Gippsland Climate News

A Black Saturday Warning Revisited


On 7 February 2009 – Black Saturday* – I was working in my shop at Swifts Creek until late afternoon and aware, via ABC local radio, of the horrendous bushfires sweeping the state. The day was very hot so, after work, I stopped in at the local for a coldie. But the six o’clock news on the pub tele gave me a shock and I knew that the burnt out cars being screened held the remains of those who had attempted to flee the fires. I shed a tear, finished my beer, and left as I found the images so disturbing.

About a week later, in collaboration with life-long friend Andrew Gunner**, a letter was penned to the Age*** on our bushfire history in the context of a warming planet and Black Saturday. Andrew recently recovered the letter and forwarded it to me. He wrote that it was a “bit of a shock to see this – because I was late in learning about climate change – and yet this is 11 years ago.”

Our final version of 24.2.09 to the Melbourne Age read as follows:

“Dear Sir,

In the 174 years since white settlement in Victoria, we have had 7 terrible fire seasons: 1851, 1898, 1939, 1983, 2003, 2006-7 and 2009. The shock is that 3 of these 7 fires have been in the most recent 7 summers. We are seeing frightening predictions about global warming confirmed: a rapid escalation of extreme and frequent fire, drought and floods. The CSIRO began warning us about this 20 years ago! It seems that these devastating fires are part of Victoria’s new climate. Energy companies, climate change sceptics and governments, including the Rudd and Brumby governments, continue to resist strong action to curb escalating climate change. Unfortunately, their resistance will worsen our long, dry, hot spells, and set up more terrible fire seasons – even as these politicians hug survivors and promise to rebuild. Urgent action is required now.

Andrew Gunner, Brunswick and Peter Gardner, Ensay Victoria”

Since then we have had one La Nina event in 2011-12 (and are currently experiencing another). From 2012 on we had only average or dry years, building up to a hot and dry 2019 fire season and our ‘black summer’. As Tim Flannery says in The Climate Cure (review to follow) we are entering the age of the ‘megafire’ of which 2019-20 is just the beginning. Tim noted how the “smoke was ubiquitous and inescapable…It insinuated itself into our houses – there was no way to keep it out. Opening the front door and being confronted with its intensity became a daily reminder that something had gone dreadfully wrong with the lucky country.”

Welcome to the Anthropocene or perhaps the Pyrocene. Urgent action is required now more than ever.

* It is a coincidence this blog appears on the 12th anniversary.

**Andrew has been a climate activist since about 2008. His website is here. Lately he has been concentrating on the good news of Australia as a renewable energy superpower.

***the letter was not published.

The EGCAN Year

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, but for the folk of East Gippsland the bushfires and coronavirus have dominated. In spite of these difficulties, the work of the climate activists of East Gippsland Climate Action Network (EGCAN) has continued and been highly successful. In the brief window of opportunity between the two emergencies, EGCAN in conjunction with Gippsland XR had a well-attended demonstration outside the offices of Federal member Darren Chester, which attracted some media attention (above image).

The onset of coronavirus lockdown meant that meetings were held on zoom, with about a dozen members in regular attendance, although the coffee mornings in the Stables discontinued until one last get together in December. Towards the end of the year, a ‘creative’ and well co-ordinated demonstration was held across Gippsland in 40 different locations with more than 200 participants, representing the various climate groups across the region. Images of a wide range of banners and signs were taken, and then promoted across multiple social media sites for more than a week.

Members of various Gippsland Extinction Rebellion groups have also had action curtailed by COVID restrictions, but numerous small isolated actions have occurred with chalking of malls in Metung, Paynesville and Bairnsdale taking place. Recently a number of XR members travelled to Melbourne with kayaks and took part in a rally on the Yarra near Southbank to display signs saying “Climate action now or We’re up shit creek”. State coverage of this event was good.

Other EGCAN news has been that five members of stood in the local council elections, three of whom were elected. At the end of the year there was a ‘get together’ of the Wellington and East Gippsland Climate Networks at Dawn and Chris Stubbs place at Munro. Robyn Hermans has diligently produced an electronic newsletter throughout the year, which, along with zoom, has kept us all connected. Finally, there is the summer newsletter produced in hard copy for local distribution. The contents include the ‘across Gippsland’ demonstration via social media, batteries galore, young people and  climate litigation, a note on the proposed electric vehicle tax in Victoria and a brief parable by EGCAN founder Ro Gooch.

Hopefully 2021 will see a full return to physical meetings, coffee mornings, and other various and numerous activities.

Kalbar and Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Part 2) by Alistair Mailer

Extracts from a Submission for EES on the Fingerboards Mineral Sands Mining project in East Gippsland*

13. The EES Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) assessment report has stated that Australia has set an ambitious (my italics) target (under the Paris Agreement) to reduce its emissions by 26-28 % below 2005 levels by 2030. The author of the report has merely spouted federal government spin on the present paucity of government policy. Scientific opinion both in Australia and overseas considers that such a target is far from ambitious, and even if all of the nationally determined targets set as part of the Paris Agreement were met, this would still result in global average temperatures rising by more than 3 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

So Kalbar considers the 26-28% reduction as ambitious! Such an assessment reveals that Kalbar has failed to realise the seriousness of the present existential global warming emergency when assessing the consequences of the project’s GHG emissions.

14. The EES GHG assessment report claims that, in calculating the magnitude of CO2-equivalent emissions, that the value for the Global Warming Proponent for methane should be only 21 tonnes. It is recognised that emitting methane will always be worse than emitting the same quantity of CO2, no matter the time scale; how much worse depends on the time period used to average out its effects. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth Assessment report from 2013 says that methane heats the climate by 84 times more than CO2 when averaged over 20 years – the approximate time period for the Kalbar project. The Proponent has clearly chosen, for some reason, to minimise calculated GHG emissions for the project period.

15. The proponent, in its EES, has failed:

a. to make any commitment to a reduction in GHG emissions over the life of the project;

b. to set targets for reduction in GHG emissions;

c. to provide any climate change risk scenarios analysis over the life of the project, and assess what, if any, resilience the mining operations would have in the event of dangerous climate change conditions occurring and

d. to acknowledge and assess any probable exposure to physical risks resulting from more extreme weather and climate conditions occurring during the life of the mining project.

*the author is a retired engineer, resident of Newlands Arm and lecturer on Environmental Sustainability at Bairnsdale U3A.

Kalbar and Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Part 1) by Alistair Mailer


Extracts from a Submission for EES on the Fingerboards Mineral Sands Mining project in East Gippsland*

10. The EES only considers Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions for the construction and operational stages of work at the Fingerboards site, plus emissions from the transportation of the concentrate to the shipping port. There is no mention of GHG emissions from shipping the concentrate from the Port of Melbourne to an overseas destination, nor of the GHG emissions from the further processing to refined products at destination.

Consideration of Scope 3 emissions in the EES has been limited to the off-site transport of the Heavy Metals Concentrate to the first delivery point. The proponent (Kalbar) has thus taken a very narrow view of the environmental impact of the project, and of their responsibilities. The proponent has put its collective head in the sand, pretending that these other Scope 3 emissions don’t exist.

11. The EES estimates that more than 1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent will be discharged over 17 years. For a project commencing in 2021, this would take end-point to close to the year 2040. The EES gives no consideration to the scientifically recognised need to reduce global emissions CO2 as soon as practical, and to target zero emissions by 2050. There is no mention of any requirement, or indeed willingness, to possible mitigation and/or minimisation of the project’s GHG emissions over the life-time of the project.

12. At least 50% of the project’s predicted GHG emissions are expected to be sourced from operation of diesel generators and mining machinery. No consideration appears to have been given to any requirement that mining machinery could be electrical rather than diesel driven. Large-scale mining operations by the big iron ore miners in the Pilbara are already using electrically-driven haulage trucks, with the benefit of reduced usage of fossil fuels, reduced atmospheric emission of pollutants, and reduced ambient noise levels.

A sympathetic proponent would (and should) require the use of best available technology for its mining operations at the Fingerboards site, that would minimise fossil-fuel usage, minimise GHG emissions (including CO2 & N2O), and minimise noise emissions from the proposed 24-hour day operations. Further, with the switch to heavy electric vehicles, and combined with the other 50% of emissions from project electricity use, it is clear that the proponent should purchase clean & green electricity off-take from a large-scale solar/wind/battery electricity generating operation, preferably located in the Gippsland region. (Part 2 to follow)

*the author is a retired engineer, resident of Newlands Arm and lecturer on Environmental Sustainability at Bairnsdale U3A.

Gippsland with 200% Renewables

Lakes Swimming Pool

Last year a guest blogger outlined, in four blogs, a proposal for pumped hydro energy storage in Gippsland that would provide medium and long-term energy storage for the state and region. Advantages included making use of current infrastructure, assisting in a ‘just transition’ from coal to renewables and huge water savings. Critics suggested that the removal of about 180 ha of native forest and its close proximity to the Baw Baw National Park meant the project was unacceptable to them.

One alternative to pumped hydro involves massive overproduction of energy by renewables combined with lithium-ion batteries. A US think tank Rethink X estimates that, depending on location, about five times today’s energy production is needed to have a reliable system based on wind, solar and lithium ion batteries. They have a 10 minute video here which is worth watching.

To reach even 200% renewables in Gippsland will probably require in addition to all the extra wind, solar and batteries, some combination of the following: upgraded transmission lines including the Marinus link (which of course will be using hydro and pumped hydro from Tassie) and micro grids and stand-alone systems at remote locations such as Dargo, Benambra and Mallacoota.

Almost all roof space, commercial and residential, will be covered with photovoltaic panels, including those facing east and west, and these installations will generally be oversized. Some car parks will have overhead panels providing shade, there will be floating solar plants on Hazelwood pondage, Glenmaggie and other suitable dams, and possibly even some roads will be generating power. This will be additional to the various solar farms, renewable energy parks and wind farms projected or already in the pipeline. Solar panels will be everywhere.

The installation of large lithium ion batteries in Victoria has already commenced (see here and here) and some locations in the Latrobe Valley are obvious targets for near future installation. To this can be added household, farm and factory batteries, as well as using electric vehicle batteries to supply the home and the grid.

By the time Gippsland has reached 200% renewables our coal-fired generators will have closed down. Almost certainly, this will occur far faster than most people think – possibly by 2030 but definitely by 2040. Power will generally be far cheaper as the cost of renewables, once built, is near zero. In addition, there will be the huge bonus that for most of the year there will be abundant, surplus, energy suitable to power factories to build robots, panels, batteries, and even electric vehicles.

Climate Change, Kalbar and Water (Part 2) by Ursula Alquier

Protest against the mine.

Extracts from a Submission for EES on the Fingerboards Mineral Sands Mining project in East Gippsland for Farmers for Climate Action*

As rainfall in the region decreases, safe guarding clean water for food producing irrigators must be made a priority, this project threatens this water security. Based on local irrigation figures, if the 3 billion litres of water Kalbar requires annually was redirected to growing vegetables, 3 times more jobs could be created than Kalbar’s proposal. These would be long-term sustainable jobs to grow food.

Farmers for Climate Action farmer Jenny Robertson** stated:

“As a farmer I am first & foremost really concerned that this mine could be built in one of our state’s most productive food bowls. My husband & I run a 1000 hectare merino farm which has been in the family for over 70 years. We love what we do and have lived through major droughts, bushfires and worsening climate conditions. Through these challenges we have had to change how we do things and have put a lot of work into adapting our pasture and stock. This mine proposal puts all of this at risk.”

“I’m concerned that it could impact not just the local area but all surrounding farms and the RAMSAR listed Gippsland Lakes system. We rely on water from the aquifer for our stock water, as do many other farmers. It is also a really important resource for irrigation. If this was to be compromised either due to contamination or a drop in the water table this would impact us all.”

“It’s devastating that a proposal like this is even being considered, it feels like as farmers our voices are not being heard, that we are undervalued and that the many risks this mine poses to our region are being ignored.”

Kalbar needs over 3 billion litres of water annually for processing and dust suppression for 15 years. This shows how much water is needed to control the dust which will potentially pose major human and animal health risks. Kalbar’s high water consumption could lead to tighter water restrictions from the Mitchell River, which is relied on by the local horticulture industry for irrigation. The risk of contamination to both the Mitchell River and Perry River due to the close proximity to the proposed mine puts at risk the regions water security.

*This is the third part of the Farmers for Climate Action Submission. See Part 1 and Part 2. The full paper can be accessed here. The author was a prominent organiser in Gippsland for the grassroots ‘Lock the Gate’ movement. I have blogged on the Kalbar proposals here and here. Ed.

** Jenny Robertson runs a merino farm in Bengworden, East Gippsland.

Climate Change, Kalbar and Water (Part 1) by Ursula Alquier

Extracts from a Submission for EES on the Fingerboards Mineral Sands Mining project in East Gippsland for Farmers for Climate Action*

Rainfall in Victoria has declined in most seasons over recent decades, with the greatest decreases in the cooler seasons. Gippsland’s rainfall is naturally highly variable and this natural variability will dominate the rainfall over the next decade or so.

Over time, annual rainfall totals are likely to decline, particularly under high emissions, with the greatest drying in spring. By late-century under high emissions, the climate change trend becomes obvious compared to natural variability with a median of 15% decrease in annual totals, larger (29%) in spring.

The East Gippsland region will be impacted by climate change due to drier spring and summer periods and the threat of flooding, however due to the regions naturally high rainfall, it is extremely important that this productive food producing region is protected from mining projects like the one proposed.

Productive, viable farmland will decrease in other food producing regions, where more pronounced climate change impacts are being experience and have been predicted to worsen, making regions like these even more valuable as other regions will have a lower capacity to consistently produce food & fibre.

Rainfall in Victoria over the past 30 years (1989–2019) for the given months compares to every 30-year period in the historical record. For example, decile 1 (very much below average) shows areas where rainfall over the past 30 years is in the lowest 10% of all such 30-year periods in the full range of long-term records back to 1900 (BoM, 2019). To be continued.

*This is part of the Farmers for Climate Action Submission. The full paper can be accessed here. The author was a prominent organiser in Gippsland for the grassroots ‘Lock the Gate’ movement. I have blogged on the Kalbar proposals here and here. Ed.

More on Second Hand Panels by John Hermans

The Hermans’ EV and 2H Solar Array at Clifton Creek

Solar photovoltaic panels (PV) are ubiquitous in 2021, to the extent that their ability to turn up in the second-hand used market is now commonplace. My experience of acquiring these PV panels in the past 5 years has led to the following findings.

There are four main reasons for PV panels to be removed from their original installation and hence onto the used market, or otherwise off to be recycled or worse, to landfill!

  • The repowering of older installations is where, the majority of the panels are coming from. As more early PV adopters upgrade their systems with both a larger inverter and array, the old panels will be completely removed and replaced with higher output and higher efficiency equipment. System installers will now charge for the removal of the old panels (eg $50 ea), only to leave them behind with the owner who has no idea of what to do with them! (I have removed many such systems for zero cost, but gained the old arrays)
  • System replacement by insurance. Severe hail storms can shatter the toughened 3mm protective glass face, and despite there usually being only one or two panels that break, the usual outcome is for the entire rooftop array to be replaced. I personally acquired hundreds of panels that had overwhelmed the warehouse of a Sydney based installer who felt the best option was to give them to someone that could find an ethical end user for them, as opposed to recycling, as not a single one of them showed up as faulty.
  • Building demolition. This is an occasional outcome, but least common. I had a friend purchase a 5KW grid connect system from a demo house for thousands of dollars 4 years ago, today it is almost worthless!
  • System non-compliance. All panels and other hardware, needs to be certified by the Clean Energy Council and be CEC accredited. Occasionally an installer will find cheaper ‘counterfeit’ panels that reduce hardware costs. Once caught out, the installer can be made to remove these systems that do not meet the CEC standard and replace them with accredited panels. I am aware of one occasion where this occurred, with the outcome rendering 2000 panels that are now in shipping container storage, and available for purchase for $35 each.

Used PV panels that are available for sale are no longer listed as CEC accredited and therefore cannot be used in new installs with other components of new systems. This dilemma has led to a flooding of the market of used PV panels. Those people who are legally able to incorporate use panels into either an off grid system, or farm power supply for pumping water, have mostly filled their needs, so demand is waning as the supply is increasing! 

Although most panels have a design life of 25 years, of the many hundreds that I have obtained, only a few were defective, and after doing full sun output tests on many of them, they usually show near to full output. Smashing the glass and just recycling the small aluminium frame is a crime!

A most preferable outcome for the majority of these used panels is for them to be sent overseas to countries that are still inhibited by the cost of new panels. They need reusing, and that is my goal.

Kalbar and Climate Change by Ursula Alquier

(Stop Kalbar fb page)

Extracts from a Submission for EES on the Fingerboards Mineral Sands Mining project in East Gippsland* for Farmers for Climate Action

We strongly oppose this mine, as it will put Victoria’s food and water security at risk, will directly and adversely impact the local farming region, has no social licence from local food producers or the community and does not consider the need to support farmers in adapting to worsening climate change conditions.

Farmers for Climate Action (FCA) is a movement of over 5000 farmers, agricultural leaders and rural Australians located right across Australia, driven by a desire to be part of the solution to climate change.

Climate change is already impacting our farms and our communities. We are working hard to adapt, but we can’t do it alone. We need our political leaders to stand up and lead on climate action, and we need the tools to continue to adapt, and mitigate, climate change where we live.

We support farmers to build climate and energy literacy and advocate for climate solutions both on and off farm. We are independent, non-profit and non-partisan.

Food security underpins our continued existence as a civilisation, and in Australia food security is much more fragile than most Australians understand. Farmers for Climate Action is a movement of farmers, agricultural leaders and rural Australians working to ensure farmers are a key part of the solution to climate change.

Climate change threatens Australia’s capacity to feed ourselves and the nations which we export food to which is why protecting highly productive food growing regions like The Fingerboards should be an absolute priority.

*This is the introduction to the Farmers for Climate Action Submission. Hopefully more to follow. The full paper can be accessed here. The author was a prominent organiser in Gippsland for the grassroots ‘Lock the Gate’ movement. I have blogged on the Kalbar proposals here and here. Ed.

Recycling and Reusing Solar Panels by Chris Barfoot

Two 8 year old 250w panels in storage

Excerpt from his paper Planning the Transition: a renewable based energy transition for the Latrobe Valley*

Solar panels are designed to last for 25 years however, it is becoming more common that businesses will replace them after ten years. This is increasing the rate at which waste panels enter the market.

Solving this issue is largely political. Firstly, the Small-scale Technology Certificates (STC’s) are issued to the location where the panels were installed for the duration of time that remained at the time of installation. For example, if a panel was installed in 2010 it would have received STC’s for a twenty-year period. If they are then scrapped before this time is up, the greenhouse savings are never realised.

As such, I would propose that the STCs should be assigned to the panel and not the location. This would mean that one of these second-hand panels could still receive ten years of STCs and that the early scrapping of the installation would require repayment of the STCs that were not delivered. Fundamentally this would allow for a free installation. This change would need to be implemented by the Clean Energy Regulator(CER).

The second issue that occurs relates to the Clean Energy Council (CEC). The CEC is responsible for the testing and authorising of new solar panels to their approved list. For this, they receive an annual payment. This list is used by a number of bodies to ensure that the panels to be installed are safe. However, once a panel is obsolete or discontinued the manufacturer ceases the annual payment and the item is removed from the approved list. Thus, almost all second-hand panels will not be shown as being fit to install.

I propose that the CEC should maintain an obsolete list showing panels that have been tested as fit to use but are no longer current. This should also show any new restrictions introduced e.g. for those without a current fire rating – only available for use in solar farms, off-grid or on a non-habitable structure.

This would make the approval of used systems much simpler and cheaper. This could also be used to provide solar cheaper to a large range of social housing. Recycling is being investigated by a number of groups but at this time, it generally consists of recovery of the aluminium frames.

*Chris Barfoot is a retired Latrobe Valley engineer. First published by the Community Power Hub Latrobe Valley and republished with permission. The full paper is here.