Gippsland News & Views

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.

The Baw Baw Sustainability Network

An overview of the BBSN by Mal McKelvie.

BBSustain

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

DIGITAL CAMERA

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 https://petergardner.info/2015/12/this-changes-everything-screened-at-paynesville-6-12/  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. http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/time-to-choose-watch-the-new-film-from-oscar-winner-charles-ferguson_565c5678e4b079b2818acee0?section=Australia

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 gippsland2020.org 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.

http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/lets-turn-latrobe-valley-coal-pits-into-hydro-storage-for-renewables-91630

 

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

Mallacoota-1

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.