Gippsland News & Views

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.

Our Governments and the Climate Emergency

Signing the Climate Emergency Petition

I have often commented in this blog that most politicians have no idea of what the inertia (see here and here) in our climate systems means to global warming. That if we could somehow miraculously stop our carbon emissions in an instant the planet will keep warming for many years. Few politicians look beyond the next election. The climate emergency tasks must in fact be threefold – to stop all carbon emissions as quickly as possible, to drawdown as much carbon as we can from the atmosphere and to adapt, as best possible, to the warming that is already built into the system.

At a federal level, both the main parties remain hostage to fossil fuel interests. The Lib/Nats here are completely hostile to climate action and renewable energy. Labor remains tentative about the emergency but, in comparison with the government, appears to be ahead by a ‘country mile’. But they do appear to be more concerned about the next election and a hostile, or indifferent, mainstream media does not help.

At a state level, all governments of both persuasions are embracing renewable energy and energy storage. Victoria is to the fore here, which is a positive. However this conflicts with negative aspects of Spring Street decisions such as continued logging and the coal to hydrogen project, which are adding carbon emissions to the atmosphere. The apparent failure of the Sea Electric project in Morwell, would have greatly assisted a just transition and now an electric vehicle tax beckons. Victoria obviously lacks a comprehensive climate plan or any sense of urgency for action. Unfortunately the LNP opposition remain troglodytes on both renewable energy and climate change.

It is at a local government level that most action is happening. Bass Coast council is the first in Gippsland to declare a climate emergency following many other Victorian councils. We expect other declarations to follow in the next year or two (East Gippsland and South Gippsland?) when they are petitioned again by their concerned residents. Some local government areas are well-organised, including emergency services and renewable energy adoption. Following any declaration, the climate emergency then requires planning, co-ordination, implementation and education – all applied with a matter of urgency.

Gippsland’s (Climate) Tourism – Raymond Island Koalas

A few weeks ago I wrote that there “are a number of wildlife resources in East Gippsland that can be developed as tourist attractions to help our economic recovery from the bushfires (and the coronavirus) without environmental harm. This involves careful management and protection of the resource and promotion and organisation of tourist activities. Most of these activities are low cost and involve both government and private enterprise.”

The koalas of Raymond Island are one of those tourist attractions and already quite popular. With the coronavirus still raging overseas and NSW a possible no-go zone it is expected that this will be a booming tourist season from which Gippsland will benefit. The island itself is an attractive destination and is a brief (and free) ferry ride from Paynesville for pedestrians. Lucky visitors may also see other wildlife. For instance on my last visit I saw a delightful family of four tawny frogmouths.

The video footage of last summers’ bushfires highlights the vulnerability of koala populations to these climate change driven events. Unfortunately the fires are predicted to increase in both number and severity. The island has its own fire station and I assume that fire protection practices (including ecological burns?) are continuous as is the management of the koala population by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. Aside from the threat of fires the main short-term problem appears to be overpopulation and numbers are often relocated* to the mainland and elsewhere.

In the longer term the main threat to Raymond Island is rising sea levels ** and is a threat to the whole of the Gippsland Lakes. This is far into the future and the annual rises so small that, unfortunately, the problem is often discounted, or ignored. But sea levels across the globe are steadily rising and are predicted to continue so for hundreds of years. Whether it occurs in 50 or 150 years the Gippsland Lakes and Raymond Island are doomed. To a certain extent, humans can adapt to the various threats of global warming, but for our native fauna much less so.

I have two lots of relatives who will be staying at Paynesville early in the New Year. Almost certainly, along with many others, they will visit Raymond Island and see the koalas. Climate tourism of this sort will help our recovery from the pandemic and our bushfires and at the same time to promote knowledge and awareness of the effects of climate change.

*I have only seen one koala on the mainland in 50 years – a few kilometres from Monkey Creek near Bruthen

**Even the current minimum IPCC prediction of a 40cm rise for 2100 will severely erode the island – a metre or more will destroy the Gippsland Lakes system.

Notes on Gippsland’s Climate Year

Our bushfires – heavily influenced by a warming planet – dominated the early part of the year and this blog. The short window of opportunity between the Bushfire emergency and the Coronavirus saw a joint demonstration of East Gippsland and Wellington Climate Action Networks and Gippsland XR at the offices of local member Darren Chester. The lessons from the Coronavirus for the Climate emergency are obvious – that we should follow the recommendations of the science in the latter as we have done so well in the former.

Whilst it is sometimes difficult, I try to balance the good and bad news. The stand-out for the good news is the growth of climate action groups across Gippsland including the Climate action groups in East Gippsland, Wellington and Bass Coast shires CANs, Prom Area Climate Action (PACA) in South Gippsland, the Metung Science Forum along with the long lived, and still very active Baw Baw Sustainability Network.

We have republished blogs and press releases from several of the above groups. As well we have republished excellent pieces from local online newsletters like ‘Just Community’ and ‘The Bass Coast Post’ and had guest bloggers from across the region. The most prominent of these were four blogs by an anonymous engineer on a possible Baw Baw Pumped Hydro scheme.

On the down side there has been the failure of the Morwell electric vehicle project to materialise, logging continues unabated either by the bushfires or by climate reason, and our political representatives remain tardy on climate change, including two Gippsland councils rejecting climate emergency petitions. To counter this one of the big bonuses of the year has been the election of three EGCAN members to the East Gippsland Shire Council.

This blog has published regularly on Gippsland climate news and views – on various local aspects of the problem and possible solutions. The blogs have appeared twice weekly (with one exception) for more than 6 years. Readership hovers between 800 and 1200 on a monthly basis with a peak of over 7000 readers during the bushfires. Hopefully in the year to come we will have a massive expansion of wind and solar projects, electric vehicle adoption and energy efficiency and the small but growing body of local activists will continue to apply pressure and influence the political process.

Labor’s Sea Electric Fiasco

The failure of the current labor government to establish the promised electric vehicle manufacturing plant in Morwell is alarming. Opposition National MP for Gippsland South Danny O’Brien has been sticking the boots in on twitter, when he rightly pointed out that there are just four Gipplanders working at Dandenong Sea Electric and that a site has yet to be found for the Morwell factory. The criticism is valid despite coming from a party that does not appear to have any policies on renewables or climate change or coming from a politician yet to be heard promoting the Star of the South project in his own electorate.

An article in Latrobe Valley Express on 28 October by Kate Withers entitled “Electric vehicle plant promised for Morwell comes to a screeching halt” gives the full disturbing details. She noted that: “In the lead-up to the 2018 election Premier Daniel Andrews unveiled plans to partner with company SEA Electric to create the plant, which was to be built by 2021 and create 500 jobs. At the time, Morwell was heralded as the new “national capital of electric vehicle manufacturing”, where up to 2400 delivery vans and mini buses would roll off the production line each year.”

This great proposal to provide jobs in a new industry and in a location where increased employment has to be part of a just transition is now turning into a public relations disaster. In what should be a safe Labor seat the electorate of Morwell has been held by conservative politicians for 15 years. The privatisation stuff-ups of the 1990s continue. Due to a lack of leadership and commitment from the government Sea Electric has transferred its headquarters to America – a sad, but oft repeated, story.

It is clear that very few in either of the major parties understand the climate emergency, the inertia in global warming, and the political need for a rapid and just transition. Without this transition the unemployed, the dispossessed, proprietors of struggling small businesses and those disappointed by false promises merely join the political reaction as can be seen in some of the coal mining electorates in NSW and Queensland.

The Labor state government is making progress in renewable energy and energy storage but falls down in number of other climate related areas. One example is the continuation of logging – a subsidised, climate damaging, dying industry – and another is in the area of electrified transport. Why tax electric vehicles when the electrification of transport is part of the difficult road to zero emissions, when virtually every advanced economy is doing their best to encourage rapid electric vehicle adoption? One hopes that Labor can somehow resurrect the Morwell Sea Electric plan. They have less than 2 years to do so.