil fuels and therefore to stand in the way of reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

And that’s without any reference to a Deputy Prime Minister and those in the National Party that appear unable to take the appropriate steps to ensure that those it purports to represent are assisted to make a just transition to an inevitable low emissions future.

In the meantime, Scott Morrison’s good friend Rupert Murdoch is getting involved again. Less than 24 hours after the Grattan Institute released a policy document calling for Australia to follow in the footsteps of the EU and effectively ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035, the Murdoch Media came out blazing. “It’s another hoax,” said Sky News commentator Alan Jones.

In the meantime, this Government has just released the Intergenerational Report. This report about the future of young people in Australia does mention climate change, but it appears that the government pressured the authors to ensure that this section of the report contains no projections. Fits very well with the Federal Environment Minister, Susan Ley taking legal action to challenge the Federal Court’s decision that she owes a duty of care regarding climate change to young Australians.

John Hewson, you were indeed a leader and you still are. I salute you in calling out one of your own.

*The author is a member of the Metung Science Forum – a forum for progressive science and evidence-based discussion of climate change and related issues for the people of Metung and surrounds.

This Government and Climate Change by Tom Moore Part 1

I recently read John Hewson’s article in the Saturday Paper. Hewson, a former federal leader of the Liberal Party seriously criticised Scott Morrison as someone whom he believes, “simply doesn’t understand leadership (which) involves strategic thinking, being proactive, and acceptance of responsibility and accountability”.

Whereas the article concentrated on the Pandemic, the traits called out by Hewson (and previously by Malcolm Turnbull) can clearly be levelled at the Federal Government’s handling of anything Climate Change. For those of us who endeavour to keep up with policy in this area the evidence that this Federal Government’s policy pronouncements on climate change (particularly those made by the PM himself and his energy minister Angus Taylor) are just empty words that do not reflect the reality of what is actually being pursued by this Government. The evidence that this Government will continue to appease the fossil fuel industry and its supporters and lobbyists is overwhelming.

Recall the words spoken in the lead-up to the last election that electric vehicles cannot pull a caravan or power a four-wheel drive and will therefore spoil your weekend and tradies will be left without their utes – words that it is almost impossible now to back-track from even by a prime minister who is famous for back-tracking. The promotion of electric vehicles is still recorded as part of the Coalition’s so-called Technology Backed approach to emission reductions which, when asked they trot out, but we know there has been no effort expended in this area and apparently never will be.

Recall the numerous appointments of current and former fossil fuel executives to advise Government on energy issues and their appointments to government bodies such as the Clean Energy Regulator.

Recall Angus Taylor trying, and still trying, to force through regulations to redirect to fossil fuel initiatives, the funds held by ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) under its charter to support renewable energy projects.

Recall that when Daniel Westerman, the chief of AEMO (Australian Energy Marketing Organisation), stated that he wants the country’s main grids to be able to handle 100% “instantaneous” renewables by 2025, the Federal Resources Minister, Keith Pitt called this “absolute nonsense”. Of course, we know that Pitt is a climate denialist from several other decisions and statements he has made whilst in this portfolio. This is just one example of the Morrison Government distancing itself from those with genuine expertise in the energy system.

*The author is a member of the Metung Science Forum – a forum for progressive science and evidence-based discussion of climate change and related issues for the people of Metung and surrounds.

The Benefits of Eating Seasonally by Krista Mountford

From the Baw Baw Sustainability Network Newsletter

If our parents or grandparents were to cast their mind back to what fresh food they ate, they would never have experienced eating a bright red tomato in winter or broccoli in summer. This quite modern phenomenon has only existed for the last 50-100 years due to the ability for food to be transported from all over the country or world with ease.

Eating seasonally offers immense benefits including greater nutrient density, far superior flavour and freshness, and from a sustainability perspective, a much lower carbon footprint. If you’ve ever tasted produce from a farmer’s market you will know what we’re talking about!

Seasonal produce spends less time in cold storage as it usually comes straight from the farmer to the market. Less pesticides are usually used as it’s grown at the correct time of year and in the right conditions, and less food miles occur as the produce is usually grown locally.

Produce that is flown or trucked in from other parts of the country or world, are often picked when they’re underripe, so that it will last the trip and won’t bruise during transport. This effects the taste and quality of the fruit or vegetable as it hasn’t been given the chance to ripen naturally or fully develop its flavour. Vitamins can also break down over time, so produce that has sat in cold storage for weeks or sometimes months, will lose nutrients.

So, it’s now currently Winter in Gippsland, Victoria, what should we be eating? This time of year is usually reserved for brassicas, alliums and umbellifers.

BRASSICAS: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale and radish

ALLIUMS: Leeks, onions, garlic and shallots

UMBELLIFERS: Parsley, fennel, celery, carrots and coriander

And what about fruit you ask? Well, it’s not the time for watermelon or pineapple (although thanks to transport you have access to these any time of year). Winter is all about citrus, so think oranges, lemons and mandarins. This makes a lot of sense as these fruits are full of Vitamin C, perfect to keep the winter cold and flu bugs at bay!

The vegetables above are also able to play a seasonal recipe role, as they’re perfect for warming soups and casseroles, and garlic is a huge immune booster. Although eating seasonally may limit the variety of vegetables and fruit you consume, there are still many recipes you can create!… So, head down to your local Farmer’s Market or grocer and get cooking! Your body and the planet will thank you for it!

The Delburn Wind Farm Part 2 by Wendy Farmer

The Delburn site has several advantages. It is located close to high voltage transmission lines, which will facilitate connection to the electricity grid and minimise connection costs. This contrasts with the connection problems found by other wind farm developments in the west and northwest of the state where connections are congested. The site for the Terminal station is close to high voltage transmission lines; there have been other renewable energy and community energy projects proposed in Gippsland that have not gone ahead because of the prohibitive cost of connecting to the grid.

The wind farm is planned for pine plantation in the Strzelecki Ranges south of Morwell, making use of an existing industrial site, which helps to minimise any ecological impacts of the project. As building the project will require upgrades to access tracks within the plantation, it’s anticipated it will improve fire management on site. It would not take productive farming land out of use as coal mines have.

The company behind the project OSMI has made a commitment for local business procurement and employment opportunities. There is a generous community benefit scheme proposed with this project with $1 Million per annum going back into the local economy.

People in the Latrobe Valley have lived with a legacy of health issues from burning coal. In contrast, wind farms have a clean bill of health. While anti-wind campaigners often like to claim that wind energy causes a range of different health issues, successive reviews have found there is no scientific evidence of health impacts from wind power.

Often when new projects happen in an area it will bring with it other future possibilities and opportunities for the area. 

With the Yallourn coal fired power station set to close by 2028, the Delburn wind farm is an exciting opportunity for the Latrobe Valley to export clean renewable energy. A chance to do energy differently.

We encourage everyone to Make a submission today (this is the last day) here supporting this important project.

Contact wendy.farmer@foe.org.au

Delburn Wind Farm Part 1 by Wendy Farmer

The Latrobe Valley has long hosted Victoria’s ageing coal plants, but could it soon be home to its’ very first wind farm? Power generation based on coal is in decline and the only real question is when will the existing power stations cease operation? The Latrobe Valley, however, continues to be the centre of transmission and distribution infrastructure and thus a significant place where newer forms of power generation should be located.

The development of the Delburn Wind Farm is one of a suite of renewable energy projects in the Latrobe Valley that will complement the rooftop solar arrays found on individual dwellings, businesses and public buildings along with proposed solar farms across the region. As the Latrobe Valley’s first wind project, the Delburn wind farm is of state significance. If it goes ahead, it will overlook the retired Hazelwood coal burning power plant and mine and power 135,000 homes with clean renewable energy.

Help secure the Latrobe Valley’s first wind farm – make a submission today. The Delburn wind farm has a number of advantages for the Latrobe Valley. It will build on the tradition of energy production in the Valley.

The Valley has been the centre of the power industry for decades and has suffered severe economic and social consequences as the industry has restructured and declined over the last three decades. The establishment of a wind farm would be a way of preserving and transforming skills of the current workforce. The siting of renewable energy facilities in the Latrobe Valley makes good use of existing transmission and distribution infrastructure which was built to distribute power from centralised generation. Wind energy is part of maintaining energy security as coal-fired power stations are inevitably wound down and closed and has a role to play in the transition of the Latrobe Valley energy sector.

We encourage everyone to Make a submission today here or direct to Development.Approvals@delwp.vic.gov.au supporting this important project.

Submissions close Wednesday 18th August 2021. If you write a submission or discuss feel free to contact wendy.farmer@foe.org.au