Saturday 5 August 2006

Farcical affair shoots down Campbell's credibility

The Australian
Analysis - Ewin Hannan
August 05, 2006

Ian Campbell's stunning cave-in has undermined his credibility and cast a long shadow over the Howard Government's environmental approval process. Despite ferocious spin, Campbell had little option but to cut a deal. If the court case had run its course, he was a strong chance to lose. Bemused taxpayers would have footed a significant legal bill.

But even in defeat, Campbell was selective with the facts. He claimed he stopped the wind farm because his Biosis report found it would have a "significant" impact on the orange-bellied parrot. The report actually found the mortality rate would be "very small".

Like a drowning man, Campbell seized on a 2003 Victorian departmental submission to a planning panel which said the wind farm would increase the "level of threat" to the parrot. While it did not use the site, the submission says it was highly likely to fly across it, often at rotor height.

What Campbell doesn't say is the panel considered the submission, with many others, and found there was no threat. Its June 2004 report says "there is no significant likelihood of harm" to the bird.

Even the department submission did not recommend stopping the wind farm. Campbell did.

Lawyers for Wind Power, which wanted to build the farm, believed they would have won the legal action because Campbell failed to show them the Biosis report before blocking the project. It appeared to them to be a straightforward denial of natural justice.

Yesterday, Campbell argued he did not disclose the report because Wind Power had forced his hand by taking separate legal action this year to push him to make a decision. But this doesn't ring true.

Campbell took 18 months to make a decision after putting it on hold after the 2004 federal election. He could have given the company time to respond to the Biosis report.

The reality is Campbell kept shopping around until he got the advice he wanted.

In December 2004, consultants engaged by his department to examine all parrot material, including the state planning panel, found the threat to the parrot was "negligible". His department was told no more studies were necessary.

But Campbell kept digging. After conducting the Biosis study, he received advice from his own department recommending he approve the wind farm. Instead of cutting his losses, Campbell persisted and has now been forced into an embarrassing backdown. It has been a sorry farce.

Campbell reconsiders wind farm ban

Friday August 4, 12:39 PM

The Federal Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, has agreed to set aside his decision to scrap a wind farm planned for South Gippsland in Victoria. In April, Senator Campbell overturned Victorian Government approval for a 52 wind turbine farm at Bald Hills.

Senator Campbell said he scrapped the project to protect the orange-bellied parrot.

But the Victorian Government attacked the decision because a consultant's report estimated that at worst, only one parrot would be put at risk about every 600 years. "We believe that he hadn't shown due regard for process and we have been vindicated," Victorian Planning Minister Rob Hulls said.

Proponents of wind power have agreed to drop a legal challenge against the decision because Senator Campbell has agreed to consider new information on the proposal. "I think it's a good outcome for taxpayers and a good outcome for the environment," he said. Mr Hulls says Senator Campbell's move to reconsider the decision proves it was politically motivated.

"This Minister has used his position and the federal legislation as nothing more than his political plaything," he said. The Federal Government will also pay the company's legal costs.

China to make industry pay for pollution

The Australian
Rowan Callick, China correspondent
August 04, 2006

CHINA will order industry to pay for the right to discharge noxious sulphur dioxide in a market-driven attempt to tackle its chronic air pollution problem. Under a plan to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 10 per cent, China, which leads the world in air pollution as well as driving economic growth, will also introduce emission trading deals.

The World Bank says 16 of the world's most polluted cities are in China, and that 400,000 people a year die from related illnesses.

Department of Pollution Control director-general Li Xinmin said yesterday that sulphur dioxide emissions rose 27 per cent in the five years to the end of last year, during which the country's coal consumption - the main culprit - grew by more than 800million tonnes.

He said restricting the sulphur dioxide rise to 27 per cent was an achievement, given soaring coal-fired power generation.

"That means it's still under effective control," he said. "Without restrictive measures it would have been much worse.

"Coal accounts for 70 per cent of China's energy consumption. This fact is hard to change in the short term." Half of the coal is used to generate power.

But overall, he said, during 2000-05, 22 per cent more cities brought their air quality up to a required national standard, while the number with unacceptable air quality fell by 24 per cent.

Last year, 357 out of 696 cities being monitored were found to have acid rain.

Mr Li said that during the new five-year plan that had just started, the Government was seeking an ambitious 10 per cent fall in sulphur dioxide emissions.

He said the State Environmental Protection Administration would tackle this task through pilot projects on selling emission rights and establishing emission trading, through technological change - including installing desulfurisation units in coal power plants - and through publishing more often and more publicly the names of enterprises that meet pollution targets and those that do not.

The Government would also introduce tougher vehicle emission standards and phase out the vehicles that failed to meet them.

In Beijing alone, he said, the city authorities were planning to take 300,000 unacceptable cars off the roads by the end of next year - in time to help ensure the tough target of a clean, green Olympic Games in August 2008.

Mr Li said this push to remove polluting vehicles, plus measures to improve fuel quality, was the 12th stage of Beijing's Olympics-driven environmental program. The other 11 stages, he said, had each cost up to $16 billion.

He said that by 2008 all heavy industry, led by Capital Steel Company, would be moved out of Beijing, and that the boilers in the heart of the city would be converted from coal to liquefied petroleum gas. Beijing Chemical Works has been closed down.

In surrounding provinces, 185 businesses that failed to comply with environmental standards were shut down last year, he said.

Partly as a result, Beijing had met its target of 63per cent of the days in 2005 meeting national air quality standards.

Mr Li said that "after years of stable and rapid growth", the Government was now shifting to a more balanced strategy "to optimise growth by environmental measures. Faced by such rapid growth, we are strengthening our supervision".

He said a claim published yesterday that almost 25 per cent of Los Angeles's air pollution came from China was "not trustworthy because such findings don't have a solid scientific basis".

Cedar Rapids Secretary Pushes Renewable Energy

August 2, 2006

Frank Miller spends a lot of money each month on energy. "We travel from Iowa City everyday to sell sweet corn, so we have to watch our costs there," says Johnson County Farmer Frank Miller. He says the combination of cooling his home, fueling his truck and harvesting his crops makes for a very tight budget.

Miller says the price of energy isn't the only thing destroying his profit margin. "Our corn prices are just terrible, we're actually producing right at cost, so we're not making anything," says Miller. He says he's looking to ethanol to take his farm to the next level. "We're hoping to get these plants going in Cedar Rapids, to use some our corn and beans for biodiesel," said Miller.

Miller's customer Curtis Edgar says he's just learned to deal with the high prices. He says he won't stop cooling his house or stop driving to save money. Edgar says,"If we're going to cutback, we'll cut back somewhere else."

Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman says Iowans are on the right track with ethanol and using wind power. "I can tell you that this is a major crisis in a lot of American families. I know that the president knows that," said Secretary Bodman. Secretary Bodman says the government is working on getting more energy supplies to bring down prices. They are also investing in wind, solar and ethanol energies. Bodman says change will take time, but eventually prices should go down.

Edgar says,"Sometimes it might get tight at the end of the month, but it always works out." That's news Iowans like Frank Miller and Curtis Edgar are glad to hear. "The American public just can keep doing this forever," says Miller.

Avista exec has a hand in federal decisions about alternative fuel vehicles

Mail Tribune
Thu, Aug 3, 2006

Newly appointed to an energy board advising the U.S. secretary of energy and Congress, Medford Avista executive Steve Vincent has joined efforts in recommending the fast-tracking of alternative fuel vehicles, creating a system of renewable energy credits that can be traded and making energy conservation a "moral imperative."

Just back from a week of talks with the State Energy Advisory Board in Washington, D.C., Vincent, Avista's regional business manager, said his panel in August will finalize five major recommendations — including making power plants part of Homeland Security, which is now only happening "to the smallest degree."

Continuing a major focus on "moving away from petroleum," said Vincent, the board also will ask the Department of Energy to better publicize new technology coming out of its labs, especially about alternative-fuel vehicles, so it can be commercialized more quickly in the private sector.

Although the panel is only advisory and has no legal power, Vincent said its DOE contact, Andrew Karsner, the new assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, has shown "a lot of receptivity" and wants the department to seriously engage in alternative-vehicle fuels.

The board wants DOE to actively promote early use of such new transportation fuels as natural gas, ethanol and biodiesel by "pulling together the best practices in communities and use that to deploy it state to state," said Vincent. "This will help us move away from petroleum, clean the air and allow us to get away from energy security issues and why we have conflict in the Mideast."

The panel, composed mainly of state secretaries of energy and utility heads, wants DOE to set up a system of tradable credits based on energy efficiency and renewable energy, such as biomass, solar and wind power — something "now just in its infancy in the U.S.," Vincent said.

He called credits "the least-cost plan" for mainstreaming alternative energy use — "and the least-cost plan is what utilities are into."

So-called renewable portfolio standards allowing for such credits have been passed by almost half the states, including California and Montana. Gov. Kulongoski will ask the Oregon Legislature to adopt them next session, said Vincent.

The panel is asking DOE to embrace a vigorous program of education to "transform energy efficiency in the market into a moral imperative," said Vincent, rather than "just another brand of light bulb, which is how the public now thinks of it."

Asked if the panel's recommendations will have clout in the White House and Congress, Vincent said,"That's a good question. You wonder if an advisory board is there for show or if they will take your recommendations seriously. I do believe there's a lot of receptivity. The president did devote half his State of the Union speech to energy-related issues."

The panel will ask DOE to "consider energy security to be part of Homeland Security" and try to insert itself into Homeland Security's efforts so that power generation facilities are protected.

"Right now it's about protecting ports and helicopters and such from terrorism," Vincent said. "Energy has to be on that list."

Vincent was recently appointed to a two-year term on the board by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. Its Web site,, says its mission is to develop recommendations for DOE and Congress on policies for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, helping bring consistency among federal, state and local efforts.

Vincent serves as president of the Oregon Economic Development Association, is a member of the Oregon Department of Treasury's Growth Account Board and the Governor's Unemployment Insurance Diversion Task Force, and serves in several roles with Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

Blair defies Bush on cells and gases

The Times
August 02, 2006

LOS ANGELES: Tony Blair broke ranks with George W.Bush on Monday to announce agreements with the state of California to cut greenhouse gases and promote stem cell research, in defiance of White House policy. The British Prime Minister met California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to lay the groundwork for a new transAtlantic carbon trading system designed to encourage companies to reduce emissions.

Frustration with the US President's refusal to cut carbon emissions has driven Britain to risk the wrath of the White House and do business with the states on climate change. The deal with California, to be signed after a summit in Los Angeles, came after Mr Blair publicly defied the White House and called for extra investment in stem cell research.

Downing Street hopes the two new agreements will end criticism that Mr Blair is slavishly loyal to Mr Bush. The Prime Minister's spokesman even abandoned the usual loyal language used about the White House when discussing the two agreements.

Asked if Britain risked antagonising Mr Bush, he said: "It is important we can work with people who are like-minded and have the same perspective on things." Privately, Mr Blair is furious Mr Bush has refused to act on climate change.

The White House not only withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol but also has since tried to cast doubt on the science of global warming, saying it has not been proved that climate change is a man-made phenomenon. It is refusing to limit emissions.

Stem cell research is another major policy difference in the "special relationship" between the two nations. Mr Bush has used his veto to block federal funding for stem cell research on embryos. But at a meeting with the biotechnology industry in San Francisco, Mr Blair said the research was vital to advance medical science.

During the meeting with some of the biggest players in the industry, Mr Blair lauded Britain's liberal regulations, which permit almost everything except embryo cloning. He said Britain was a haven for scientists frustrated with the restrictions in the US, and urged them to work in Britain.

Wednesday 2 August 2006

Senator Campbell Caught Out Again On Parrots

Rob Hulls - Attorney General Minister for Industrial Relations Minister for Planning

Media Statement - 29 July 2006

The Federal Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, has again exposed his appalling ignorance about his own portfolio with his latest claims about the Bald Hills wind farm and the risk to endangered orange-bellied parrots.

The Minister for Planning, Rob Hulls, and the Deputy Premier and Environment Minister, John Thwaites, said Senator Campbell's claims about supposed secret departmental advice to the Bracks Government were nonsensical.

"This would be laughable if it was not so serious," said the Planning Minister, Mr Hulls. "Senator Campbell is referring to a departmental submission to a public and independent panel process investigating the project's environmental impacts.

"The department presented a power point on its submission at the public hearings, and distributed its submission to everyone present. Its findings and recommendations were quoted in the final panel report, a copy of which was sent to the Federal Government and is also on the internet.

"So Senator Campbell is being either dumb or deceitful. He was certainly too lazy, apparently, to read the panel report as part of his own assessment of this project.

"If he thinks this submission is a secret, then he must also think Peter Costello doesn't want the Prime Minister's job. "Senator Campbell's credibility is in tatters and John Howard should get rid of him before he causes any more damage to Australia's environment."

The Deputy Premier and Environment Minister, John Thwaites, said the DSE submission referred to an increased risk but did not quantify it, and recommended compensatory habitat management. "Senator Campbell's own independent consultants, Biosis, then went on to quantify the risk, and their modelling found it to be potentially one dead parrot every 1000 years.

"Unlike Senator Campbell, we heeded the advice from the independent panel, which assessed this and other expert submissions and recommended that the wind farm be approved. "Senator Campbell received the same advice from his department, and ignored it."

Why nuclear power won't stop climate change

Perth Indymedia
Wed, Aug 2, 2006

By Professor Ian Lowe AO, ACF President.

The debate about nuclear energy is welcome recognition of the urgent need to respond to climate change. But the nuclear option is not a wise response. It is too costly, too dangerous, too slow and makes too little impact on greenhouse pollution. That is why most of the developed world is rejecting the nuclear option in favour of renewable energy and improved efficiency.

There is no serious doubt that climate change is real, it is happening now and its effects are accelerating. It is already causing serious economic impacts such as reduced agricultural production, increased costs of severe events like fires and storms, and the need to consider radical water supply measures such as desalination plants. So we should set a serious target for reducing our rate of releasing carbon dioxide, like the UK goal of 60% by 2050.

The economics of nuclear power just don't stack up. The real cost of nuclear electricity is certainly more than for wind power, energy from bio-wastes and some forms of solar energy. Geothermal energy from hot dry rocks also promises to be less costly than nuclear. That is without including the huge costs of decommissioning power reactors and storing the radioactive waste.

So there is no economic case for nuclear power and investors are turning their backs on nuclear energy. The number of reactors in western Europe and the USA peaked 15 years ago and has been declining since. By contrast, the amount of wind power and solar energy is increasing at rates of 20 to 30 per cent per annum.

Nuclear power is too dangerous. There is not just the risk of accidents like Chernobyl, but the increased risk of nuclear weapons or nuclear terrorism. It remains the case, as the Ranger Inquiry found nearly thirty years ago, that increased export of Australian uranium would contribute to proliferation of nuclear weapons. This is a major security issue in our region as well as globally.

Nuclear power also inevitably produces radioactive waste that will have to be stored safely for hundreds of thousands of years. After nearly fifty years of the nuclear power experiment, nobody has yet demonstrated a solution to this problem. In the absence of a viable solution, expanding the rate of waste production is just irresponsible.

Nuclear power is too slow to make a difference. Even if all government approvals were granted, it would still take about ten more years and several billion dollars to construct a power station and deliver the first unit of electricity. Wind turbines can be up and delivering power in six months. More efficient appliances can be reducing pollution tomorrow.

Nuclear power won't stop climate change. There would be a massive increase in greenhouse pollution from mining, processing and reactor construction before any electricity is generated. The known resources of high-grade uranium ores only amount to a few decades use at the present rate, so an expansion of nuclear power would see those resources rapidly depleted. The poorer grades of ore that would be used subsequently require much more conventional fuel energy.

To avoid dangerous further changes to our climate, we need to act now. We should make a commitment to the sensible alternatives that produce sustainable cost-effective reductions in greenhouse pollution: wind power, solar water heating, energy efficiency, gas and energy from organic matter.

US wind farm buy

Australian financial review
Tue, Aug 1, 2006

Babcock & Brown wind partners has bought interests in two farms in Texas and California for about $US 72million ($94 million) under a deal agreed before its IPO.

James Chessell writes....

Sydney Morning Herald
Tue, Aug 1, 2006

... And then there's Donald Robert "Don't Argue" Argus, who'll be blowing out 68 candles today. The Don needs no introduction. He's done a pretty good job at the helm of the BHP and Brambles boards and keeps bovines at the family farm in southern Victoria.

(Indeed, he was among those who opposed the proposed South Gippsland wind farm of orange-bellied parrot fame).

But while Melbourne claims Argus as one of their own, he remains a proud Bundaberg boy at heart. This means following Queensland's various rugby teams with far too much interest.

The big Seven-oh now beckons. It will be interesting to see how long Argus remains chairman of BHP and Brambles.....

Alternative power training centre opens

Maitland Mercury
Monday, 31 July 2006

An emerging skills shortage has sparked a new direction in training at a Telarah company, focused on wind, solar and water powered technologies. The Hunter Valley Training Company (HVTC) officially opened its electrotechnology training centre on Friday.

Based at the company's Hunter-V-Tec site, the new centre includes an electrical workshop, two classrooms and associated facilities and is designed specifically for training students in renewable energy.

A working renewable energy display was also set up, including solar panels, a wind turbine and a hydroelectricity area, which are used to power a water fountain, a stop-go sign, a battery and also return some electricity to Energy Australia's grid. The training company received $436,684 from the Federal Government in 2004, with the company contributing a matching amount to build the $873,368 facility.

HVTC general manager Peter Shinnick said the new training area had allowed them to increase the number of apprentices studying for their electrotechnology trade from 90 students to more than 200 each year.

The training will later be expanded to target qualified electricians entering the renewable energy industry. Mr Shinnick said the Federal Government's growing interest in renewable energies had opened up a new opportunity for the company and new career paths for the apprentices.

"Two years ago we identified a shortage of skills for new entrants into the workforce and existing workers in renewable energy," Mr Shinnick said. "There were no private registered training organisations and only some TAFE campuses delivering this training.

"We saw an opportunity to get into the training side and approached the Federal Government for some funding to help set it up. "We've also been able to offer this through school-based traineeships, we have 20 doing it at the moment and they think it's fantastic."

Cost of electricity in Michigan concerns businesses

AP Michigan News
July 29, 2006

Michigan's utility costs are higher than surrounding states and slightly above the national average for industrial customers, a factor that could cause some businesses to rethink whether they want to stay in Michigan. While natural gas rates in Michigan are relatively low, electricity rates are a concern for some industrial and commercial businesses, according to an April poll of 558 businesses conducted by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA.

Twenty-eight percent said utility costs were their most difficult costs to pay, ahead of taxes, worker's compensation and other items. Only insurance, pushed up by rapidly rising health care premiums, ranked higher than electricity and gas among businesses polled. "That's really a concern for industrial customers in Michigan when they look at whether they want to expand or stay in Michigan," says former Michigan Public Service Commission member Robert Nelson, who now deals with energy and telecommunications issues at the Lansing law office of Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap. "It probably has something to do with why some of these industrial users are leaving the state."

According to the federal Energy Information Administration, the average cost of electricity in April for industrial customers among five Upper Midwestern states -- Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin -- was 5.18 cents per kilowatt hour. Illinois and Indiana's costs were less than 5 cents per kwh, while Michigan topped the list at 5.90 cents. That compared to a national average of 5.76 cents. Gov. Jennifer Granholm knows the electric rates in surrounding states are lower for industrial customers. But she says some states' rates have been held down artificially by price freezes that are set to expire. Illinois customers, for instance, could see their prices rise 35 percent when a freeze expires at the end of the year, and she says Ohio customers could see an increase when a rate increase that has been deferred for three years is given the go-ahead.

The Democratic governor also notes that, among 10 major industrial states, Michigan in 2005 had the second-lowest natural gas rates, in part because the state has a lot of storage capacity, and the fourth-lowest electric rates when it came to industrial customers, according to the EIA. "Thirty-five percent of all manufacturing is done in states with higher gas and electric rates," she says. She adds that the Michigan Public Service Commission has trimmed the size of the rate increases requested by the state's major utilities in recent years. Consumers Energy Co. spokesman Dan Bishop says the utility's rates are below the national average, even though power generation is more expensive in Michigan because the state has to import the coal, oil and natural gas it uses to power its plants, unlike some states that have those resources on hand.

Still, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos says Michigan needs to lower energy costs in Michigan to make it more attractive to businesses. "What we see is that we do have high costs," he says. "Electricity is simply too expensive for Michigan job providers." DeVos pledges to encourage the building of more transmission lines so more power can be brought into the state and carried within it; to pursue wind and solar power; and to invest in alternative fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and biomass, a promise Granholm also has made.

Major customers usually get a break on rates, something that has helped General Motors Corp. with its new assembly plant in Delta Township near Lansing. Lansing Board of Water & Light spokesman Mark Nixon says the automaker pays an average of 4.93 cents per kwh, one reason it was economical to build the plant in the municipal utility's service area. A freeze on Michigan electric rates expired at the end of 2003 for industrial customers, at the end of 2004 for commercial customers and at the end of 2005 for residential customers; all saw increases when the freezes were lifted. But Granholm says no big rate increase is on the horizon in Michigan, and that the state's rates are competitive.

The EIA as of April ranked Michigan 26th highest nationally in electric rates for all classes of customers: residential, commercial and industrial. Michigan's average electric rate of 8.02 cents per kwh is lower than the national average of 8.39 cents, in part because both its residential and commercial rates are lower than the national average. Michigan also faces the need for a new power plant sometime in the next decade, and the cost of building a new plant could push up rates. In April, Granholm issued an executive directive requiring Public Service Commission Chairman Peter Lark to develop a comprehensive energy plan for the state by year's end.

Senate Technology and Energy Chairman Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, also is looking into a long-term state energy policy. Besides the possibility of a new power plant, the MPSC report also is expected to encourage the use of new technologies to improve energy efficiency, cleanliness and distribution. It also will explore ways to help the alternative energy industry grow in Michigan and require that a certain percentage of the state's energy supply come from renewable resources.

Michigan now gets about 55 percent of its power from coal-burning plants, with the rest coming mostly from nuclear power plants and gas- and oil-fired power plants. A small amount comes from hydroelectric plants and from renewable energy sources such as wind power and biomass, and a pumped-storage plant on Lake Michigan kicks in when demand is especially heavy. Some experts say a new plant likely would be powered with coal because it's the cheapest source of fuel. But new technology could create less polluting emissions than current coal-burning plants, and conservation and renewable energy could decrease the size of the plant needed to supply customers' needs, they add. Consumers Energy in Jackson and DTE Energy Co. in Detroit may express interest in building a new plant, though DTE spokesman Scott Simons says anyone who wants to build a plant will want guarantees that customers will pick up the tab to reassure investors.

Given the many new players in the utility field, some are urging that the state open the bidding process to everyone. Terry Harvill, vice president of Baltimore-based Constellation Energy, soon to be the nation's largest electricity generator, says "there are a lot of companies out there that would like to come in" and present their case that they could build a plant cheaper and faster than the existing utility companies. Harvill, a former DTE regulatory affairs director and Illinois utility regulator, says the company sells power to Michigan industrial and commercial customers from its Southfield office through programs that let business customers shop around for the cheapest supplier. "In today's market," he says,"there aren't really Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy areas anymore."

Monday 31 July 2006

Playing Politics With Parrots

The Australian, Page: 15
Monday, 31 July 2006

IT appears Environment Minister Ian Campbell's posture as protector of endangered wildlife is species-specific. And parrots, as well as politicians he approves of, are at the top of the tree. In April, the minister knocked back a $220 million wind power proposal for Bald Hills, in Victoria's Gippsland region, because it was a threat to the orange-bellied parrot. That all sorts of aggrieved locals did not want wind turbines blighting their landscape had nothing to do with it.

Nor was the fact that Senator Campbell's ministerial mate, Gippsland boss cockey Peter McGauran, reckons wind farms are a waste of space. Or that Bald Hills is in a marginal government seat. No, the minister made it clear his only motivation was to protect the parrot. That's parrot singular, not plural, because Senator Campbell said the Bald Hills project could kill one parrot a year.

On Friday night, the minister was holding the line, telling ABC TV's Latelinethat with only 50 breeding pairs left, all orange-bellied parrots were precious. It is hard to imagine deeper green credentials for any environment minister but the trouble is, rumours of the parrot's demise seem greatly exaggerated. As The Weekend Australian reported, the consultant's report Senator Campbell made much of was not rock-solid certain that the wind farms would reduce the parrot population. And the minister's own mandarins warned protecting the parrot was an inadequate argument for knocking back the Bald Hills proposal.

In exercising his authority, there is no reason to doubt Senator Campbell has acted according to the letter of the law. Whether he has adequately exercised his judgment in balancing the competing needs of his complex portfolio is entirely another issue. Senator Campbell works hard to ensure everybody understands his passion for aspects of the environment. He has fought Japanese attempts to start commercial whaling with all the energy of a Greenpeace zealot.

And his passion for parrots is a matter of record. But there is more to being Environment Minister than promoting particular causes. From wind farms to water storage, pipelines to pulp mills, every new development inevitably upsets people who want their patch to stay the same. By acting to block the Gippsland project on the basis of less than overwhelming evidence, Senator Campbell has provided legions of nimby's with a strategy to stop any development.

There are already suggestions that increasing protection for the orange-bellied parrot could deter development of other wind farms. And if that does not work, people opposed to any development need only learn to whine louder than a wind turbine. That certainly seemed to do the trick in Denmark, Western Australia, earlier this year, when Senator Campbell blocked a wind farm approved by the state Government and which had also won federal funding. But because the locals did not like it, the project, in Liberal Wilson Tuckey's electorate, did not get the tick from Senator Campbell.

And not a parrot in sight. It seems the minister is stronger on politics than policy. He can bang on about the importance of wind energy all he likes, but while he blocks proposals that upset some people or might - might - kill wildlife, his ability to handle the competing interests inherent in his portfolio will be suspect. On Lateline, Senator Campbell said the survival of the orangebellied parrot was not being taken seriously, with people making inappropriate allusions to Monty Python's famous dead Norwegian Blue.

It could be worse. At least nobody is suggesting transferring Senator Campbell to a post that may better suit him - say, Minister for Silly Walks.

Merinos no baa to turbines

The Sunday Age, Page: 20
Sunday, 30 July 2006

DO SHEEP have feelings? Do they suffer from too much noise? No, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has ruled in a bizarre case involving farmers Ann and Andrew Gardner, 400 fine-wool merino sheep, and opponent Macarthur Wind Farm Pty Ltd. At the centre of the case is a conflict about land use. Macarthur plans to build a wind farm next door to the Gardners and the Gardners, it appears, tried to stymie the wind farm by proposing to build two "farm-stay" units on their property, near the Victorian township of Macarthur.

The local council approved the Gardner's farm- stay units, but at VCAT, tribunal member J.A. Bennett knocked back the proposal, barely hiding his irritation about the squabble, saying it had "all the hallmarks of a riveting novel!" "It is apparent from the tenor of their submission that Mr and Mrs Gardner remain implacably opposed to the proposal for a wind energy facility on the adjoining property," Mr Bennett ruled. "I find it almost incomprehensible that Mr and Mrs Gardner would deliberately choose to locate two 'farm-stay units' so close to the boundary with the site for the proposed Macarthur wind energy facility. "And what about those extra special merino sheep? Well, the incensed Mr Bennett was just as hard on them.

He did not accept that merino sheep were any more sensitive than any other common or garden sheep, or horse, or human for that matter. "Each species has a 'normal' range of hearing with some individuals being more sensitive to noise than others," he ruled. "I would expect the same response with sheep as with any other animal. In other words, for the sheep to become used to the sound of wind turbines and for them to adapt accordingly.

I do not accept that the emotional wellbeing of sheep will be so adversely affected that their productivity will drop in the manner suggested by Mr and Mrs Gardner. "The merinos will just have to resort to... well, counting sheep.

Conserve energy to avoid a crisis

The Taipei Times
Friday, Jul 28, 2006, Page 8

Advertising Prices for electricity, gasoline, natural gas and cars, as well as train and plane tickets, have gone up recently. According to media reports, rising prices set against fixed salaries means that we are all getting poorer by the day. Indeed, fossil fuels are a limited resource, and with developing countries rushing to industrialize, intensified competition for resources and constant wars in the Middle East, oil prices are soaring. Summer temperatures in Taiwan have hit 37oC and torrential rains have followed. Global temperatures are rising every year, and the research data shows that the average global temperature has risen by 0.6oC over the past 100 years. The increase has been faster in recent years, and it is estimated that temperatures will have risen by between one and several degrees by the end of this century.

By then, the globe's climate will have undergone great change, with frequent floods and droughts. Melting polar ice caps will have caused sea levels to rise by several meters, inundating most of today's ports. Frequent forest fires will speed up the warming of the earth's surface and mankind will experience unprecedented disasters.

The current over-use of fossil fuels is creating a global greenhouse effect, leading us closer to irreversible environmental disaster.

To minimize the greenhouse effect, the UN is promoting the Kyoto Protocol, which places national restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. Although Taiwan is not a signatory to the agreement, 98 percent of our energy is imported, and we have to abide by the regulations to avoid international sanctions. The general public should understand this and the need for a campaign to promote reduced carbon emissions and energy conservation.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we could use green renewable energy sources such as biomass, solar power, wind power, geothermal heat or nuclear power.

Biomass energy uses ethanol made from fermenting plants. With minor adjustments, engines can run on a mixture of gasoline and ethanol. The high cost can be offset with the application of more advanced technology, but scientists estimate that even if all land not used to plant grain was used to grow plants to make ethanol, it would still only provide 30 percent of global energy needs.

Solar-powered batteries are even more costly, but are still a favored option. The pollution created by the chemicals used in the process of manufacturing such batteries, however, must be dealt with. Wind power and geothermal power have advantages and shortcomings, but location and seasonal restraints mean that it will be difficult for these options to be used universally.

Nuclear power, meanwhile, scares many people because it is widely associated with nuclear weapons, and we also lack a good method for handling radioactive waste. More serious, uranium supplies are limited, and if countries start to use large amounts of nuclear power, uranium supplies will soon be depleted.

The energy needed to extract usable uranium from low-grade uranium is too great and is not offset by the energy produced. Breeder reactors can solve the fuel problem, but because of worries that such reactors may be used in the production of nuclear bombs, the international community will not deregulate their use. Although closed breeder reactors could be used, it is very difficult to predict when that technology will be mature.

The method bringing the greatest practical economic benefit is to simply save energy. If, when we were children, we were taught the habit of saving energy, it would not be difficult to reduce energy use by 10 percent or 20 percent. Not only would this help solve energy shortages, it would also reduce personal expenditures, as well as national expenditures -- to the tune of billions of dollars in foreign currency.

By setting the air conditioner to 28oC instead of 23oC, we can reduce energy usage by 30 percent, and by buying a small car instead of a large one, we might cut the use of gasoline by half. By taking the bus we use even less gas. There is no need to have all the lights on in the evening or to use warm water when taking a shower during summer. Furthermore, walking shorter distances instead of taking the car is both healthy and a money-saver.

A large part of our energy is consumed by industry and business, and corporate leaders should be constantly thinking about how to move from energy-hungry manufacturing into the knowledge, service and cultural industries. Businesses that develop energy-saving home appliances, machinery and manufacturing processes will be highly profitable.

Although implementing taxes and price restrictions is the most effective strategy when trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption, such policies will meet with opposition from many quarters. Widespread promotion in the media will make the general public accept such policies.

Tsong Tien-tzou is a former director of the Institute of Physics at Academia Sinica and currently a fellow at Academia Sinica.

Cost focus returns to green plan

The Weekend Australian, Page: 11
Saturday, 29 July 2006

THE widening gap in the approaches of the federal and state governments to delivering a greener energy future threatens to be counter-productive and expensive. The Victorian Government's commitment that by 2010 about 10 per cent of its electricity consumption will be from renewable sources runs counter to the federal Government's decision not to increase the national mandatory renewable target (MRET). MRET, introduced in 2001, requires the sourcing of 9500 gigawatt hours of extra renewable electricity a year by 2010 through to 2020.One reason for the federal Government's decision not to expand MRET is that it feared it represented a longterm subsidy to windpower, which would lead to higher electricity prices.

The Victorian Government has no such qualms and is committed to having up to 1000 megawatts of wind energy installed in environmentally acceptable locations by the end of this year, a plan somewhat stymied by party politics and the concern of federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell for the fate of the orangebellied parrot. But something is missing in the debate: if renewable energy is the future why aren't we all adopting it?Access Economics argues that the assumed increase in windpower in the Victorian electricity system, and associated electricity prices, is projected to impose economic costs in the Victorian economy equivalent to $108 million in 2010.Access made the point that to achieve the best result for emissions reduction on a national basis a number of approaches to abatement would have to be adopted, not just establishing mandatory targets. But according to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, VRET will cost the average household about $1 a month and will be offset by cost reductions, while the overall impact on business costs is estimated to be less than 0.1 per cent.

The renewable energy debate is again becoming fast and furious, but this time it is the states making the running in the absence of a clear national policy to encourage alternatives to using fossil fuels.

Wind farm ban a marginal call

The Weekend Australian
July 29, 2006

NO one was talking about the orange-bellied parrot when Environment Minister Ian Campbell declared, two days into the last election campaign, that the Bald Hills wind farm - smack in the middle of prime marginal seat territory - was in trouble. With the 52-turbine project in the heart of Victoria's Gippsland a stormy local issue, Liberal candidate Russell Broadbent was anxious for Campbell to rule a line through the $220million proposal in a bid to steal a march on his Labor rival in the area.

While the rare parrot was yet to fly into the picture, Campbell insisted he had "undoubted powers" to veto the wind farm. Three days before polling day, Campbell delivered for Broadbent - writing to agitated local voters, urging them to send a message to Labor that they were not "happy to play host to increasing numbers of wind turbines in your region".

While Campbell formally put Bald Hills on hold three days after Broadbent won the seat, it was not until April this year that he killed off the wind farm, citing the threat to the orange-bellied parrot, an issue that Broadbent now admits was not on the radar in the 2004 campaign.

The Weekend Australian can reveal that not only did Campbell reject his own department's advice to approve the wind farm, he kept on commissioning studies despite being told that further research was inappropriate and that the threat to the bird was "negligible".

He eventually found a study he was happy with.

But the author of the Biosis report relied on by Campbell has told The Weekend Australian that no parrots were seen at Bald Hills; that he was unaware of the closest sighting; and could not accurately predict the bird's collision rate with the wind turbines.

Dispite the growth in wind farms in part being driven by the Howard Government's Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets, they have been a growing political wedge for the Liberals. Cabinet ministers, including Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran, whose seat of Gippsland neighbours Broadbent's, have reacted to community opposition to attack the wind industry and Labor's support for it.

"We can't figure out why Campbell's done this," said Stephen Buckle, the managing director of the project developer Wind Power. "Why is he so desperate to keep an election promise in a marginal seat? Maybe it comes from Howard who says to his ministers that we have to protect marginal seats at all costs."

Campbell has argued that he acted because Biosis found the turbines could result in up to one extra parrot death each year. But author Ian Smales said he never intended to find out the number of birds that would be killed at Bald Hills and that the one death was the potential impact of 23 wind farms, built and unbuilt.

Moreover, the predicted death rate was only an "informed scenario" and "should not be construed as being anything other than a possibility within the context of the overall cumulative modelling project".

Documents seen by The Weekend Australian show that, weeks after the last election, Campbell's department commissioned consultants to review all research done in the previous two years into the impact of Bald Hills on birds.

The company, Latitude 42 Environmental Consultants, was asked to examine the likely impact on listed and threatened migratory bird species; the relevance of bird-strike modelling and the need to do further species-specific surveys.

Its draft December 2004 report was clear-cut, finding the site did not support an abundance of birds; had few, if any, listed threatened species; and low numbers of listed migratory species. It ruled out the need for further research, saying "more sophisticated modelling would seem inappropriate and unlikely to yield meaningful predictions".

"Additional species-specific surveys are unlikely to add much value or additional information in terms of (legislative) requirements, and any impacts on bird populations appear likely to be negligible."

Over the next three months, Buckle sought information from Campbell's department about when the minister would make a decision. By March last year, the department was telling Buckle that before Campbell could make a decision, he wanted another study. This time it would not just be on Bald Hills, but on the cumulative impact of all existing and proposed wind farms in Tasmania, Victoria, NSW and South Australia on a range of migratory birds.

The department told Buckle in May that it expected to receive the information by the end of June, and Campbell would then be able to make a decision.

Campbell has defended the broad review, saying it was necessary because of the growing interest in wind farms and the need to understand the collective harm they might have on listed species. The work conducted by Biosis went against the earlier consultants' advice and investigated individual bird species, including the parrot. It was not finished until January.

Biosis found the mortality rate on all the wind farms - built or not - on the parrot would be "very small". However, in findings subsequently seized on by Campbell, it said given that the parrot already had a high probability of extinction,"almost any negative impact could be sufficient to tip the balance against its continued existence".

"In this context, it may be argued that any avoidable deleterious effect - even the very minor predicted impacts of turbine collisions - should be prevented," the report says.

But it added that such action would have "extremely limited beneficial value to the conservation of the parrot" without addressing much greater adverse affects operating against it.

Two months later, Campbell had still not made a decision. On March 10, he received written advice from Gerard Early, a departmental first assistant secretary, recommending he approve the wind farm.

Early's detailed advice, seen by The Weekend Australian, says that based on all the available research, including the Latitude 42 and Biosis reports, the impact on listed threatened and migratory species was "acceptable".

Early told Campbell the harm to the parrot was likely to be "negligible and there is no threat of serious or irreversible damage" to the bird given "no orange-bellied parrot has been recorded there; there appears to be no suitable habitat on the site; (and) even through the assessment report has noted the occasional parrot may fly across the site in the migration season, it is not considered to be a major migration passage".

Early said that if the minister considered there was the threat of a serious or irreversible impact on the parrot from the wind farm, he would need to rely on the Biosis conclusion that any negative impact on the parrot would threaten its continued existence. He said Campbell would have to rely on the difficulty in identifying parrots in the wild given their size and very small numbers.

Campbell could also argue that there appeared to be good parrot foraging habitat 35km east and west of the site,"which may add strength to the view that the site is a migration passage". In this context, Early said, the minister may choose to have Wind Power resubmit the proposal or grant the application provided wind turbines are not within 2km of the coastline.

But, critically, he added: "On balance, these options are not supported by the department". "Both of these approaches would represent a lowering of the previous threshold for unacceptable impact on the orange bellied parrot, particularly as there does not appear to be direct evidence of any impact on the orange-bellied parrot at Bald Hills."

The options might be seen as inconsistent with the approach to other wind farms that have previously been approved at Portland in Victoria and Woolnorth and Musselroe in Tasmania. "It would have ramifications for all coastal development in western Tasmania, Victoria, southern NSW and southeast South Australia," Early wrote.

By the time Early's advice landed on Campbell's desk, Buckle and his partner, Andrew Newbold, had had enough, and had decided to take Federal Court action to force a decision. The legal action hastened the process and Campbell announced in April that the wind farm had been torpedoed.

He seized on small aspects of the Biosis report to justify his decision. Denying that he was playing politics, he declared the "alarming" report showed the wind farm would hasten the parrot's "extinction from the planet". This was despite other wind farms, which posed a bigger threat, being approved by the Howard Government.

Four Victorian wind farms were okayed in 2002 although they were found to have a significantly higher kill rate - one every five years. Unlike at Bald Hills, parrots were spotted on one of the sites last year.

In written answers to questions from The Weekend Australian, Ian Smales, the Biosis report author, said identifying the number of birds that might be killed at any one wind farm such as Bald Hills was "not the intent of our work".

"The scenario used in our modelling for a particular site. .. is simply an informed scenario for the purposes of modelling," he said. "It should not be construed as being anything other than a possibility within the context of the overall cumulative modelling project."

The report assumed parrots would make 15 migrant passages through the site each year. But Mr Smales said he could not say how often the parrot would pass through the site. "We do not have any data on which to base an answer on this," he said. "None were observed in fauna assessments of the site (done by others) but the species is very cryptic and rather unpredictable in its occurrences in Gippsland."

Wind Power has challenged Campbell's decision in the Federal Court, arguing it was denied natural justice because the minister did not give the company an opportunity to respond to the Biosis report. It argues no reasonable person could have made Campbell's decision given the Biosis findings. Buckle and Newbold say they have spent $1.6 million on the project, first submitted for approval in 2002.

"Campbell's had every bird expert in the country and potentially in the world, because these Biosis guys are world-renowned experts, tell him that there is no orange-bellied parrot issue," Newbold said. "This has ramifications for industries other than the wind farm industry. If you take an overall Australian view of this, this is not how we should be governed. This type of decision does nothing to promote the Liberal Party ethos of backing the little bloke."

Broadbent acknowledged that Campbell's intervention helped him and that was why he wanted the minister to speak out. "Absolutely, but only under the powers he has," he said. "I was lobbying him to make sure every effort we could make to knock off the wind farm would be looked at. There was no guarantee given. No deal was made with Campbell. "Even when I was elected, he never ever once gave me the nod or a wink that he could do anything about this wind farm."

Policies questioned

The Standard (Warrnambool), Page: 6
Saturday, 29 July 2006

THE Liberal Party's policies for country Victoria could see a clamp on new wind farms and a reduction in the number of poker machines. But are these really the right solutions? While poker machines have created gambling problems for some people, for others they are a fun social outlet. They can also be an attraction for visiting tourists. Would reducing their number in Warrnambool solve any gambling problems? Not likely.

Wind farms should be encouraged as an alternative form of energy. Although their siting in pristine coastal or tourism areas must be regulated and the views of local residents considered, governments should be advancing the concept.