Gippsland News & Views

The Baw Baw Sustainability Network

An overview of the BBSN by Mal McKelvie.


The Baw Baw Sustainability Network (BBSN) was started in 2007 by a group of ordinary people from throughout West Gippsland.  The establishment of the BBSN was supported by individuals, local community groups and the Baw Baw Shire, who recognised the need for a specialist group to deal with the escalating and complicated sustainability issues and concerns facing the local community. The Network has since flourished with a growing membership of over 130, and hundreds more casual participants and interested parties across our region.  As an independent, not for profit, local community group, we provide a vital and unique service, bridging the gap between talk and action on sustainable living in Baw Baw.

We provide awareness, education, a forum for local discussion, a voice for our local issues, and a vehicle for community and government to collaborate and act on environmental issues. Our very professional shop front in Yarragon, REstore, provides a permanent, highly visible and physical presence, with fabulous gardens and great partnerships.  We also employ a professional Sustainability Project Officer, and enjoy the benefits of hugely diverse expertise from our members.

Other services and activities include:Newsletter, Website (a link is on the side bar), Bulk Food Buying Group, Re-skilling Workshops, Produce Swaps, Domestic Energy Workshops, Sustainable House Day, Food Gardens Day, Community Garden in Yarragon, Gardening Days, Cooking Pizzas in a Wood-fired Oven, Film Nights, Information nights with notable Public Speakers, Lobbying & Action on Local Issues (i.e. Coal Seam Gas) and Networking & Partnerships

The BBSN is an incorporated organisation, and is fully compliant with the Victorian Government Associations Incorporation Reform Act (2012).  As detailed in our constitution our “Aim: [is to] Establish the Baw Baw region community as a model of environmentally sustainable living. Objectives: To promote lifestyles, technologies, community household and business systems that are environmentally sustainable. To increase community awareness about climate change and sustainable environmental practices. To monitor and measure progress toward achievement of environmentally sustainable practice in the community. To inform and educate the community about environmentally sustainable living practices through appropriate media. To implement community projects that promote environmental sustainability. To establish and maintain a Public Fund to be called the Baw Baw Sustainable Environment Fund for the specific purpose of supporting the environmental objects/purposes of the BBSN.”

The BBSN is a group of every-day people getting together to do extraordinary things today and for the future.  This is an enormous journey we have embarked on. We’re constantly coming up with new ideas and welcome any suggestions!

The Moving Image and Climate Change 6.1.16


Our old TV less lounge

I have always had a preference for the written word and my wife and I remain in the 1% of the Australian population that do not have a TV. However in retirement I have used the ABC’s iview occasionally on my computer for entertainment (a timewasting ‘whodunit’) or work (Mediawatch, climate and renewable energy programs). I also have a number of friends and relatives who contact me when something is being shown relevant to my interests. Recently I have seen three programs or films on climate and renewable energy worth commenting on.

The first was the Naomi Klein film This Changes Everything which was screened at the Paynesville Community Centre on 3 December with an audience of 32. I have a brief blog on this event here  The second was Time to Choose which was sent by my sister in Canada. Unfortunately I was continually disrupted by the phone and other household chores whilst trying to watch this.

The third was an ABC Foreign Correspondent program called How to Save the World (no longer available on iview). It was more succinct than the Klein film and delivered a precise message – tying renewable energy advances to the end of coal. The organiser of the Paynesville screening Laura Owen noted: “After watching the foreign correspondent on iview on Tuesday night I did wish I was screening that rather than the film [This Changes Everything] because I felt it had a more uplifting/encouraging tone to it. I thought Klein’s book gave a strong message of hope and empowerment that was not portrayed so much in the film. Anyway, it got people together and got a discussion happening so that is the main thing.”

On a personal note the messages become repetitive. I do not have to be persuaded but because climate change has been so politicised many in the general public do. They need to be alerted to the dire consequences of doing nothing. They need to be made aware how damaging ‘denialist’ opposition is. And these messages needs to be repeated continuously. There remains a huge knowledge gap between what the general population know and the basic science of climate change; how the greenhouse effect works, how the greenhouse effect became established science, how climate change influences weather, the connection between fossil fuels and warming and many other aspects that are either established or can be demonstrated.

A series of short educational adverts is needed to build an understanding of basic science of climate change in the wider community. These (mainly TV) ads should not be political. For a relatively small investment in public education our PM could help educate the masses and at the same time defeat the denialist faction within his party.


Gippsland 2020 Stratford Community Energy Promo! 3.1.16

Segue 2020

Have you ever thought how it might be to be free from electricity price hikes, power slumps and surges, and blackouts? Have you thought how it might be to have you and your own community control local power generation through clean and sustainable technologies? Small communities across Gippsland, Victoria and Australia are doing just that through participating in joint projects for renewable technologies, therefore enabling stronger community cohesion and creating energy. Based on the number of panels installed in solar power alone, Gippsland participants have saved themselves over $4 million in power bills (Australian Government data) and created hundreds of jobs.

Community energy offers small towns the opportunity to generate their own power through individuals, community and business groups, and local government uniting. Together you can invest in the purchase and installation of technologies like solar panels and wind turbines, and sell the power on to return the investment to your community.

An example of such a community is SUSTAINABLE SEGUE, your Stratford Community House, showing that all this is possible in three easy steps:

1.         IF YOU SWITCH to Powershop using the link, by ringing the Powershop’s main number 1800462668 or ringing Peter Brownstein on (03)83702147 and mention you are supporting Gippsland 2020, they will help fund your community’s solar power and hot water from heat pumps.

2.         IF YOU UPGRADE your electric or gas hot water with a heat pump through NRGWise they will give you a 5% discount, plus donate a further 5% to the Segue project. In addition, Laser Plumbing will donate $50 per customer to the Segue’s project.

3.         IF YOU BUY solar panels from NRGWise or Gippsland Solar, they will donate 5% to the Segue project.

The power is in your hands. Help yourself save money and help your community through Segue. For further information please contact Beth Ripper 0427 456 094. For information on solar installation and hot water upgrades through NRGWise, please call Rod Horton 0421 820 411.


Pumped Hydro at Hazelwood by Dan Caffrey 30.12

pumped hydro

The world is edging toward the point where electricity supply will be 100 % from renewable energy technologies. Indeed, if we are to survive the existential threat of global warming, the entire world must generate all its energy this way. Australia has a long way to go. At present we get about 12% of our electricity from renewable energy, countries like N.Z. and Scotland will be near enough to 100% renewable by 2020.

The main drawback of renewable energy is the variability of supply. To get to the essential stage where we can claim that our electricity supply is absolutely 100% fossil fuel free, we have to incorporate storage options. Increasingly various battery options are becoming viable. For example, the Tesla Powerwall. In Germany, Mega-Watt scale battery storages are being trialled in order to help stabilise the grid. Large scale solar thermal power stations operate in Spain and at Ivenpah in the USA and store heat as molten salt.

However worldwide, the most common method of balancing the grid supply is using pumped hydro. This is where water is released into hydro turbines in periods of high demand, from an upper dam and then captured in a lower dam. The water is pumped back uphill to the upper dam, when the spot price of the grid electricity is cheaper due to lower demand. Instead of storing electrons in batteries, the energy is stored as water at height i.e. Gravitational Potential Energy. Pumped hydro has been deployed in the Snowy Mountains for decades and recently ARENA has given a $4 million grant for a feasibility study of a pumped hydro scheme at a disused gold mine near Townsville.

The Hazelwood brown coal power station in the Latrobe Valley, the required cooling is provided by water from the Hazelwood Pondage.  This is 840 ha of water of an average depth of at least a metre. This could be the upper dam of a pumped hydro scheme after the power station closes in the near future. The lower dam could of course be scooped out of the existing Morwell open cut, which lies about 100 m lower than the Pondage. The Melbourne Energy Institute has estimated that a 1000 MW system could be built.  This is 1000 MW of instantly dispatchable electricity, available at the flick of a switch.

This project has other advantages: It makes use of what would otherwise by useless wasteland of the old open cut, the switchyards and other infrastructure are already in place, it would draw tourists, the lower dam would not take up even 1 % of the open cur, leaving the rest for beautification, it would still keep some wealth in the area long term, after the coal fired power stations close, it would go a long way to making a totally renewable energy grid reliable.

The north facing sides of the open cut, could even be covered in solar panels producing even more renewable energy for the grid and fully account for the pumping of the water uphill. This sort of scheme ticks all the boxes for the decentralised, renewable energy grid of the future, where the network is there to top up the existing small-scale generation spread around the state. For more information read the following link from the Melbourne Energy Institute below.


Wanted: a new Climate Coalition? (27.12)

STP Logo

As elaborated in previous blogs I am not a party political person. However I have joined or tried to form single issue parties on several occasions. But my loyalty has always been to the issue rather than the party. When the Nuclear Disarmament Party split in 1985 I departed to spend a long time in the ‘political wilderness’.  After the 2007 election and the ‘Ruddslide’ I tried to join the Climate Change Coalition (CCC) – then a registered political party. Wikipedia notes “the Climate Change Coalition (CCC), was an Australian Political Party, which was formed in 2007 with a view to accelerate action by politicians from all parties on global warming and climate change” and that the CCC was originally “a grouping of 21 Independents in NSW.”

In the election aftermath the CCC was already disintegrating as all their candidates (mainly Senate) had lost their deposits. Even though they had excellent candidates, including Dr Karl Kruszelnicki and Patrice Newell in NSW, their expectations at the polls were far too high, and they managed to arrange some politically disastrous preference flows. It remains a shame the party could not have held out a few more years.

Currently there are two organisations I am aware of that qualify as single issue climate change parties – Save the Planet (STP) and the Renewable Energy Party (REP). I have been a member of the former for about 18 months but dislike the name which posits it as a ‘left green’ environmental party. Because of this its ability to appeal across the political spectrum – which is what real single issue parties must do – is severely limited. Links to both these single issue parties can be found on the side bar. The REP is based in northern NSW and the STP in Melbourne.

Reading between the lines the membership numbers of both parties are not great and I assume neither has the numbers required for registration. This assumption may be wrong and it would be nice for it to be so. But if correct the approaching Federal Election – probably not until August 2016 at the earliest – presents the organisers of these parties with a conundrum. Should they join together to get registered? Both organisations have already invested heavily in websites, logos, slogans, pamphlets and a plethora of advertising material and naturally enough seem unwilling to forsake this effort.

Perhaps the solution is a revival of a ‘Climate Coalition’ of some sort with the individual organisations retaining most of their independence and becoming the NSW and Victorian branches. Should such an organisation be formed or, miraculously, either the STP or the REP somehow manage to get registered, I offer myself as a possible candidate in the seat of Gippsland in 2016. One lesson the CCC demise emphasizes is that the main aim of a single issue party should be to set the agenda rather than to win seats. Isn’t it time that the organisers of both these parties started talking?


Mallacoota Sustainable Energy Group (MSEG) 23.12


by Brian Reed

MSEG has two strands to its approach to electricity issues in Mallacoota. One is to improve our use of renewables and reduce our CO2 footprint, and the other is to improve the reliability of the service. It is the second of these strands that involves the use of micro-grids, or ‘islanding’.  Micro-grids are becoming more common in remote or mining towns, and now often include renewable energy, but Mallacoota would have been an Australian pioneer in ‘islanding’ had we been able to secure funding to proceed with the recommendations of the feasibility study.

Islanding is a type of micro-grid that involves being able to disconnect a site or town already connected to the grid safely when there is a problem. It is most useful in ‘end of grid’ situations such as ours, where most problems occur on the incoming line, rather than locally. Although this has been done overseas, it was a technical and regulatory challenge in our proposal, having never been done before in Australia with a grid connected town.

Islanding Mallacoota if there is an incoming line fault allows our considerable rooftop solar resources to continue to be used (what is more frustrating than to have the power out on a sunny day, and not be able to use your own solar power?). However, an islanded site must be able to supply its full energy requirement at any time, day or night, or there will be brown-outs or worse. Consequently, islanding is only feasible if there is sufficient local generating capacity in place. In our case that means 1Mw plus, 24 hours a day. The original proposal would have provided that, including a large solar component, but it was a large project which would have been reliant on government support, which was not forthcoming at the time.

While we still hope for support for a project of this scale in the future, in the meantime we intend to investigate options for smaller, step by step Community Owned Renewable Energy projects, to address our first strand objective. Any increase in renewables in town helps our community carbon footprint, and the more success we have, the closer we will be to having sufficient local capacity to support islanding. Proof of success in such smaller projects should also improve our chances of ultimately getting support for the cost of islanding.

Islanding can also occur on a domestic/household level with solar and battery storage minimising reliance on the grid. There a few such systems in Mallacoota (including my own), and they are now becoming available in the general commercial market, with improvements in Li ion battery technology.


Heatwaves & Reflective Rooftops 20.12


Rooftop of Unit before Solar panels installed

During the heatwave preceding Black Saturday in February 2009 we were living in our solar powered stand-alone house in the bush. Normally the mudbrick construction with walls 20cm thick was reasonable insulation. The cathedral roof had a small, and as it turned out, inadequate air space insulated with foil. But the series of hot days of over 40 degrees with nights not that much cooler meant that after 3 days the heat inside the house at 6am in the morning was still about 33 degrees. Basically intolerable. With our stand-alone system there were power restraints and thus no air conditioner – just 2 small portable fans draped with damp cloths.

The solution we adopted was to get the iron roof painted with white reflective paint. This is geo-engineering on a very small scale – but one practiced for hundreds of years in the Greek islands with their regularly white washed cottages and town buildings. The job was done by the contractor in about 3 hours and the results were highly satisfactory. The roof temperature difference was an amazing result for such a simple action. After the job had been completed I could easily hold my hand down flat on the painted surface but a small piece of exposed iron was far too hot to handle. The downside was that the house was cooler in winter thus requiring some heating or an extra jumper on the occasional frosty morning. It is apparent that the winter is also getting warmer although every now and then we still experience an extreme cold event. The exercise to make the house still liveable in very hot weather was successful.

After moving to our retirement unit in town we have repeated the process. The tiled roof was restored and painted with reflective paint (though cream rather than pure white) before our solar panels were installed. To this we have added extra insulation, a reverse cycle air-conditioner and are working on window curtains and shades. Now with grid connected power all this is fine until the grid fails. Hopefully the insulation, draught proofing and other features will be functioning well and ameliorate the heat when this occurs.

When passing through suburbia on our way to the city we see plenty of PV panels and solar hot water systems. But mainly we see endless numbers of large oversized houses, with no eaves and dark roofs – an architectural folly unprepared for the increasing number of heatwaves we are only beginning to experience.


Community Owned Renewable Energy – Bairnsdale Workshop 20.12

Hepburn wind

Hepburn Community Wind

A community owned renewable energy workshop was held recently in Bairnsdale with about 40 people attending from across Gippsland. This followed on from a workshop in Leongatha earlier this month. There were representatives from Mallacoota and Orbost, Heyfield, Sale and Mirboo North with active or aspiring community energy projects in various stages of progress. These varied from an aborted plan of Heyfield to install one of Fred Sundermann’s low head submerged hydro-generators to the ambitions of the Mallacoota Sustainable Energy Group to cover their sewage facility with solar and establish a micro-grid. (blog from Brian Reed to follow soon)

Gippsland2020’s work with the Segue Community Cafe in Stratford was one of the few projects making progress. In conjunction with Rod Horton of NRGwise Gippsland2020 have already installed a heat pump in Segue to replace their aging and inefficient hot water service. They now intend to place enough solar on the roof to completely power the Café. Basically it is financed by persuading consumers to change their energy retailer to Powershop (a renewable energy retailer) and direct the funds from this transfer to Gippsland2020 and through them to the Segue Café. Hopefully savings at Segue can then be directed to other projects in Stratford. Unfortunately this work has received no publicity so far and thus generated little community interest.

The workshop was organised by Rebecca Lamble, environment officer at the East Gippsland Shire. Other shire representatives were present along with a small group from East Gippsland Water who have a number of interesting renewable energy projects in progress. The facilitators of the workshop were Luke Wilkinson of Sustainability Victoria, Taryn Lane of Hepburn Wind and Embark, Gavin Ashley of Moreland Energy Foundation and Nicky Ison of Community Power Agency. Taryn briefly outlined the pioneering and inspiring work done by Hepburn Wind.

The Victoria Government has provided an excellent guide (with a few blemishes) which “consolidates existing knowledge and resources and provides links to further information, resources and assistance.”  The Guide is available to download at:  The Coalition for Community Energy website is at

Having solar on every rooftop, plus community projects for storage, energy efficiency, micro-grids, wind generators, bioenergy (not native forest) and pumped solar is a step in the right direction. Now that Australia has signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change events like these should mushroom across Gippsland, Victoria and Australia. It’s time for the community owned renewable energy revolution.


A Black Marlin Fishery for Gippsland? 16.12


Black Marlin

I have recently been blogging on examples of species moving polewards in response to a warming planet as per the predictions in the CSIRO publication by Holper & Torok Climate Change (2008) where species (presumably land based but not specified) were moving southwards at a rate of 6km per decade. An article sent to me recently notes that the Black Marlin (Istiopmax indica) are moving southwards at a far greater rate.

The article by Bridge, Tobin and Reside noted that the “coastal waters of south-eastern Australia are a climate change hotspot, warming at a rate three to four times the global average. This is in part due to an increase in the strength and southward penetration of the East Australian Current (EAC), which carries warm water from the tropics down Australia’s east coast” and significantly “also identified a strong effect of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with black marlin habitat extending up to 300km further south during La Niña phases.” 

Bridge et al concluded: “We found that [their] habitat is shifting faster during summer months (111km per decade) in contrast to the rest of the year (77km per decade). This suggests that suitable habitat is extending south quicker than it is contracting at its northern edge.” This means the Black Marlin – a prized trophy fish – may already be in the ocean waters of Gippsland. Unfortunately we cannot “cherry pick” the few pieces of ‘good news’ associated with global warming. For every benefit we derive from the warming there is a long list on the downside. If not arrested in the coming decades, climate change threatens the downfall of civilisation. For further information on the Black Marlin story go to


Gippsland Lakes Knowledge Exchange Forum & Climate Change 13.12

Gipps Lakes2

I attended the morning session of this forum run by the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (EGCMA) held at Forestech, Kalimna West. A barrage of highly qualified speakers had excellent presentations with only very brief periods for question time or debate – in effect a one way process rather than an “exchange”. To me Climate Change was the “elephant in the room” though mentioned by at least 2 speakers one wonders why there was not a presentation precisely on this subject in relation to the Gippsland Lakes.

Engineer Rex Candy of the EGCMA and his organisation, to their credit,  have used the phrases “climate change” and “sea-level rise” for some time even though the local public is still resistant to their usage. They tend however to treat this as just another influencing factor rather than the overwhelming problem that it is. The marvellous work by Martin Potts on revegetation at the Western end of Lake Wellington, and the work by other academics on algal blooms, salinity, invasive and threatened species will all be lost if we face anything like worst-case scenarios of sea level rise.

Professor Paul Boon in his presentation about his studies on ‘salt tolerant phragmites’ mentioned climate change and “sea level rise” several times. His presentation gave a brief geomorphological history over the last 20,000 years and pointed out that sea level rises had risen 120m during that time and the level have been relatively stable over the last 4000 years. He also pointed out that the sea-levels were currently rising by about 3.5mm pa and briefly mentioned a possible 1m rise in 100 years.

This prompted a question from the audience that included a calculation based on the long term sea level rise comparing it with the current rate. The questioner calculated that the average sea level rise over the 20,000 year period Boon used was 6mm pa. Based on his calculation he then inferred that the current annual rise of 3.5mm was not so bad. The comparison he made is fallacious for a number of reasons. One is that there were no civilisations or coastal cities when those seas were rising. But the main reason it is faulty is because it assumes a neat linear progression in rising sea-levels and takes no account of abrupt changes.

A number of experts from James Hansen down have pointed out that the essential figure in the sea-level rise is the period in which the rate of increase doubles – that it is decidedly non-linear. For example the average annual rise in the last century was 1.7mm. It is now double that. If the rate at which the sea was rising was to double every 30 years or so this would present us with catastrophic outcomes. I have gone into this in some detail in my slightly dated essay on the Gippsland Coast in 2100 (downloadable pdf on Publications page) where I consider a number of other factors including subsidence, storm surge and Bruun’s law of coastal retreat as well as sea-level rise. Should anything anywhere near approaching worst case scenarios of climate change and sea-level rise eventuate this will make much, if not all, of the valuable work presented at the forum redundant.