Gippsland News & Views

New Energy Jobs Fund (NEJF) Forum Bairnsdale & the Logging Industry

logging (GECO)

(GECO)

The first of the Victorian government New Energy Jobs Fund forums was held on January 29 in Bairnsdale and was attended by about 30 people. This Fund will be providing $20m over 4 years to various renewable energy projects in communities and manufacturing and is a great idea to begin with.

But because the burning of timber waste to generate energy is currently included in the Renewable Energy Target (RET) projects of this nature are also included and thus eligible to apply for funds. In many ways this defeats one of the main purposes of the NEJF – to draw down on our carbon emissions to the atmosphere. It is becoming clearer by the day that our native forests must be protected and preserved as best possible as a carbon store. Claiming that burning waste from the logging industry is ‘renewable’ is false and the entire logging process produces far more greenhouse gases than it saves.

One problem is that ‘logging’ remains a major employer in the bush as opposed to the regional centres. There is a need to phase out logging as quickly as possible but with a minimum of hardship on small communities. If the forests were properly protected they would provide far more employment than the loggers currently do. They should improve employment prospects in the bush.

I have previously suggested that private landholders be remunerated for the carbon they store on their property in the form of bush lots and substantial trees (soil carbon is currently in the too hard basket). How this could be done is unclear but implies that any trees so funded must be preserved. One of participants at the forum – obviously pro-logging – replied when I suggested to him that landholders should receive a rent for the carbon they are storing by not logging replied that they could receive compensation for storing the carbon and then still harvest the timber. Such double dipping would be unacceptable and inappropriate in the extreme.

On the upside there are plenty of attractive schemes like the Gippsland2020 – Segue Café project in Stratford and the Earthworker heat pump manufacturing scheme which will hopefully be moving to Morwell soon. The Bairnsdale forum was attended by a small group from the Valley who asked for a similar forum to be held in Morwell. It seems obvious that the projects that most need support are those that provide jobs where they are wanted. There are obvious places such as Moe and Morwell that have never really recovered from the privatisation of the SEC. The valley in general will need substantial planning and support preparing for the time when the brown coal generators are closed down. Less obvious places in need of renewable energy projects are the small timber communities spread widely across the region already suffering as the logging industry continues its long term decline. For more information go to http://www.business.vic.gov.au/support-for-your-business/future-industries/new-energy-technologies

Gippsland Lakes Algal Blooms and Climate Change

blue green algae (abc)

(ABC)

Vic Health have just (8.2) issued an advice warning against the consumption of shellfish in the Gippsland Lakes. They are also examining whether fish species may be contaminated by the current bloom. Lakes Entrance is primarily a tourist town and secondarily a port and fishing village. Without the tourist trade, which is estimated at being worth $2.8 billion, the whole of the Gippsland economy is undermined.

Algal blooms are a direct and immediate threat to the economy and are directly related to climate change and other changes to the Lakes system. Some forms of algal bloom, such as blue-green algae, make swimming hazardous and the consumption of shellfish and fish equally so. When the bloom dies the smell of it rotting may be intense as in 1983 when it could be smelled in Bairnsdale for a number of weeks which may be just another possible Tourist distraction to follow the actual bloom.

Algal blooms can flourish with a number of factors one of which is warmer waters, which in turn is a direct response to our warming planet. The shallow waters of the Lakes are warming faster than our oceans which in turn are already warming faster than our land. Climate change also affects other aspects of Algal blooms in a number of ways. Increasing the intensity and frequency of droughts leads to increases in salinity and water stratification which favours the algae and floods can also supply extra nutrient for the blooms.

The US EPA website noted: “Algae need carbon dioxide to survive. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air and water can lead to rapid growth of algae, especially toxic blue-green algae that can float to the surface of the water” and “Climate change might affect rainfall patterns, leading to alternating periods of drought and intense storms. This can cause more nutrient runoff into waterbodies, feeding more algal blooms.”

A Gippsland ecologist commented: “that the incidence of algal blooms in the lakes has significantly increased since 1986, and also, the demand for water for drinking and irrigation is at best constant, but all river flows have diminished in the past 30 years (Gippsland Sustainable Water Strategy) so there is less flow, and what is flowing is of a higher nutrient content, and Governments are continually promoting increased agricultural output, so the only thing to wear all of this is the Lakes system. The algal blooms are an indicator of an ecosystem under stress, exacerbated by climate change and that deeper entrance.”

A number of changes directly affected by climate change are threatening Lakes tourism – algal blooms are currently pre-eminent but this also includes bushfires and floods. The latter events combined with sea-level rise and possible subsidence makes Lakes Entrance probably the town in Australia most vulnerable to global warming. For more on the blooms and climate change go to http://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/climate-change-and-harmful-algal-blooms

‘Bread and Circuses’ and Global Warming

Lakes fireworks

The old Roman proverb of giving the people ‘bread and circuses’ to distract them from the political process is relevant today. The ‘bread’ is supplied by full employment and a tight social security system. The ‘circuses’ are many and varied from the Lakes Entrance fireworks display (above) through to the various sporting codes that dominate our media and our lives. Even a real circus does occasionally visit Gippsland. But our minds are fixed on the next great media event, be it tennis, golf, one of the various football codes (not forgetting the saga at Essendon FC) or pyjama cricket instead of focusing on the slowly unfolding great crisis of our times – the climate change emergency.

At this juncture I must plead guilty to also being part of the ‘sports mad’ horde for more than half my life. My interests nurtured in the early post war years were the traditional ones – cricket and Aussie Rules football. I still occasionally like to listen to test cricket whilst I played football with junior clubs – mostly in the old Omeo league – for more than 20 years. Local sporting events deserve our support and should be encouraged but that is a far cry from the multi-million dollar spectacles that are the AFL, the Australian Tennis Open and pyjama cricket ad infinitum that now dominate our lives. All these events are televised and apparently we watch on average 3 hours every day. There is a need to critically discern between local/community activity which requires participation or involvement and big business sport which is essentially passive.

Our preoccupation means we ignore the ‘elephant in the room’ – climate change. By abandoning many of the ‘circus’ subsidies such as the recent $400 million renovations of the tennis centre or just forgetting about the Grand Prix might be a good start. And fireworks displays – wherever they are held – are good money ‘up in smoke’. Funds that, for instance, could easily finance a substantial, apolitical, public education campaign on greenhouse basics. But most of all this preoccupation, and its media saturation, leads to a ‘dumbing down’ of the political process. We elect a government on the basis of false three word slogans. We elect politicians of a party that had almost endless (and now questionable) finances and we elect dinosaurs that continue to ignore the science of climate change.

Tim Flannery in his Atmosphere of Hope explained how “a small shift in average temperatures caused by emissions of greenhouse gases was influencing temperatures across Australia…” and that the dramatic closure of the 2014 Australian Open due to a heatwave was thus influenced by climate change. This will not be a lone event – rather just one of many interruptions directly or partially attributed to our warming planet. When the reality of the climate emergency finally arrives in Canberra, Spring St and Bairnsdale the financing of ‘circuses’ will be the first to be abandoned.

Renewable Energy & the Latrobe Valley by Lorraine Bull

Loraine Bull Letter

(letter in Latrobe Valley Express 28.1)

NASA reports that 2015 was the hottest year on record globally. This is attributed to increased greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Increased carbon dioxide comes from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas).  Many people query how we can overcome this dependence on fossil fuels.

As with coal-fired power stations, alternative sources of energy will take time to construct, but unlike our current centralised national electricity grid, the future power will come from many sources.  Well over one million homes have PV solar panels.  AGL has just opened two large scale solar plants at Nyngan and Broken Hill, bringing the Australian large-scale solar capacity to 245MW feeding into the national grid.   Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has shortlisted 22 large scale solar projects vying for $100 million funding to produce about 767MW capacity.

The recently commissioned 106MW Bald Hills Wind Farm near Tarwin Lower [has] contributed to Victoria’s 12% renewable energy in 2014.  In December Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio released a ‘Guide to Community Owned Renewable Energy’ to encourage development of grassroots projects, and the jobs associated with manufacturing and installing new energy production.

Exciting technologies under development include wave power, bioenergy, concentrated solar thermal storage and battery storage. Australia is forecast to attract $36 billion in renewable energy investments by 2020.  It is vital that Victoria, especially Latrobe Valley, captures a share of this.  Indeed, I feel that a Government body with authority to finance the transition of the Latrobe Valley is vital for our future.

Signs of Climate Change in Gippsland Waters

osprey-with-bass

I have written previously of the growing list of new species occupying or visiting our shores and seas. Most, if not all, have arrived (at least partially) because of global warming. They include a, as yet unidentified, jellyfish being found in the Gippsland Lakes, new bird species appearing in Gippsland, and the likelihood of the Black Marlin visiting our ocean reaches. As on land the ocean and lakes temperatures are also rising allowing previously rare or unsighted species to now appear. We tend to forget that the waters around us are also warming, sometimes at a much faster rate than the temperatures on land and it is clear that Gippsland waters are warming far faster than the land mass.

Commenting on this a Gippsland Environment Group spokesperson noted that the: “Osprey, up till 15 years ago, [was] a very rare sighting in Victoria, but [is] now often being recorded on the east and central coast. The reason for this is they are a true fisherman, and only take live fish off the surface. Traditionally, fish that frequent the surface did not occur in Vic, but with currents changing, and as a result so has fish species, they are often being recorded in Victorian waters. The breeding population is still based in SA (Kangaroo Is) and North of Sydney, but … non-breeding birds are coming into Vic.” He also noted the increase in “King and School Prawn. In the 60’s and 70’s, a prawn season only occurred in the Gippsland Lakes every 3-4 years, due to the fact that they do not breed here, but the young move south in the Eastern Australian Current. Now we have a prawn season every year (some years better than others) and it is worth many millions of dollars to Lakes fishers…”

Ross Scott, a passionate advocate for the Gippsland Lakes, has also identified a number of new species in the Lakes including: “CRABS…most from offshore following the increased lakes salinity; and the Queensland crab following the warmer offshore currents.  JELLY FISH.  We still do not know the name of [one of] the jellyfish found in the lakes…but it appears to be from the north.  SHARKS… we have always had Gummy shark around the entrance. But now we have Hammerhead; Thresher sharks. And the Draftboard and Leopard sharks followed the European Green Shore Crab invasion in 2008 as well as another crab eater, Stingrays.”

One wonders how long we will have to wait before our representatives at various levels of government come to grips with (or at least recognise) the huge problem of climate change, and begin to consider actions to mitigate and adapt. Two actions in Gippsland are obvious, switching from coal to renewable energy sources as quickly as possible and conserving and protecting what remains of our native forests as a carbon store.

 

Climate Change: Sea Level Rise and the Gippsland Coast? 27.1

Proposal for coastal research to be done on the impacts of sea level rise.

A. Barrie Pittock - Climate Change

When recently sorting through boxes of notes in the process of downsizing I came across an interesting 6 page proposal for coastal research to be done on the impacts of sea level rise. The note was by A. Barrie Pittock author of the standard Australian text Climate Change (http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/6010.htm). Barrie regularly holidays near Lakes Entrance and has done so for 30 years. He is now retired but worked as a climate scientist in the CSIRO Department of Atmospheric Physics for many years. In 2008 he roughed out his brief “Outline for Proposal for Research on Coastal Impacts of S(ea) L(evel) R(ise)” as a response to climate sceptic Bjorn Lomborg’s claim that “nobody noticed” the 15cm sea level rise that occurred in the 20th Century and that “therefore a 30cm rise in the 21st century will be of no consequence.”

Pittock pointed out that Lomborg’s 30cm may be a considerable underestimate and suggests that a 1m rise was more likely. He then stated that “what interests me is did anyone notice a sea level rise last century, and how widespread was this?” Anecdotally I am aware of a storm that destroyed a toilette block at Lake Tyers Beach in the 50s or 60s. They may be many other local examples. But severe storm damage only appears to have been noticed when human constructions have been threatened or destroyed.

Pittock suggests an in-depth historical survey as part of an exhaustive coastal survey covering sea level rise including local changes, erosion, sediment transport, subsidence and extreme weather events. He suggests that then we should “attempt local modelling exercises of past changes, taking account of sediment transport, and other local factors…” and then analyse “options for adaption including coastal defences, zoning, infrastructure design, retreat…” Barrie Pittock may have had the Gippsland Coast in mind when roughing out his proposal. As far as I am aware a study along the lines suggested by Pittock is yet to be done.

Exxonmobil: Gippsland No 1 Climate Criminal? 24.1

Esso 2

Rupert Murdoch and multinational Exxonmobil are close contenders for title of the world’s greatest climate criminal. Unlike Murdoch Esso has had a long association with Gippsland and been producing offshore oil and gas from the Gippsland basin since 1969. EssoBHP – now Exxonmobil – has played a leading role in our development which must be recognised, especially in the area of employment. Whilst agriculture in our region has continued to go through its ups and downs Esso has been there to provide work in otherwise difficult times. Of the many Gippslanders who have obtained employment on the rigs or onshore I know at least three.

But it is now clear that at the end of the 70s Exxon scientists knew, and warned the company, about the dangers of global warming and its direct association with burning fossil fuels. Senior management chose not only to ignore the threat but to actively oppose and attempt to discredit the science. Apparently they are continuing to do so. A vast amount of money has been directed to sceptics, denier groups and individuals to create doubt about the science and ‘muddy the waters’ of public opinion. As a consequence concerted action to minimise global warming, as called for by Margaret Thatcher and others as early as1989, has been delayed by more than 2 decades.

But the science is gradually identifying and quantifying the cost of inaction on climate change. Events heavily influenced, exacerbated and exaggerated by climate change including heatwaves, bushfires, floods and droughts have already come at great cost to both life and property. As a single example amongst many, 370 extra lives were lost in south-east Australia in the unprecedented heatwave that came before Black Saturday.

The removal of oil and gas from the Gippsland basin has also been associated with the possibility of coastal subsidence along the Ninety-Mile beach. In the 1990s geomorphologist Eric Bird warned that the removal of oil and gas from the Gippsland basin may lead to subsidence. One study by the CSIRO in 2007 estimated that subsidence of up to 3 metres could occur in places. Thus the Gippsland coast could be hit with a ‘double-whammy’ – subsidence caused by the removal of fossil fuels and sea level rise caused by the burning of them. In 2013 the company obtained permission to vent large amounts of CO2 directly into the atmosphere from their gas conditioning plant at Longford showing their continued and complete disregard for the science and a determination to continue ‘profitable’ operations.

Finally, and as an aside, we now have the news that Exxonmobil with a turnover of $9.6 billion in Australia in the last financial year paid no tax. This is further illustration, if any was needed, of the immoral operations of this organisation. On balance history will judge Exxon poorly. And all the money in the world cannot change the law of gravity or the basic physics of the greenhouse effect.

Two Projects to Help Solve our PM’s Climate Conundrum 20.1

 

BZE VFT

Prior to returning to the leadership of the Liberal Party and assuming the role of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made many statements about the inadequacy (to put in mildly) of his party’s, and his predecessor’s, climate policies. “Direct action,” he said, “was an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing.” But now as leader his hands appear to be tied by the rump of ‘climate change deniers’ in the coalition including most of the National Party. So Malcolm has been treading softly and adhering to whatever agreement he made with the denier faction and the Nationals. But there are many actions that can be taken that bypass the rump or even recruit some of their members.

Two that come readily to mind, that would probably attract overwhelming support, are “Snowy Mountains Scheme” style projects – a very fast train from Melbourne to Brisbane and a high voltage direct current (HVDC) cable that links WA to the eastern grid. The former has been studied in great detail by Beyond Zero Emissions and the detail is available here http://bze.org.au/zero-carbon-transport-high-speed-rail

The latter has been proposed by climate scientist Barrie Pittock (letters The Age 3.1.16) and by engineer Peter Seligman in his Australian Sustainable Energy – by the numbers (Melb. Energy Inst. 2010). Seligman details his proposal for a HVDC cable from Perth to Port Augusta (pp.41-4) and suggests it be combined with a large scale pumped hydro storage on the Nullarbor. The BZE and Seligman proposals have been carefully costed.

Both these proposals would take up the slack in employment now occurring with the slide in the resources sector. Both would require large amounts of spending – so you can forget about the balanced budget which was so much propaganda anyway. Since each of these projects would pass through National Party homeland it may appeal to some of their number. But most of all both projects offer huge savings in either transportation or energy efficiency. As our economy appears to be slowing and interest rates are at an all-time low Keynesian economics dictates that now may be the time for some ‘pump priming’ – something similar to Labor’s “home roof insulation”  scheme in 2009 on a grander scale and done so much better.

Basslink in the News 17.1.16

Basslink

Some years ago a member of my family criticised a suggestion I made about the energy advantages of using High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cables to connect electricity grids. I may have inadvertently left the high voltage bit off which detracted from my argument. I also forgot to mention the example functioning on our doorstep – Basslink. For those unaware of Basslink it is an undersea HVDC cable that connects Tasmania to the mainland eastern Australia electricity grid via Bass Strait and south Gippsland.

Basslink is currently in the news as it has recently failed and repairs appear to be taking much longer than originally estimated. The failure is causing political ructions and claims are being made that power rationing in Tasmania may be required. The water stored in Tassie’s hydro-electric dams is very low as the island is experiencing an extremely dry spell heavily influenced by the current El Nino and climate change. Hydro Tasmania also sold off far too much energy whilst the carbon tax was in place to take advantage of price differentials – hydro-electricity as a renewable energy attracted no tax. Prof. Mike Sandiford noted: “that Tasmanian hydro generators have been selling electricity into the mainland market at unprecedented rates, drawing down storage levels dramatically since the carbon price was implemented in July 2012.”  For more details on this go to https://theconversation.com/how-much-will-tasmania-pay-for-shorting-the-carbon-price-29106

As a consequence Hydro Tasmania has had to reopen the Tamar Valley power station – gas powered and expensive – which they had ‘mothballed’. An alternative longer term solution is to have a second cable. Ironically Hydro Tasmania proposed the ‘Taswind’ project in 2012 where a second cable would be routed via King Island in conjunction with a 200 turbine wind farm. This proposal did not go ahead due to ‘economic reasons’ but was probably due to the downgrading of the Renewable Energy Target and the carbon ‘tax’ legislation being repealed. Was this another casualty of the reactionary “anti-climate science’ views of the Abbott government? It’s time to put the ‘Taswind’ project back on the drawing board and into action.

Company Tax. Are we the Fossil Fools? 13.1

Tax Crims

Recently Australia’s big news has been the number of large companies not paying any, or minimal, tax. There are so many ways of manipulating the books that paying tax for many of them has become optional. Many of these companies are of particular interest in the climate crisis – coal and petroleum companies and other large fossil fuel consumers generating copious greenhouse gas emissions. The list of the top ten earning multiple billions and not paying any tax is illuminating. They include 2 airlines, Exxon (who, for their actions in creating doubt and funding the ‘climate denialist’ movement deserve to be named and shamed as a climate criminal), 4 coal companies (GHP, Citic Resources, Mitsubishi Resources and Glencore) and only 2 that are not obviously tied to fossil fuel industry.

This revelation is all the more inflammatory when the generous subsidies to the fossil fuel industry are included, not to mention donations by some of these companies to political parties. There can be little doubt that money buys access to politicians and is the main influence on policies and legislation. For instance Mr Adani, the Carmichael Coal promoter and owner of Abbott Point, recently had access to the new PM Malcolm Turnbull over some undisclosed matter.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald noted further tax offenders, including Mr Adani: “Chevron, which recently lost against the ATO in the Federal Court, but will be challenging the decision, had turnover of $3 billion but paid no tax. Adani’s Abbot Point Terminal in Queensland – with a turnover of $268 million – also paid no tax… News Australia, which had a turnover of $3.9 billion between its Australian arms, had $97.2 million in net income last year and paid $4.2 million in tax.” Thus we have Coal Promoters (Adani et al) and the Climate Criminals (Exxon, Murdoch) directing government policy though their financial contribution towards it has been negligible.

There are a large number of ways that governments can stop this haemorrhaging of their budgets including a turnover tax (say on businesses earning more than $100 million that pay no tax) or a Tobin tax, both of which are obvious and frequently mentioned examples. A coal export tax (starting at say $1 per ton and increased annually) could be followed up by a coal excise tax – a backdoor reintroduction of the carbon tax. Pollies speak about ‘balanced budgets’ and an ‘expenditure problem’ when they really have a ‘revenue problem’ but more than anything else they have global warming problem – of gigantic proportions.