Gippsland News & Views

Climate Change, Forests and Fires Part 2

Robyn and John Hermans’ house after the bushfires

Article first published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 22.7

John Hermans* continues:

The resources needed to ‘fight’ and manage fires are now being increasingly stretched. For example, we have always shared firefighting aircraft with the U.S.A. With fire seasons now so much longer and challenging in each country the overlap in aircraft demand is limiting availability of this resource.

The same is true of our more local resources, CFA trucks, volunteers, heavy machinery, communications networks, water availability, aircraft and people power. They are all in greater demand, in more places, for longer periods of time than ever before.

Longer, hotter fire seasons are also compressing the amount of time available to conduct fuel reduction/management activities, with the window of suitable conditions now shorter than we have ever experienced. More fuel reduction fires are escaping and becoming major events in their own right. Another trend set to continue.

Overwhelmingly, the findings from successive fire inquiries, including royal commissions, supported by virtually all the experts and an ever-increasing body of evidence from Australia and around the world,  show that fires are getting harder to manage due to the increased temperatures caused by human induced climate change.

We know numerous and repeated research has shown that fuel reduction burning in close proximity to assets, such as houses and schools can be very effective at minimising property loss. But research also shows this depends on forest type, only works for the first few years after the ‘controlled burn’, and only helps when fire weather/behaviour is not extreme. Some forest types become less likely to burn if left alone and frequent burning reduces biodiversity. There are always trade-offs with fire management.

Urgent action on global warming is probably the single most effective way to stop fire behaviour from getting exponentially worse. We must address the ‘elephant in the room’ that is climate change.

*John Hermans and his family successfully defended their East Gippsland home from the recent fires. John was also assisted by four decades of informed preparation and understanding of how bushfires work, including consultation with fire agencies, scientists and personal research.

Climate Change, Forests and Fires Part 1

Robyn and John Hermans home before the bushfires

Article published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser 22.7

Recent claims by the Institute of Foresters that “climate change was not the cause of the summer’s bushfires” is at odds with the overwhelming scientific consensus which shows it played a major role. Furthermore the risk of similar events continues to increase with rising global temperatures. The current Bushfire Royal Commission has heard that there are likely to be two more similar fire events by the end of the decade.

Baseless assertions that “the fires were primarily the consequence of decades of poor fire management” is an attempt to draw attention away from the real reason why these fires were so damaging, extensive and unprecedented; changing climate.

The Institute of Foresters dismiss Greg Mullins and other ex-fire and emergency management chiefs because they have a ‘mostly urban and rural’ background. An interesting comment when Greg Mullins, the ex-fire chiefs’ spokesperson, is an internationally recognized expert in responding to major bushfires over decades and has 50 years of fire-fighting experience including 39 years with Fire and Rescue NSW.

Throughout history, fire managers have used various tools to try and keep fire as a welcome tool rather than a bad master. Many of these tools and strategies are still used, and while not without valid criticisms, remain relevant but increasingly difficult to utilise, such as fuel reduction in areas close to towns.

Mr John Hermans, Forest Ecologist and member of East Gippsland Climate Action Network, pointed out that other approaches are less used but increasingly relevant. He suggests Government authorities assist property owners to reduce the potential of their homes and assets being lost by removal of flammables and installation of water sprinklers at the building interface. This is especially pertinent in light of the millions of dollars of State funds spent on private property fire debris clean up.

Other ideas, largely obsolete, are advocated by the Institute of Foresters in the recent article ‘More Fuel Management Required’ (Advertiser, July 1 2020).  These ideas include percentage driven targets and the burning of large remote forested landscapes miles from town. This strategy is expensive and poorly targeted. In fact research has shown that this type of burning can actually increase the likelihood and intensity of a forest fire.

Fire seasons are getting longer, starting earlier and ending later.  The country is drier with more days with a higher fire index than ever before, leading to wildfires extremely difficult to control. These trends were identified decades ago and will continue to get worse if there is no effective action on climate change.

(To be Continued.)

*John Hermans and his family successfully defended their East Gippsland home from the recent fires. John was also assisted by four decades of informed preparation and understanding of how bushfires work, including consultation with fire agencies, scientists and personal research.

A Victorian Renewable Energy Zone for Gippsland?

It is obvious that the Latrobe Valley’s greatest assets are its infrastructure – in particular the high voltage transmission lines and to a lesser extent a skilled workforce. There are four 500KV transmission lines between Hazlewood and Melbourne, which with the closure of Hazlewood have plenty of spare capacity. Elsewhere in the state, solar and wind farms have had their energy output restricted or closed down due to the inability, at various times, of the transmission lines to carry the extra power load. 

It is also obvious that, with the climate emergency, we have to move rapidly from our greenhouse polluting coal generators to clean energy. As the brown coal generators close, hopefully well before their ‘use by’ date, then further spare capacity will be created. This can easily be utilised and balanced by encouraging a large number of renewable energy projects within a reasonable distance of the mains transmission lines or the Basslink high voltage direct current interconnector.

One way to do this is by creating a renewable energy zone, similar to those currently promoted by the NSW government within, say 100K of Traralgon. Such a project would be a win / win opportunity for the valley with abundant jobs, and for the State government with its renewable energy rollout and climate obligations.

There are already a number of projects within this area that I have been promoting over the years include the Baw Baw Pumped Hydro project of Paul Treasure and the Star of the South Offshore wind farm, each of which could generate the energy now produced by Yallourn. The best projects to start with are those near or adjacent to the mains transmission lines including the Delburn wind farm west of Morwell.

One possibility is the utilisation of the Hazlewood pondage with floating solar. There are a number of similar projects, proposed by retired valley engineer Chris Barfoot, and he pointed out the required floats could be manufactured locally. Another project that deserves consideration is turning the Hazlewood open cut into a huge solar farm by placing solar panels on the reclaimed banks, as was suggested by Dan Caffrey of Traralgon many years ago.

Further afield, but well within the 100k zone, are the Fulham solar farm and the Gippsland Renewable Energy Park. Both these projects, proposed by Solis, are already on the ‘drawing board’. No doubt there are many other renewable energy opportunities here, including smaller pumped hydro sites and even battery storage.

All that is required is for the State government to come on board, and using the ‘renewable energy zone’ model as established by the NSW government, create a Victorian zone in the best place to do so – Gippsland.

Some Gippsland Pumped Hydro Plans Revisited

A recent tweet by Professor Erik Eklund of the Centre for Gippsland Studies highlighted the pumped hydro opportunities in Gippsland, particularly in the Baw Baw area. He outlined the work of Andrew Blakers and team of ANU who identified more than 22,000 possible pumped hydro sites many of them in Gippsland.

I used Erik’s tweet to bring to notice again the work of Paul Treasure’s proposal of 2 years go for a pumped hydro project in the Baw Baws that was about the same size as Snowy 2 and had far less of the latter project’s environmental downsides. Paul’s proposal had numerous other advantages including jobs for the Latrobe Valley and a ready labour pool; it utilised the Thompson dam as the lower dam in the project; it was close to other infrastructure, in particular the high voltage transmission lines to Melbourne. When completed the project would have the capacity to replace the aging Yallourn Power station.

The Friends of the Earth in their Blueprint was one of the few organisations that acknowledged the value of this proposal when they stated: “The blueprint also noted that the selection of pumped hydro projects should be fast tracked of which there are a number of possibilities in Gippsland including Paul Treasure’s Baw Baw Thompson Dam pumped hydro proposal.” Paul’s proposal was also republished by the Independent Australia website.

As well there have been a number of other smaller pumped hydro projects energy storage options including one proposed by Chris Barfoot, which, from memory, used Lake Narracan as the top dam and the Yallourn open cut as the bottom one. The Hazlewood open cut appears unsuitable for this purpose.

This leads us to the question of whether there is anyone working on any of these pumped hydro proposals anywhere in government at a State or local. As far as I am aware, there is no one. Yet the benefits to the state and the region could be enormous if one (or more) of the larger of these projects was seen through to fruition. I am also unaware of any politician at the State or local level to have considered the advantages of pumped hydro for the region, let alone promoted them in any way.

Bass Coast embraces green power by Michael Whelan

Republished from Bass Coast Post

This week Bass Coast Council committed to buying all its electricity from renewable sources in Victoria. We are teaming with several metropolitan councils to source 100 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources through the Local Government Power Purchase Agreement, a project led by the City of Darebin. By working with the large metropolitan councils, Bass Coast gains access to strong expertise and will achieve significant purchasing power and better pricing. Power purchasing agreements are a powerful tool in encouraging renewable energy projects and this agreement may well underpin new projects in Victoria.

This is  another step toward net zero emissions for Bass Coast and sits well with other low emission projects by Council that include significant solar projects and work to plan for the uptake of electric vehicles in the region. The renewable electricity project further demonstrates significant leadership from local government in addressing Victoria’s carbon emissions.

 Last year Bass Coast declared a climate emergency and committed to zero net emissions by 2030. Since then we have set about a thorough process to plan for the council to achieve net zero emissions and to work with the community to achieve community-wide net zero emissions by 2030.

Importantly, the Local Government Power Purchase Agreement is flexible, allowing for Bass Coast to withdraw demand and commit to a local purchasing agreement to support local community energy projects in the future. Such projects may form a significant part of the climate emergency plan currently being worked on by the council.

Community energy projects could play a significant role in reducing emissions while giving communities price certainty and protection from the price spirals driven by the major retailers and the gold plating that has occurred on the grid. Local projects support local investment and lead to local green jobs. The Energy Innovation Co-operative recently completed a renewable energy project involving solar panels and battery storage at the State Coal Mine historical precinct. This project employed local contractors and provides income for other community projects.

The rate of take up of rooftop solar has been excellent and rewarding for those who can afford it. However, many people in the community – renters and those struggling to make ends meet – are left behind. Community energy projects are a way of supporting the whole community to benefit. The council will soon consider the shire’s Climate Emergency Plan. It will provide a comprehensive roadmap for achieving net zero emissions by 2030 and plan for addressing the impacts of climate change already being felt across the Shire. It is pleasing to see our council is already on the way to achieving 100 per cent renewable energy.

Cr Michael Whelan is Bass Coast Council’s representative on the South East Council’s Climate Change Alliance, the Western Port Biosphere Reserve and the Regional Renewable Energy Roadmap.

Gippsland Renewable Energy Park

Recent news in the renewable energy sector has been concentrating on the proposed New South Wales Renewable Energy zones located in the State’s central west and New England regions now being fast-tracked by the NSW government. In terms of gigawatts capacity the proposals and expressions of interest for the central west zone have been nine times greater than the figure of 3GW that the government nominated. There is no doubt that this high level of interest will continue for the planned New England Energy Zone and it indicates there is no shortage of finance or project ideas when there is strong government support.

A similar, but much smaller, project – a park rather than a zone – initiated by private interests, and located in South Gippland near Giffard, has been on the ‘drawing boards’ for some time. A company representative recently provided details of this project at a zoom lecture delivered to Bairnsdale U3A and similar details were published in the Gippsland Times last December.

The 2347 ha of land the project has acquired is low value dry land pasture and, importantly, sits on top of the Basslink cable. Many of the solar and wind projects in the west have had trouble with the mains power line capacity being insufficient to carry the total power they all generate. Strategically locating by Basslink will enable the full energy production of the park to be utilised.

The Park will carry both wind and solar generation and has had expressions of interest for the production of green hydrogen and the inclusion of a gas ‘peaker’. During the lecture to the U3A I queried the company representative on the last part of the plan and he assured me that the ‘peaker’ will be powered by green hydrogen. The basic project plans for 500 MW of solar panels and another 500 MW of battery storage and be built in stages.

The Times article noted that: “the proposed Gippsland Renewable Energy Park had received support from the Victorian government, proponents had briefed Gippsland MHR Darren Chester and Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien, and the project was also fully supported by the Wellington Shire Council”. Whilst this is encouraging it is not enough. This project should be promoted by all of these individuals and administrations, loudly and continuously, and be fast-tracked by the state government. So far the voices of the local members, both State and Federal, remain unheard on this, and other related matters.

*The development company Solis has two other solar farm plans in the pipeline including Perry Bridge which will be ‘shovel ready’ by November.

Submission to the Technology Investment Roadmap Part 2

EGCAN and Bairnsdale XR demonstration in Sale early this year

Excerpt from EGCAN Submission

To respond effectively and with the urgency that is required to make a difference, our governments need to spend with the confidence and conviction that has been shown in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be a substantial cost but the advantages of appropriate and effective action will far outweigh the enormous cost of inaction. All the evidence shows clear savings to early action on global warming. If we can limit carbon output in partnership with renewable industries we can weather the climate change storm that is coming.

We can reap the benefits of living in more comfortable homes, powered by cheap renewable energy. Our economy has the capacity to be a world leader and indeed an exporter of renewable energy in the form of green hydrogen, steel, concrete and other products. We will have a vibrant sustainable economy that other nations will aspire to. 

The economic disruption caused by Covid 19 has shown us how quickly circumstances can change – we have an opportunity now to embrace green technologies, opt for clean energy and clean industry (green steel, aluminium and hydrogen) in stimulating our economy​. ​ There will be jobs and more resilience by building back stronger and cleaner. 

Efforts to continue embedding energy saving measures into every aspect of our domestic, industrial, agricultural, economic and transport activities are certainly to be prioritised. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel recently stated “There is no lack of appreciation from myself or my colleagues on the taskforce … that a gigawatt of power not needed because you’ve done an efficiency measure is the best form of energy generation that you could possibly ever hope to have.” (Guardian 06 /20)

EGCAN noted this discussion paper became part of a national conversation when released in May 2020. We anticipate that along with development of the Technology Investment Roadmap there is ongoing publicity and awareness raising across Australia of the enormous potential of renewable energy technologies, celebrating their ability to create new jobs and move us towards zero emissions. 

Submission to the Technology Investment Roadmap Part 1

EGCAN die-in at Bairnsdale Farmers Market 2019


Excerpts from EGCAN Submission

EGCAN recognises there is an urgent need to reach net zero emissions. ​In listening to the scientists and experts we know that this is the decade to make a difference. If we are to keep warming under 1.5 degrees and thus minimise the devastation of more extremes in weather, rising oceans, habitat and biodiversity loss our actions must be bolder, more ambitious and immediate if we are to achieve a safe future.

There is no place for fossil fuels – COAL, OIL OR GAS – in our economy. We must transition to renewables and a low carbon economy as a matter of extreme urgency. If we neglect to transition to renewable energy, the costs will be many fold.

Unacceptable costs:

            ● Increases in changes to our climate.

            ● An increase in droughts and extremes of weather. 

            ● Wilder and more uncontrollable bushfires, starting earlier and ending later. 

            ● Reduced agricultural output. 

            ● Increased expenditure on mitigation of the changes. 

            ● Mass extinction of flora and fauna. 

            ● Reduced liveable areas in Australia and the world.

            ● Significant rises in sea levels.

On top of these predicted outcomes are the somewhat unknown but severe effects caused by having reached crucial tipping points. Melted permafrost in Greenland and Antarctica are expected to lead to dramatic increases in methane release. Methane release of this magnitude will result in global warming faster than projected conservative modelling.

Renewable energy is our future 

            ● Australia can be a global renewables-led powerhouse, millions of jobs can be created. (BZE) 

            ● Wind and solar could provide ​up to 75% of Australia’s electricity by 2025​ (AEMO).

            ● Renewable energy combined with storage is the cleanest form of new energy generation.

            ● Renewables have come down in price every year for the last decade. Wind and solar are now the most affordable new power projects, already cheaper than coal and gas generation.

The Coal Curse by Judith Brett – a brief review

Quarterly Essay No.70 2020 RRP $22.99

This essay, mainly economic history, documents the rise of the climate change deniers on the conservative side of politics. Brett states: “Australia has been cursed with a decade of poor national leadership on climate change, with our prime ministers lacking either the courage or the intellect to develop coherent policy responses to the threat…” (p.7)  and the proceeds to analyse how “climate change denial gain[ed] such a deadly grip on our political class”.(p.8)

Brett charts this long road to political dominance with the influence and actions of the big miners, and in particular the efforts of Hugh Morgan of Western Mining Corporation – from their opposition to land rights through to the rejection of the resources rent tax in 2010 and the decade of climate denial. In effect, this is really two decades with a brief interregnum of the Gillard minority government.

After the formation of the Lavoisier Group, of whom few will have heard, and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) holus bolus adoption of anti-science climate policies, the deniers had the ear of every conservative government since John Howard in 1996 – aided in many aspects by the Murdoch press. Brett notes: “After Howard won the 1996 election it became easy for the mining lobby to prevent action on climate change” (p.47) and “climate denial and scepticism spread through the Australian right”. (p.49)

Later under “Abbott the two decades of cultivation of a network of climate sceptics and deniers by the Lavoisier Group and the IPA paid off in spades. Abbott was openly and repeatedly sceptical about the science of climate change and, with his imprimatur, a hard core of climate sceptics formed inside the Coalition determined to stymie any policies aimed at reducing Australia’s carbon emissions.” (p.58)

Brett further adds that the “denigration of science has not only affected climate science it has undermined the nation’s commitment to research and development more broadly and to foster a silly hostility to new renewable energy technologies.” (p.59) “The National Party has become the party of coal…” (p.63) she adds and “Capital is deserting fossil fuels… (p.69)

Finally Brett points out that being the international pariah on climate change has its downside and substantial future risk, like countries adopting carbon tariffs to preference against our exports or the finance industry applying “global capital boycotts.” (p.70)  Hopefully the influence of these climate criminals, and their supporters in the IPA and the Murdoch media, will decline as their industry does. In the meantime, let us find outstanding conservative and/or centrist candidates to oppose every climate reactionary in parliament and hope the path Zali Steggall pioneered in Wahringa against Abbott will be followed by many others.

Gippsland and the Victorian Gas Program by Susan Quinn

Excerpts from an article in Just Community No 6

“Energy policy has enormous implications for climate change and gas does not provide a climate solution, it is a climate problem. Gas produces fossil fuel CO2 emissions when burned, albeit about half as much as coal. However, a key concern is leakage of methane – a strong greenhouse gas – during gas extraction and across the distribution supply line. Knowing these concerns leads to another: there are large known reserves of gas in the ground, which gas companies want to exploit.

“Opening up onshore gas fields contrasts with the Victorian Government’s positive move to increase its Renewable Energy Target (VRET) to 50 per cent by 2030, and Victoria’s Climate Change Act 2017, which established a longterm target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The IPCC said we must reach net zero carbon emissions globally by about 2050 to give the world a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

“A workshop presenter described gas as a transition fuel to firm up supply as Victoria moves to renewables. I put this to the Climate Council and they responded: “There is no need for gas to play a role in ‘transitioning’ to renewable energy. Australia has everything it needs to make deep, enduring and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. We already have the storage technology available (such as pumped hydro and batteries), we just need the political will to implement these solutions.”

“Australia produces a lot of gas (it is now the world leading LNG exporter) and we don’t need new gas development. We need to transition out of fossil fuels not into new fossil fuel reserves.

“Whilst federal energy policy direction is acceptable to the fossil fuel industry, it is not compatible with addressing the climate crisis.

“East Gippsland experienced a summer of unprecedented bushfire this year. A bushfire prone region containing active gas wells would seem a dangerous mix, particularly as the Australian bushfire season and catastrophic bushfire conditions increase under climate change. Yet bushfire risk does not appear to have been mapped into the VGP model of ‘landscape sensitivities’ in the Gippsland Basin. Recall that the Hazlewood fire was ignited by a bushfire burning into the brown coal reserve.

“Abundant, affordable carbon-free energy is an essential requirement for solving the climate problem. Australia’s summer of shocking bush fires are symbolic of the consequences of global warming if we do not alter our trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. Energy policy that includes new gas exploration and development needs to be rejected. 

Fish Creek