Gippsland News & Views

My Three Wheeler Electric Bike by Pamela Jacka

Abridged version first published in the Bass Coast Post.

On Monday, February 24, 2020, I received a letter from Honda saying that my 22-year-old car was in need of airbag replacement. However, because of her age, the parts were no longer available for that model airbag, so she was being recalled. I was offered market value, which coincided roughly with the insurance value of $2700…It was time to look at my options.

I looked on the internet for local bicycle shops and found one in Wonthaggi that offered an electric three-wheeler…I made my decision and ordered an XDS E-SCAPE 24″ 7-Speed E-Trike Black from the shop in McBride Avenue.

While all this was going on, a thing called COVID appeared on the horizon and the subsequent lockdowns caused havoc with the expected delivery…It was ready for collection on Friday, March 20, which sounds like a reasonable timeframe to me now but was frustrating at the time. I bought a fancy new fluoro green/yellow helmet and swapped the bell and light from my existing two-wheeler “exercise” bike in the spare room.

For those who aren’t familiar with this type of bike, it has seven manual gears and five “electric” speeds. The battery sits under the seat and is removable for recharging or it can be charged in situ if you have electricity nearby. My shed doesn’t, so every now and then (the monitor shows me when), I remove it for recharging. It takes about four hours to fully recharge. The definition of the power is “pedal assist” which means that the pedals need to be rotated even when the battery is engaged but there is no resistance.

Naturally, when the power isn’t engaged, it’s the same as riding a manual bike but the three-wheeler is quite a bit heavier. If you get up a good speed with the battery on and you are on level ground, you don’t have to pedal until it starts slowing down. I think there’s a correlation between the manual gears and power speed. For example, if I had the bike in 7th gear and the power in 5th, I reckon I’d be going pretty fast. The top speed is 25km/h but I’ve gone over that by a couple of k’s when the wind was behind me. I broke the speed limit when I visited the State Coal Mine a while ago. It was quite thrilling!

My budget got a nice boost after I cancelled all my car-related expenses. The bike cost $2500 and the $200 balance from the car compensation was invested in a dozen red. There are no real costs with the bike except for a regular service at the local bike shop. I was given a free (labour) five-year service deal with the purchase and the first one cost $60 for parts. The rail trail gravel plays havoc with the chain which is what was replaced…When everything settles down a bit more, the plan is to head off to the general store at Dalyston, via the rail trail, for fish `n` chips. I’ve heard that the store is for sale again, so I’d better get a move on.

The full article is here.

Campaigning in the Climate Emergency

Signing the Climate Emergency Petition

Negative responses to my recent Marinus article on facebook made me think about this form of campaigning and the climate emergency. Many of these objections came from those who appear to support some form of climate action, but are opposed to all forms of pumped hydro. One critic appeared to have not read the article but asserted that pumped hydro was a ‘scam’. Is this a case of ‘tunnel vision’ or just missing the big picture?

It is obvious that some negative campaigns are good and have been successful – for example the anti-nuke campaign and the more recent lock the gate campaign in Victoria. Others are ‘good’ but yet to succeed such as stopping logging and reducing burning. ‘Bad’ campaigns are easily defined climate wise as those that are against any improvements in greenhouse gas reduction. This is especially so of wind generation and to a lesser extent pumped hydro. The ‘not in my back yard’ syndrome is apparent with the opposition to the Delburn wind farm west of Morwell. The ‘nay sayers’ clearly do not understand the climate emergency or perceive any additional benefits such as using the pine plantations for generator location or of cleaner air in the Valley as a result of this renewable energy project.

It is the significant parts of the ‘green’ movement’s ‘bad’ negative campaigns that I find a trifle annoying. The ‘Stop Adani’ ride during the last election was a positive, if, with hindsight, politically flawed, campaign which I supported. However I definitely do not support their opposition to some wind farms and other renewable energy projects designed to reduce emissions. To me these ‘bad’ campaigns signify that those making the decisions do not understand the ‘climate emergency’ much as our state government can have strong renewable policies and yet keep logging or pushing a clean air tax on electric vehicles.

The answer then is to keep as many options open as possible. It is becoming increasingly likely that the renewables solution of solar, wind and batteries is the path that will be the most successful. But it is far too early to be ruling out pumped hydro. The simple answer is, at this stage, we should be working on both.

Gippsland Microgrids: Heyfield and Mallacoota

A recent surprise announcement was that the township of Heyfield has been selected for a microgrid trial. Surprise because there are a number of other seemingly more important locations in Gippsland where a properly functioning microgrid is essential – Mallacoota* springs immediately to mind. There are a number of other remote localities more suitable, even preferable, than Heyfield for a microgrid location. However, Heyfield was selected as the uptake on rooftop solar in the town is about 30% and the project has strong local support.

The three-year feasibility study is to be conducted by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and is federally funded. Writing in Reneweconomy James Fernyhough quoted UTS representative Scott Dwyer that: “the network…could reduce the maintenance cost of keeping long, inefficient feeder lines connecting the town to the central grid. Studies have shown that many towns it is cheaper to take them off grid in the longer term than it is to maintain the lines connecting them to the main grid. However, there are regulatory hurdles to cutting whole communities off the grid.” Being centrally located “it was unlikely that Heyfield would be cut off from it [the grid] altogether.”

This highlights some of the problems with a study of this kind. It will certainly help the township of Heyfield move towards zero emissions and generally is a positive move but far too slow. The climate emergency dictates that the remote towns should receive priority and that period – a three-year study – is already obsolete. Some Mallacoota residents have been calling for a microgid for years. Such a microgrid easily could be financed by the funds going to the UTS study and local capital, and it need not immediately disconnect from the grid. As Fernyhough noted “$1.8 million [came] from the federal government’s Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund, which [has] put aside just over $50 million to fund microgrid trials around Australia.”

During the bushfires of both 2003 and 2006/7 the Omeo region was cut off from the grid and functioned successfully for short periods on these occasions with diesel powered portable generators. It is worth remembering that the grid did not extend to the Omeo district until about 1965. Until then townships such as Swifts Creek operated as microgrids (if somewhat primitive) and in this case powered by a generator from the timber mill.

With cheap solar, lithium ion batteries and smart meters microgids offer a win/win opportunity for remote communities. They are cheap and provide reliable energy for residents and energy providers are no longer required to supply costly power to them. In parts of Western Australia the energy supplier is replacing remote grid extensions with stand-alone power.

What then is the objection to working studies of micro-grids in action so that they can be improved and perfected? Mallacoota, still recovering from the devastating bushfires of last year, is the perfect place for such a project – not as an alternative to Heyfield but an additional one.

*A member of the Mallacoota Sustainable Energy Group has informed me that they already “have a micro grid, a 1MW battery and a 1MW generator almost ready for commissioning! It’s gone through final testing and is waiting for delivery, COVID-time, of a single part” which is good news. The thrust of the article remains that there are many deserving localities ahead of Heyfield including Omeo and Dargo. Licola may also have a partially functioning microgrid about which I have no recent information.

Electric Vehicle Expo in Warragul

EV Expo

From the Baw Baw Sustainability Network (BBSN) Newsletter

The BBSN held their Electric Vehicle Expo on Thursday 25th February. There was a range of electric vehicles (EVs) on display at the Warragul Goods Shed and the Expo was part of the BBSN’s program of monthly events. Pictured above is the latest model Nissan Leaf from Traralgon Nissan. Also on display were an earlier model Leaf, Hyundai Kona, Tesla Model 3 and Model S, Renault Zoe, BMW i3, Mitsubishi Outlander, and some electric bikes from Drouin Cycles.

Visitors were able to chat to the various owners of the cars as well as attend talks from Shane Clayton from RACV Solar and Paul Paton from the Australian Electric Vehicle Association. Shane spoke about charging options, how EVs will fit into the grid and our lifestyles, and Paul on how you can purchase an EV.

The evening wrapped up with a panel Q+A on what it’s like to own an EV. The EV owners highlighted the benefits of charging from your home solar system, the impressive performance, and enjoyment in driving an EV. There is much less range anxiety now that the newer cars have bigger batteries and the charging network is steadily expanding. None of these owners would go back to an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle now.

Unfortunately, the visitor numbers had to be restricted due to COVID so we may hold another EV expo later this year so stay tuned!

The CARE Exhibition Opens

(Lisa Roberts)

About 120 people attended the opening of the Concerned Artists Resisting Extinction (CARE) exhibition entitled “Emergency: Species Loss” at the Art Gallery in Bairnsdale on Friday. Due to covid restrictions the opening was held in the open space between the gallery and the Court House. Officially opened by Mayor Mendy Urie, three of the artists, including Pat Waters from Briagolong, gave short speeches and other East Gippsland Shire councillors attended.

CARE is the brainchild of Munro wildlife artist Dawn Stubbs and, after a month in Bairnsdale, the exhibition will travel to Sale, Orbost, Maffra and other locations. 50 artists from across the region exhibited their paintings, sculptures and installations. Dawn noted: “Concerned Artists Resisting Extinction held its first meeting around 18 months ago with the idea that through visual and performing arts in all mediums, we would respond to Australia’s shocking record of species loss. We are not politicians so we aim to tell these tragic stories through holding exhibitions that challenge and bring awareness and attention to the public.”

Some works concentrated on specific threatened species such as the mountain pygmy possum, the greater glider, and the baw baw frog. One artist was concerned about the decline of fish species –the blackfish and a local galaxia. Others concentrated on our recent bushfires and the effects of logging on our native species, where the connections to our warming planet are clear. A few pieces directly connected species loss to climate change.

We have artworks by three of these artists on the walls of our unit – Deirdre Jack, Ray Dahlstrom and Penny Carruthers – and I know a number of the others. One piece missing from the exhibition was something on the grey-headed flying fox* – a threatened species, a colony of which is on the Mitchell River a 10 minute walk from the gallery. This colony suffers drastically in our increasingly frequent heatwaves and if it cannot re-locate will be a certain casualty of global warming. Perhaps one of our budding photographers can put together something on this theme for the next exhibition?

The famous quote from poet John Donne “Hark not for whom the bell tolls” (used by Hemingway as the title for his novel on the Spanish Civil war) is pertinent here for the threatened species for whom the bells are tolling are telling us “it tolls for thee.” Extinction is forever and humankind is not exempt from the laws of nature.

*Correction. There is a display of the flying fox in the Exhibition by photographer Lisa Roberts that I missed, though not in the heatwave context I had imagined.

The Marinus Link and Gippsland

The proposed Marinus Link and the Tasmanian Battery of the Nation (BOTN) plan have been getting a fair amount of publicity. The new cables presumably will either duplicate the Basslink cable or go to another location in South Gippsland. Marinus will increase the capacity from the current 600 megawatts to two gigawatts or more than the size of two of our remaining coal fired generators. An article by Emily Jarvie in Renew (No 154) examined the project in some detail.

Her article looked at the divide between lithium battery energy storage (shallow) and pumped hydro storage (deep) – a divide which is, unfortunately, becoming politicised with green groups supporting the former and Liberal governments the latter. A paper from the Bob Brown Foundation is quite critical of BOTN (and other pumped hydro plans) from a financial viewpoint, whilst for some conservative governments, help solving global warming issues can be put off until tomorrow.

But the climate crisis dictates that we need both and as the handling of the coronavirus has indicated finance is not a problem in an emergency. The Baw Baw Pumped Hydro proposals published in this blog last year copped some ‘green’ ire in the social media where the advantages of assisting the renewables revolution, water savings and helping a ‘just transition’ by providing jobs in the Valley were ignored.

There are other advantages for the Marinus link for Gippsland. Renewable energy from Tassie could completely replace Yallourn or Loy Yang B. Likewise the Star of the South offshore wind project can replace another and hook directly in to Basslink. As the Valley generators close (probably sooner than later) more capacity becomes available on the mains transmission lines to Melbourne and there will be plenty of room for further projects in the State governments’ Gippsland Renewable Energy Zone.

Projects such as Marinus are advantageous to the whole National Energy Market as is any strengthening of the network. It is not a matter of either/or but both, and States should not to try to pick winners as with local ‘picks’ – like coal to hydrogen and carbon capture and storage – they are often wrong. The climate crisis is above party loyalties. A fast-forwarded Marinus link will easily replace Yallourn, now to close in 2028.

East Gippsland Shire Consultations by Angela Crunden

Mitchell River Bairnsdale (Crunden)

A late start was not enough to dampen the positivity coming from East Gippsland Shire Council’s Bairnsdale community consultation held on Tuesday night 2nd March. Overwhelmingly the environment was seen as the most valued asset of our region.

The sessions have been well attended with good numbers in Lakes Entrance (15), and 35 in both Orbost and Bairnsdale. The Local Government Act requires councils to conduct consultations to determine a new four year plan which is done in conjunction with 10 year Financial and Capital Works Plans.

Small groups worked together to list what they valued most about living in East Gippsland, what were future opportunities and what were the challenges for our region.

It was gratifying as each table presented their discussion summaries that our beautiful region’s lakes, forests, mountains and rivers were the first thing mentioned. People born here through to new residents lived here out of love for the natural assets we enjoy.

Support for often hidden members of the community including LGBTQI, cultural and ethnically diverse people emerged along with the regional challenge of higher rates of domestic violence, unemployment, poverty and lack of public housing. Council officers pointed to the shire relying heavily on rate revenue for its income, where city based shires were able to raise revenue from parking and other sources. Participants identified many traditional concerns of residents everywhere, such as roads, parking, and community safety. Social justice, business viability, tourism and environment protection were strongly present across all of the tables.

While not always using the term climate change, each table made reference to challenges that were impacted by this threat. By contrast, opportunities pointed to changes in farming practices, setting up micro grids especially in remote towns and expansion of solar and other power options. Issues of infrastructure to support more public transport, EV charging stations, and improvements for pedestrian and cycle traffic were also raised.

The participants finished the session by each making a short statement of what they would like to see in the region in ten years. The last participant praised the many good ideas raised in this final segment but he cautioned that none of these long-term goals would be of lasting benefit or even achievable until climate change was comprehensively tackled by all levels of government. This community consultation information will be used along with online surveys and a Community Panel process to ensure the needs identified by the community can be integrated into the plan over the term of this council.

The Burning Question Again

Country burned twice in less than 10 years deep red. Map Dr Tom Fairman

The time of year when the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning sets fire to the bush in controlled burns, and to the debris in logged coupes, is now with us. As a seasonal employee of the department forty years ago, I worked on these tasks. Also at my home in Ensay on a few acres, I would often burn some of the grasses and other areas I could not mow or otherwise reduce the fuel load for fire protection. These fires were of low intensity and very small, although twice in thirty years I had small burns get away from me. With global warming the task now is more complicated and difficult, as we need to both protect trees and the bush and limit burning as much as possible (for an earlier blog see here).

The logging industry is at the heart of this problem. It is quite clear that the bush is far more valuable as a carbon store than as timber for woodchips and paper. By ceasing logging, as any reasonable government that accepts the science would have done years ago, solves part of the problem. There remains the question of the emissions produced by the large scale, so called ‘controlled’, burns carried out in the name of bushfire protection.

Philip Zylstra Research Fellow on flammability and fire behaviour from the University of Wollongong noted that at “the heart of our traditional approach are hand-drawn dots on a graph from a leaflet published by Australian bushfire expert Alan McArthur in the 1960s. [There are] nine data points telling us that if we halve the fuel load – the leaf litter on the ground – we can halve the speed of the fire. It has never been backed by evidence, but in the absence of something better it became the bedrock of Australian fire management. One rule for all forests: burn them.” Our black summer bushfires have clearly shown that country that recently burned will burn again and that under severe conditions controlled burns are ineffective. Zylstra supports low intensity small scale ‘Aboriginal’ style burning, which has debatable relevance to Gippsland.

Research by David Cheal after the Black Saturday fires in 2009 has noted that all “fuel treatments (i.e. controlled or hazard reduction) were more effective when undertaken close to houses. For example, 15% fewer houses were destroyed if prescribed burning occurred at the observed minimum distance from house (0.5km) vs. the mean distance of 8.5 km. The results imply a shift in emphasis away from broad-scale fuel reduction to intensive fuel treatments close to property will more effectively mitigate impacts.”

With global warming, the forestry practices of fifty years ago are no longer valid. It is time to end logging, and most burning, as quickly as possible.

Opportunities for Carbon Farming by Tony Peck

Fridays for Future demo Bairnsdale

Climate change is being felt by everyone in Australia and farmers already are among the worst affected, with deeper and longer droughts along with worse floods and storms.

There are many opportunities for farmers to benefit by action. It is gratifying that Gippsland Federal representative Darren Chester has acknowledged the concerns of many farmers that climate change is affecting them, despite dissenting voices within his party.

We are already very aware of the intense and more frequent bushfires, decreasing crop yields across the state and longer more frequent droughts caused by global warming. This is happening with only 1.1°C rise in global temperatures. Current targets for reductions in carbon emissions are just not enough and will result in very high rises in temperatures – more than 4°C by the end of the century. The impacts on agriculture will be profound. Luckily, there is plenty that can be done to keep temperatures under 1.5ºC which is seen as our best bet for a reasonable future.

Farmers can benefit by acting now. They are finding that they are using less fertilizer and their soils are both retaining more moisture and have increased crop yields. These techniques build up carbon in the soil, reducing the carbon available to cause the greenhouse effect that warms the planet. There are also opportunities to trade the additional carbon that is stored in the soil with industries that are also trying to reduce their carbon impact.

Techniques that are restoring carbon to our soils include minimal tilling and use of perennial grasses and planting native trees and shrubs. Managing stock to allow native forest to regrow not only provides potential shade and wind-breaks, but trees are a great store for carbon. Many trials underway show a number of ways to improve beef herds by reducing methane a potent greenhouse gas.

Farming organizations are providing effective targets and support. The Meat and Livestock organization has set a net zero carbon emissions target for 2030 for beef production. The Australian Farmers Federation has a net zero target of 2050. Groups like Farmers for Climate Action and Carbon Farmers of Australia each have useful web pages and they are keen to support farmers to understand what they can do to make a difference.

Agrivoltaics – Solar PV and Farms

An article in the current Renew magazine (No.154) by Remi Rauline et al entitled ‘Sharing the Sky’ caught my interest. The article introduced the term ‘agrivoltaics’ – using the land for both for agriculture and energy production to increase farm income and zero emissions electricity. The article concentrates on combinations of agriculture and photovoltaics though in Australia’s case it can also include wind generation.

Almost all the examples given in the article are overseas, where land is in short supply and expensive. Even so, the article listed a number of objections to solar projects in Victoria that were either delayed or refused due to objections from local farmers. An example of a dual land use project delayed is the Delburn wind farm west of Morwell though in this case wind and plantation timber rather than photovoltaics and cropping. Wind has the advantage over solar in that it does not take up so much land and can thus operate alongside most agricultural operations. It is notable that the wind farms at Waubra have drought proofed many of the farms in the district and helped revive the local community.

Using solar panels in irrigation areas such as the Macalister Irrigation district should concentrate first on covering channels with panels rather than farmland. This has a number of obvious advantages including evaporation from the channels is reduced, electricity production is enhanced by the cooling effect of the water and valuable land is not utilised. However when this is done perhaps then farmers can consider using some of the amazing advances made in Europe and Japan for their land.

Grazing stock with solar panels is an obvious, and easy, improvement providing control of undergrowth by the sheep and giving shade to the stock in summer but with a reduced carrying capacity. For grazing with cattle, heavier and higher construction is necessary. The high mounting of panels is standard for all cropping underneath to allow machinery access and is common in Europe and Japan for orchards and rice growing. Grazing under the panels is planned for the Perry Bridge Solar farm that is about to commence construction and presumably will also occur with their other Gippsland projects.

The advantages of agrivoltaics are many and include soil moisture retention, and utilising certain aspects of the light spectrum with translucent panels to boost plant production. The article concludes, “increased awareness of the opportunities of agrivoltaics, along with locally proven solutions, will build the confidence of developers to partner with farms to deliver agrivoltaic solutions.”

To deliver the 200 to 500% of energy required for the renewables revolution in Gippsland solar panels will be ubiquitous and found not only on rooftops of house and factory, but on water, and as agrivoltaic systems on farms. As usual Renew is always a good read and, in this issue, the article on agrivoltaics in particular.