Friday 3 November 2006

The Prime Minister lags behind on dealing with global warming

The Australian
November 02, 2006

Mike Steketee: Reducing emissions can't wait

Welcome to AustraliaTHE Stern review moves the debate on climate change beyond science to economics and in the process it catches the Howard Government short.

Only six weeks ago, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane declared himself to be "a sceptic of the connection between emissions and climate change". He conceded the need to lower emissions - the kind of non sequitur that only a politician can explain - but said that could be done through new technology and "you don't necessarily need to give a price signal".

Nicholas Stern's report to the British Government challenges those views, saying the scientific evidence of the seriousness of climate change is overwhelming and there is no doubt about the causes: human activity. As for the response, it is a case of all hands on deck as far as Stern is concerned. It "will require deeper international co-operation in many areas, most notably in creating price signals and markets for carbon, spurring technology research, development and deployment, and promoting adaptation, particularly for developing countries".

John Howard told parliament on Tuesday there could be no effective response to global warming unless "you have all the culprits in the net", including big polluters such as the US, China and India. But Stern argues we cannot afford to wait because that will mean much higher costs.

Australia's policy has always had an element of the surreal about it, influenced heavily by those who argued that the warming of the planet was just one of those naturally occurring phenomena but acknowledging that doing nothing was not an option politically. And so we try to have our cake and eat it, too: as a large resources producer and emitter, we negotiated special conditions for Australia in the Kyoto Protocol. Then we refused to ratify because it would cost jobs and excluded the biggest polluters. Nevertheless, we made a big deal of meeting the targets anyway.

Ironically, the Government can make this latter boast mainly because of the decisions of the state Labor governments of Queensland and NSW to ban broad-scale land clearing, thereby reducing the contribution this was making to greenhouse gases. This offsets the increase in emissions from other sources and allows us, so far, to stay on track to meet the relatively generous target for Australia of limiting emission increases to 8per cent above their 1990 levels. The land clearing ban provides largely a one-off benefit. Nevertheless, the Government is protesting to the UN about a report this week that does not include land-use changes and concludes that Australian emissions increased by 25 per cent between 1990 and 2004, compared to a 15 per cent reduction for industrialised countries that are parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

In contrast to Howard, the Stern report argues the Kyoto Protocol has established valuable institutions to underpin international emissions trading and that it can be seen as a first stepping stone to international co-operation. "It is not obvious that starting from scratch with an entirely new approach would produce a more effective regime and it could take many years for the shape of a new approach to emerge," it says. The Government claims to be deeply involved in international negotiations on climate change but when the 165 countries that have ratified Kyoto meet in Nairobi in two weeks to discuss future initiatives, Australia, together with the US, will not have a voice.

While large polluters such as China and India are not bound at this stage by emission reduction targets - they argue that developed countries caused the problem so they should take the lead - Stern says China has one of the most ambitious policies to reduce emissions. Its goal is to reduce energy use per unit of gross domestic product by 20 per cent in the next four years, and it has made a big commitment to renewable energy.

Australia is not part of the emission trading scheme set up under Kyoto, meaning we deny ourselves the benefits of carbon credits. Nor will Howard contemplate a carbon tax. But in reality he acknowledges the economics of climate change. As he said on Tuesday, to reduce emissions "we have to clean up coal and, as you clean up coal, you make it dearer and, as you make coal dearer, you make nuclear power economically more feasible".

The Prime Minister is having fun with what he calls "the big N option" because Labor is divided on nuclear power. But there also is an irrefutable logic to his argument, even though Macfarlane was in denial about it only a few weeks ago. Reducing emissions requires a price signal, whether through a carbon tax or factoring in the cost of new technology.

Accepting Stern's policy prescriptions does not require endorsing the detailed projections produced by his economic modelling: that failing to act will reduce global GDP by at least 5 per cent a year and possibly more than 20 per cent, and risk social and economic disruption on a scale similar to the 20th century's world wars and the Depression. By contrast, the report says, reducing greenhouse emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change would cost only 1 per cent of GDP. But even taking elementary precautions points to doing more than the Howard Government has been prepared to consider.

So does politics. How the issue is playing was captured by the headline yesterday in Sydney's The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that Howard monitors closely: "PM fiddles while the world burns". In the past, Howard has not allowed previous commitments to stand in the way of catching up politically. Until he does so on this issue, he will only lend credibility to Kim Beazley's slogan that Labor is "the future party".

Mike Steketee is The Australian's national affairs editor.

NSW falls behind in renewable energy

Goulburn Town & Country
Monday 30/10/2006, Page: 10

STATE and national environment groups have launched a campaign for NSW to join other states and nations in developing a strong renewable energy industry to combat climate change.

The groups has released a report titled `The Great Opportunity: 25 per cent renewable energy for NSW', which outlined that a 25 per cent renewable energy target for NSW would conservatively deliver 4000 new permanent jobs, $9 billion investment in NSW and 4000 MW new electricity generation capacity equivalent to two coal-fired power stations.

It would also lead to a 13 per cent reduction in electricity sector greenhouse emissions on current levels by 2020 and enough renewable electricity to power every household in NSW The report was released at the Earthpower Technologies bioenergy plant in Western Sydney, where food waste is turned into electricity.

At the launch Nature Conservation Council Director Cate Faehrmann said Australia had woken up to climate change in recent months.

"It's important that now we start implementing some big solutions," she said.

"A 25 per cent renewable energy target for NSW would see thousands of jobs created, billions of dollars worth of investment and a reduction in NSW's greenhouse pollution. All we need is the political will to make it happen." Greenpeace Energy campaigner Mark Wakeham said NSW was being left behind in the race for renewable energy.

"Since 2001, South Australia had installed 215 wind turbines while NSW had installed two," he said.

"In NSW there is no incentive in place to develop new renewable energy projects. Victoria and South Australia have seen the benefits of renewables and legislated their own state targets.

"Now its time that Premier lemma gets serious about climate change and follows suit with a target to guarantee the growth of renewable energy in NSW. A 25 per cent target would generate enough clean energy to power every house in NSW." Ms Faehrmann added that the introduction of a renewable energy target would be an important issue in the lead up to the March state election.

"Climate change is the number one environmental issue for the state election, and if we're going to address climate change we need targets to reduce greenhouse pollution, targets to kick-start renewable energy and a commitment to begin the shift away from polluting coal," she said.

The report can be downloaded from

Parrot pundits back wind farm

Thursday 2/11/2006, Page: 2

ENVIRONMENT Minister Ian Campbell is under renewed pressure to approve the Bald Hills wind farm after the project won conditional support from orange-bellied parrot experts.

And the company that wrote the report Senator Campbell relied on to veto the wind farm confirmed it did not provide an assessment of the impact of the Victorian farm on the bird.

Senator Campbell blocked the $220 million project this year, citing a perceived threat to the parrot. He agreed to reconsider the project and accept new submissions after legal action from the developer, Wind Power Pty Ltd.

In a submission to Senator Campbell, the orange-bellied parrot recovery team says the threat posed to the parrot by the project was "small and is amenable to being offset by targeted management actions".

Senator Campbell said yesterday he would await fresh advice from his department - which has previously supported the wind farm - before announcing his decision.

It pays off to be seen as green

West Australian
Wednesday 1/11/2006, Page: 53

With a carbon tax a strong possibility, investors are favouring companies that are well prepared for climate change

Renewable energy companies are poised for growth as Australian investors wise up to the economic implications of climate change and the increasing likelihood of carbon emission regulation.

AMP chief economist Shane Oliver said it was inevitable that Australia would have some form of restrictions on carbon emissions, either in the form of a tax or a carbon trading system within five years.

"If you are prepared to take a five year view then solar and wind power companies or companies based around biofuels should do pretty well, not so much because they will be subsidised but because the cost to the consumer will go up as restrictions on carbon usage start to kick in," he said.

Traditional power stations, airlines, transport and oil companies are among the industries to be hardest hit if carbon control was implemented.

Dr Oliver said investors were already beginning to discriminate between companies that were well prepared for climate change and the ones that were not.

"Investors will want to know those companies that are less well prepared or are heavily exposed to climate change and those companies will see their share price underperform relative to companies that have started adjusting or finding ways of mitigating the problem," Dr Oliver said.

A recent survey co-sponsored by Goldman Sachs JBWere, of the S&PASX 100 listed companies has revealed 94 per cent of respondents thought that climate change was going to have a material effect on their earnings.

Portfolio Partners manager of sustainablity Amanda McCluskey said gas and LNG producers would be the first to benefit from growing awareness of climate change whereas low carbon fuel producers and renewable energy producers would benefit over the medium to long term.

Ms McCluskey said companies such as AGL, Woodside, Origin Energy and Energy Developments would gain in a new low carbon framework whereas companies involved in metal smelting and building materials faced downside risk.

More speculative investments such as geothermal energy company, Geodynamics and carbon offset firm, C02 Australia, also offer long-term investment opportunities.

Ms McCluskey warned against immediate reweighting of portfolios.

"From an investor's perspective, to put too much into these sectors is fraught with risk, that being regulatory uncertainty," she said. "Anybody who invested in biofuels would know the regulatory risk associated as government's flip-flop around." Policies such as the Victorian Government's move to supply 10 per cent of households with alternative energy by 2016 and the Federal Government funding of the construction of the world's biggest solar plant and a brown coal drying and carbon capture pilot project are considered harbingers of a fundamental shift on climate change.

Global warming is increasingly under the spotlight. On Monday World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern launched a damning report about the economic impact of climate change, which estimates that climate change could shrink the global economy by 20 per cent.

The report coincided with United Nations figures showing greenhouse gas emissions were increasing.

Cyclone proof wind turbines

Northern Guardian
Wednesday 1/11/2006, Page: 1

THREE state-of-the-art, cyclone-proof wind turbines are to be built at Coral Bay.

Energy Minister Francis Logan said the 275kw turbines were expected to supply 40 per cent of Coral Bay's energy needs by the end of 2007. Mr Logan said the $9.6 million wind-diesel project would involve new technologies developed in Western Australia.

"The power system will use Verve Energy's technologically advanced control systems and low-load diesel generators which maximise the use of wind energy," he said. "It will also involve the use of wind turbines that can be lowered in the event of a cyclone.

"This will be the first large-scale application of its kind in Australia and has good potential to be used in other cyclone-affected areas." The Minister said the project would be jointly funded by Verve Energy and the Commonwealth funded Renewable Remote Power Generation Project (RRPGP).

"Verve Energy will build the power system and contribute $6.84m to the project," he said. "Financial assistance of up to $2.76m has been committed through the RRPGP." Mr Logan said electricity in Coral Bay was supplied by a number of individual stand-alone power systems, owned and managed by operators of tourist facilities.

Under the new arrangements, Verve Energy would supply power to Horizon Power, which would have responsibility for the electricity network and retail operations in Coral Bay.

"Installing a public wind-diesel system is considered to be the best option for improving power supply to Coral Bay," the Minister said.

"It will provide a reliable, high-quality electricity supply with a substantial contribution from renewable energy. These wind turbines are expected to save 440,000 litres of diesel each year and reduce greenhouse emissions by 1,160 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year."

Mr Logan said that since 2001, eight new wind farms had been installed around WA, with a total generating capacity of 195MW. These included Esperance, Rottnest Island, Hopetoun, Bremer Bay, Albany, Emu Downs, Exmouth and Walkaway. The Minister said these farms were capable of generating enough electricity to power 130,000 homes.

The RRPGP is a Commonwealth program, funded by diesel excise paid in WA. The program is administered by the State Government's Sustainable Energy Development Office.

Howard denies diversion of green energy

Launceston Examiner
Wednesday 1/11/2006, Page: 2

CANBERRA - A cutting-edge Tasmanian company has been used by Labor to accuse the Federal Government of driving hundreds of millions of dollars in investment offshore because of its failure to increase Australia's Mandatory Renewable Energy Target .

But Prime Minister John Howard denies companies are pulling out of Australia because of a lack of opportunities to invest in green energy.

Labor MP Peter Garrett yesterday highlighted the case of Tasmanian wind energy company Roaring Forties, which was behind a wind farm in China opened recently by Environment Minister Ian Campbell, yet had to abandon two wind farm projects in Australia this year over the Government's refusal to increase green energy targets beyond 2 per cent.

"Isn't it the case that the Australian company Roaring Forties, involved in the Chinese renewable energy project, abandoned $550 million of projects in South Australia and Tasmania because the Government has not increased the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target?" Mr Garrett asked Mr Howard during question time.

Mr Howard said Roaring Forties could have had any number of reasons for discontinuing the wind farm projects in Australia and investing in China.

Roaring Forties specifically mentioned the low MRET when it abandoned the projects.

Home Eco Green Guides

Wednesday 1/11/2006, Page: 16

Fancy your own wind turbine? Want a listing of ethical investment funds, a green plumber, or a laundry detergent that washes well and is then OK to tip directly on to the garden? More than 5000 Australian businesses have listed their environmentally sustainable service or product with online directory Green Pages Australia.

In hardcopy form, with articles as well as relevant directories, Green Pages Business ($35) and Green Pages Lifestyle ($12.95) are available from news agencies.

Water Tip
A slowly dripping tap can waste 20,000 litres of water annually. Many people around the world don't have that much to use in a year. For tips on saving water, go to

Employment growth in green sector

Wednesday 1/11/2006, Page: 1

SUSTAINABILITY is already a job creation factor in Australia with the renewable energy sector alone employing more than 6100 people.

According to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, the renewable energy sector has turnover of $2 billion. The employment breakdown for the sector is 1566 in hydro electricity, 1200 in solar hot water, 1000 in wind power, 1335 in photovoltaics, 900 in biomass energy and 120 in geothermal and wave power projects.

The number is expected to grow by at least 2000 with the help of Victoria's new renewable energy scheme, under which new renewable output will move to 10 per cent of the state's generation capacity by 2016. The recently announced $420 million Solar Systems generator planned for the Mildura region will create 950 jobs during construction and provide 44 ongoing jobs when it becomes operational.

What the BCSE calls the "sustainable energy industry", including the above renewable technologies as well as gas-fired generation and the energy advisory industry, employs 20,000 and has a turnover of $5.7 billion.

Australia also has an industry manufacturing and exporting solar cells. Energy group Origin is looking for partners to commercialise its proprietary sliver technology, which cuts the use of expensive silicon in photovoltaic cells. Oil giant BP already exports about $100 million worth of solar cells from its Sydney factory and provides for the nation's needs as well. Every year BP produces cells capable of generating 50 megawatts compared with a total Australian demand of only 10 megawatts.

The desire of Australians to offset their carbon emissions by growing trees has also created a new industry. Not-for-profit groups Greenfleet and Carbon Neutral charge a fee ($40-$50 a year for the average car) to offset carbon emissions with tree planting.

An average car requires the planting of 17 trees a year to offset its carbon emissions. Flying to England on a Boeing 747 emits about 12 tonnes of greenhouse gas per passenger and requires 55 trees as an offset. But don't think offsets allow you to be profligate. The trees take 30 years to take in the carbon produced in one year of driving or a 21-hour flight.

Economics Of Emission Cuts
  • Annual market for low-carbon energy products by 2050: $US500 billion
  • Renewable energy products market size- $US38 billion
  • Jobs in renewable energy products: 1.7 million.
  • Growth rate of renewable energy markets (2005): 25 per cent.
  • Market value of solar companies: $US27 billion (up 38-fold in 12 months to August).

Slower winds but full steam ahead

Adelaide Advertiser
Wednesday 1/11/2006, Page: 49

Babcock & Brown Wind Partners has stuck to its distribution forecast for 2006-2007, despite its wind farms losing a bit of puff in the first quarter. Lower-than-expected average wind speeds in July across its 19 farms fanned a fall in energy production in the three months to September.

But chairman Peter Hofbauer told shareholders at the company's AGM yesterday higher tariffs in Spain resulted in operating cash flow being in line with expectations.

"I am pleased to report that the results to date are on track to meet our distribution target of 12.5c per stapled security and BBW's distribution to be paid out of operating cash flow," he said.

Climate change threatens to be an election issue

Summit Sun
Thursday 26/10/2006, Page: 4

STATE and national environment groups have put state politicians on notice that climate change is the number one environmental issue for the state election next March.

Cate Faehrmann Director, Nature Conservation Council said that the introduction bf a renewable energy target is a key ask in the lead up to the election.

"If we're going to address climate change we need targets to reduce greenhouse pollution, targets to kick-start renewable energy and a commitment to begin the shift away from polluting coal." Greenpeace Energy campaigner, Mark Wakeham said that NSW was being left behind in the race for renewables.

"Since 2001 South Australia has installed 215 wind turbines while NSW has installed 2.

In NSW there is no incentive in place to develop new renewable energy projects. Victoria and South Australia have seen the benefits of renewables and legislated their own state targets. Now its time that Premier Lemma gets serious about climate change and follow suit with a target to guarantee the growth of renewable energy in NSW. A 25 per cent target would generate enough clean energy to power every house in NSW," Mr Wakeham said.

The comments follow the release of a report "The Great Opportunity: 25% Renewable Energy for NSW". The report can be download from:

Council recommends $4000 in grants

South Eastern Times
Thursday 26/10/2006, Page: 2

Wattle Range Council is about to give $3,950 to four local groups in annual Canunda Power community financial assistance funding grants. A recommendation about the successful applicants was made on October 11 when Wattle Range Council held its monthly meeting in Millicent.

The grants are sponsored by International Power which operates the 23-turbine Canunda windfarm along the Woakwine Range.

The Canunda Power grants are for eligible projects and events which involve environmental improvement initiatives, the development and promotion of alternate energy sources and active community participation in healthy lifestyle activities.

Council has recommended the 2006-7 grants be awarded to a school, a service club and two community organisations. These council recommendations are now being considered by International Power.

Robe Grants

Meanwhile, Robe District Council has recently announced the recipients of its annual sporting and community assistance grants.

They are Bray CFS and Progress Association ($3250), Robe Sport and Recreation Association ($1500), Lake Fellmongery Water Ski Club ($1640), Mayoral Christmas Committee ($500), Robe Golf Club ($3000), Robe Bowling Club ($2500), Robe Netball Club ($500) and Robe Tennis Club ($500).

Wind farm test tower sabotage

Camperdown Chronicle
Friday 27/10/2006, Page: 1

Police are investigating the suspected sabotage of a wind farm company's test tower at Naroghid.

Wind Farm Developments manager Jonathan Upson said the company was alerted to the tower's damage at the end of September. "We had a landowner contact us late last month telling us the very top section of the tower had been bent over," he said.

"The farmer said he figured the wind had blown it over, as it had been very windy a couple of days before he noticed the damage. "That's kind of unusual, but it could happen." Mr Upson said a company contractor determined the tower was sabotaged when the damage was assessed two weeks later.

"When the contractor got out there, he concluded that the tower hadn't blown over, someone had cut a few of the guide cables supporting it. "We then filed a police report and Colac CIU is investigating the incident." Mr Upson said he found it surprising somebody would sabotage the project.

However, he said the Naroghid Wind Farm development would still go ahead as planned. "We never thought this would happen," he said. "The tower has been up for a fair while.

"I don't know anyone who would do this, but obviously it is someone who clearly does not like the project and is willing to undertake criminal behaviour. "However, as disappointing as it is, it does not change a thing.

"It is not going to stop the project from happening." In August, State Minister for Planning Rob Hulls approved the $80 million, 42- megawatt Naroghid wind farm, which could potentially power 25,000 homes.

The development includes the construction of 21 turbines 2.5km from Lake Bullen Merri and 4km from Cobden. When the project was signed off, Cobden Aero Club was the main objector. However, former club president, now treasurer, Duncan Morris said there was "certainly no-one" at the club who would consider sabotaging the development.

"Although the club is not in favour of the project, there is no-one I'm aware of that would break the law in such a way," he said.

Mr Morris said the club was not against the project as a whole. He said the club's main objection was the positioning of two towers.

"All we wanted, and what we still want, is to have a one kilometre corridor at either side of the run-way's extended corridor, which is what the air ambulance's senior base pilot requested.

"The proposed plan for the position of turbines has two towers which prevents us from achieving this. "Our primary aim is for the air ambulance to have unrestricted access to the airstrip. "It is a critical issue for the region as we are the only airstrip, other than Warmambool, Geelong and Ballarat, available in the area." Mr Upson said a panel of experts did not think IMN the positioning of the wind farm's towers was a threat to the air strip.

"At the end of the day, when the air ambulance, aviation experts and the (Corangamite) shire, who owns the airstrip, looked at the evidence they concluded that the wind farm was not going to be a problem," he said.

Mr Upson said the company was currently holding talks with potential financial investors for the project. He said if all went to plan the wind farm's construction would begin as early as the end of next year.

A Colac CIU spokesperson said he had no updates on the suspected sabotage of the Naroghid Wind Farm test tower. "We are still undertaking our investigations," he said.

Farmers may be in for a windfall

Area News
Monday 30/10/2006, Page: 3

WIND farm turbines could soon dot the local countryside and provide extra income for farmers if the state government acts quickly and provides more incentives, according to a national wind farm body.

The Australian Wind Energy Association (Auswind) agrees with claims by local Greens state election candidate Peter Carruthers that farmers could save their drought-hit livelihoods by supporting the renewable energy source.

A large area north of Griffith, around Rankins Springs and Lake Cargelligo stretching to Condobolin, is considered viable for wind farms.

Auswind media and community relations manager Rob Clancy said NSW was below par compared with other states regarding incentives for renewable energy, and demanded wind farms be put on a level playing field with other forms of energy.

"We would definitely look at getting companies to expand into more areas if the incentives were available," Mr Clancy said. "And it can be a very good alternative income for farmers. They generally receive $5000 to $10,000 per year, per turbine, for a period of 20 to 25 years." Mr Clancy said state governments including Victoria and South Australia had increased incentives for renewable energy and the market had taken off.

But NSW has not increased incentives since a federal scheme was introduced several years ago. Mr Carruthers believes renewable energies such as wind farming and solar farming can provide alternative incomes.

"If we can get politicians to change their opinions then we are doing the right thing," Mr Carruthers said. "Why hasn't the NSW government and the federal government combined? If they worked together they would make an impact.

"People are saying they (farmers) should be kicked off their land, but they need to look at other options and have professional and technical advice to make that happen." Murrumbidgee MP Adrian Piccoli said he would like to see more renewable energy developments in NSW and agreed it looked like a good option for farmers to make money.

AGL stalls wind farm plans

Border Mail
Tuesday 31/10/2006, Page: 10

AGL Energy has backed away from its controversial $140 million wind farm proposal for Victoria's east. A company spokeswoman has confirmed the planning process for its 48-turbine Dollar Wind Farm proposal had been placed on indefinite hold.

The project was opposed by residents of southern Gippsland, but company spokeswoman Jane Counsel yesterday said the move was a business decision. The move comes after AGL's proposal to build its 183-turbine Macarthur Wind Farm in western Victoria was given the green-light last week.

"We've decided to put the planning stage of Dollar on hold, and we've formally requested with the Government that that is the case as well," Ms Counsel said yesterday. 'We have got a fair amount on our plate right now and, with Macarthur getting the development approval last week, it is a matter of having to decide what our priorities are.

"This is not by any means a final decision, we are just putting the planning process on hold because of a number of more pressing priorities." But the Nationals yesterday said the move sounded a death-knell for the Dollar Wind Farm project.

The Nationals' Victorian leader Peter Ryan said more than 1500 objections were lodged during the planning process and local opposition was "overwhelming".

"It's a pity that it has taken a commercial decision by AGL for the project to be suspended ... if the Bracks Government had any credibility on this issue it would have already pulled the plug," he said.

Windfarm plans gain momentum

Albany Advertiser
Tuesday 31/10/2006, Page: 2

PLANS to establish a small windfarm in Mt Barker are building up speed. The $5 million project will include three turbines, two-thirds the size of Albany's.

Situated 3.3km north of Mt Barker on a private sheep farm, the site is the closest point to the Mt Barker sub-station. At 250 metres above sea level, SkyFarming director Andrew Woodroffe said Mt Barker contained all the ingredients a windfarm needed to succeed. SkyFarming submitted an amendment to the Town Planning Scheme for the Shire of Plantagenet to consider late last week.

"This is the first step in the planning process which will take about one-and-a-half years," he said. "The next step will be to start the connection and access to the grid process." After monitoring wind in the area for the past year, Mr Woodroffe said the results were encouraging. "We've had two stalls at the Mt Barker Coop to date, with very positive responses from the local community," he said.

Shire of Plantagenet Development Services manager Peter Duncan said the matter would be discussed at the next Council meeting on November 14.

"The Council will then determine whether it can proceed or not, before it's then passed onto the Environmental Protection Authority," he said. "If the EPA is happy with it, the proposal will be publicly advertised for 42 days." Given the extent of the approval phase, Mr Woodroffe estimated the wind farm would be completed by the end of 2008.

Expected to generate about 7500mw of electricity each year, the wind farm is expected to offset about 7500 tonnes of carbon dioxide which would otherwise be pumped into the atmosphere from the burning of coal. "A recent change to legislation now allows funding of 50 per cent of the capital to grid connected projects 2mw in size," Mr Woodroffe said.

Our 500th post

Fri, Nov 3, 2006

Gippsland Friends of Future Generations would like to thank all those who have helped us shine a little light on the renewable energy debate. Your support and comments have been most welcome and we sincerely hope you continue to help us combat the shortsighted and selfish views of some of our politicians and the myopic landscape/coastal guardians groups who prefer intimidation and fiction rather than science and reality.

This weblog has tried to highlight the latest developments in renewable energy technology in Australia and around the world by re printing reports from diverse sources such as newspapers, scientific and industry publications.

It has been interesting to see the (slow) change in attitudes of some of our politicians and even some of the anti wind farm people. There was a time when they completely dismissed climate change as being the invention of fevered minds. However the overwhelming scientific evidence and direct observations from around the world have forced them to pull their heads from the sand and accept climate change and man's part in it, as today's reality. What value is a "view" if the price is frequent sheltering from storms or bush fires?

Hopefully a time will come when the self-interested realise their lives are dependent on a clean and comparatively stable environment and a healthy community, and that renewable technologies and conservation are the only likely ways to achieve this. If they won't make the change for themselves, perhaps the health and well being of their children and grandchildren might encourage them to act altruistically?

Once again, to all those who have helped support us, keep up the good work and help spread the message that we can make a difference if we make the effort.

Monday 30 October 2006

Wind farm proves a windfall

Herald Sun
Saturday 28/10/2006, Page: 23

FOR three generations, Tom Robertson's family have run cattle and sheep on their Macarthur farm. But the pristine piece of farmland in the state's southwest will soon be dotted with more than 180 wind turbines producing enough green energy for 190,000 houses.

The Bracks Government yesterday announced the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere - a $600 million project that will produce 329 megawatts of electricity. The project, run by electricity company AGL, will create up to 900 jobs in the area.

Approval was given despite some concerns about the risk the project could pose to the local brolga population. But Mr Robertson said he was pleased his land, and that of two adjoining farms, would be home to the multi-milliondollar project.

"The towns will just get so much business out of it," he said. "We are losing activity to other areas, so this lets us have our cake and eat it, in a way. "We can still farm and yet do something else." He said most locals supported the plan to install turbines across the 55sq km property.

Mr Robertson's son, James, said the area was known for high wind and rainfall. "We used to think of the wind as a curse. Now it's a blessing," he said.

Planning Minister Rob Hulls said 1148 of the 1295 submissions made to an independent planning panel had supported the wind farm. "It is a substantial project that will go a long way to address global warming," he said.

Tom Robertson said he had been working on securing the project for more than five years. He said the turbines would ensure his farm's future. The average price a farmer is paid for a turbine is $5000 a year.

"We are not really having a drought here but because there is drought across Australia animal prices are very low," he said. "We can't sell our animals at the normal price. We have had to get rid of animals."

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said people were in the dark about wind farms. "We don't have legislation about wind farms," he said. But he said the Liberals supported the Macarthur wind farm if the local community wanted it.

Huge wind farm gets green light

Bendigo Advertiser
Saturday 28/10/2006, Page: 16

MELBOURNE - Victoria is set to become home to the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere, with the State Government giving the $600 million project the green light yesterday.

But environment groups said the government had to do more to improve its green credentials, with global warming pollution increasing by six million tonnes a year - the equivalent of one million extra cars on the road - since the Bracks' government came to power seven years ago.

AGL Energy yesterday received approval to build the wind farm at Macarthur, 32 km north of Port Fairy, in the state's west.

AGL managing director Paul Anthony welcomed the government backing and said a final investment decision was expected within a year. The 183-turbine farm, spread over 55 square kilometres, will have the capacity to generate up to 329 megawatts of electricity.

That could power almost 190,000 homes a year.

Planning Minister Rob Hulls seized on the opportunity to trumpet the government's Victorian Renewable Energy Target scheme, which the opposition has vowed to abolish if elected. Under the scheme, electricity retailers must buy a minimum of 10 per cent of their energy from renewable power sources by 2016.

Victorian Landscape Guardians president Randall Bell said the government was sitting on four reports unfavourable to wind farms. Property values would plummet, he warned.

Bank to invest $4bn in emissions credits

Australian Financial Review
Saturday 28/10/2006, Page: 10

Morgan Stanley, the biggest US securities firm, plans to invest within five years in about $US3 billion ($4 billion) of emissions credits and projects to curb greenhouse gas output. Investments would include credits from the Clean Development Mechanism of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Morgan Stanley said.

That mechanism encourages rich nations to spend on projects such as wind farms and chemicalgas- combustion plants in poor nations. Credits can be traded for profit.

"We strongly support the use of market-based solutions to meet environmental policies and objectives," said Simon Greenshields, the bank's global head of power and emissions trading and structuring: Industrialised nations might spend as much as $US100 billion a year in developing nations by 2050, helping ensure that fastgrowing economies switch to lowfossil- fuel use, the United Nations said last month. A UN board runs the CDM.

Fords, Belgium's biggest financial services group, and Deutsche Bank of Germany also trade credits.

That spending by industrialised nations might occur if they agreed to emission reductions of as much as 80 per cent by mid-century, buying credits in poorer nations where those cuts were not possible, the UN said.

Most of Morgan Stanley's investment "will focus on increasing our emissions trading volumes", the bank said. "The remainder will be used to invest in projects and for capital costs." In the first nine months of 2006, global emissions trading was about $US21.5 billion - almost double the $US11 billion in the whole of last year, the World Bank says in a report published on Friday at Carbon Expo Asia in Beijing.

The price of certified emission reductions, a type of greenhouse gas credit created under the protocol, had surged 48 per cent so far this year, the World Bank report says.

Prices for CER credits under the protocol's Clean Development Mechanism bought directly from project owners rose to an average $US10.50 a tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent through September 30 this year, from $US7.10 last year.

In the EU since last year, about 12,000 factories and power stations have needed a government permit for each tonne of carbon dioxide they produce. They can sell surplus permits if they cut their output, providing a financial incentive. If their output exceeds the level of their grant, they need to buy extra permits.

Victoria revs up wind power initiative

Australian Financial Review
Saturday 28/10/2006, Page: 6

The Victorian government gave the go-ahead on Friday for a proposed $600 million wind farm to be built by power giant AGL Energy, warning it would not be commercially viable under the state opposition's energy policies.

For the second time in a week, the government has launched a major renewable energy project it claims will depend on the Victorian renewable energy target (VRET), a $2 billion program that will require retailers to buy 10 per cent of their power from renewable sources within a decade.

But the state opposition, which wants to scrap the target and replace it with a fund paid for by coal royalties if it wins the election, has dismissed the targets as an expensive taxpayers' subsidy immaterial to providers' willingness to supply renewable energy.

The opposition, which welcomed the AGL announcement, has previously also criticised wind farms as heavily subsidised and divisive for many communities when inappropriately sited, such as in popular coastal regions.

The 183-turbine Macarthur Wind Farm in western Victoria near Port Fairy will be the southern hemisphere's largest, with a total capacity of about 329 megawatts, enough to power almost 190,000 homes a year, equivalent to the number of houses in a big regional city like Geelong, according to the government.

Planning Minister Rob Hulls, who earlier this year threatened to sue the federal government over its refusal to approve another wind farm in the state because of the danger posed to rare orangebellied parrots, warned the latest project would be jeopardised by opposition plans to scrap VRET.

Mr Hulls, who believes voter concerns about greenhouse gas and climate change will be a major issue in the November 25 poll, said nine out of 10 residents living in the vicinity of the wind farm were in favour, a turnaround from other recent proposals that sparked bitter opposition from communities that claimed the farms were an eyesore that reduced property values.

"The Liberal Party is opposed to renewable energy. Instead it wants to encourage clean coal with a policy that would not start until after 2011," he said.

Earlier this past week, Victoria and the federal government pledged $125 million to a huge experimental solar power plant in north-western Victoria. But Solar Systems, owner of the technology, warned that the project might have to be scrapped if there was a change of government at the November 25 election.

AGL managing director Paul Anthony said he was "delighted with the government's positive disposition towards renewable generation".

Liberal spokesman Denis Napthine said it was a "nonsense argument" that AGL was building the wind farm because of the VRET, which the government announced in July.

"Talks for this wind farm started four or five years ago.

VRET was not on the agenda. All parties were confident about size, efficiencies and viability on its own merits. In the meantime, there has been a lot of community meetings and discussions. This is a project that meets our requirements of having broad community support and is in an area that is suitable for wind farms," Mr Napthine said.

Last month, Pacific Hydro warned it would scrap hundreds of millions of dollars of wind power projects in Victoria because of the opposition's pledge to drop plans for the renewable energy scheme.

Garry Weaven, executive director of Industry Funds Services, owner of PacHydro, said its Portland development faced scrapping and the policy made contracts for wind farms difficult to find. He said getting purchase contracts from energy retailers was difficult for the Portland project because of the reduction of the federal government's scheme.

Key Points: The new wind farm will have a total capacity of about 329 megawatts. This is enough electricity to power 190.000 homes.

VCAT option still open

Yarram Standard News
Wednesday 25/10/2006, Page: 3

THE company proposing to build a wind farm at Devon North now has the right to appeal Wellington Shire Council's decision to not approve the nine-turbine development. The German backed company could take the issue to the state's peak planning body, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in a bid to gain a planning permit.

That would then allow the turbines to be erected on a hill at Ingles Road, Devon North.

Cr Jeff Amos, of Yarram, who moved the motion at last week's council meeting to reject a planning permit on the grounds of visual and noise issues, said the next move now rested with the company.

"I have no idea whether it will go to VCAT. That is up to the company if they want to do that," he said.

They have a certain period of time to appeal and until that appeal is in writing to VCAT, we will be none the wiser." Cr Amos described the issue as one of the "major decisions" to come before councillors in recent years.

He spent four months researching planning guidelines, and reading and responding to emails for and against the wind farm before arriving at his decision.

"I'm not against renewable energy but I'm against this site. I really think that we should be looking at other alternative forms of energy, given that we have a lot of tidal movement around our coast, and we have a lot of sun too." Cr Amos said.

Gas-power future in the pipeline

The Australian
October 30, 2006

NATURAL gas, not nuclear or solar energy, will power Australia's transition to a lower greenhouse-emissions future, with a trebling of gas power plants planned or under construction over the next eight years.

A report released yesterday by the gas industry says renewable energy sources such as solar and wind cannot meet expanding energy demand on their own and that it will be "some time" before they are cost competitive on a large scale.

The report, by the Australian Pipeline Industry Association, says Australia is unlikely to switch to nuclear energy because of negative public perceptions, while gas had 60 per cent lower emissions than coal-fired power and was proven and available.

Association chief executive Cheryl Cartwright said the recent debate on the use of nuclear and solar energy ignored gas as a cheaper and ready-to-install technology that could start to immediately cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. "Gas is more expensive than coal but it's cheaper than renewables and it's available now," she said.

Warming could throw cold water on returns

The Age
October 29, 2006

US solar power station called Solar One - a similar station will be built in north western Victoria.GLOBAL warming is no longer a fringe environmental issue but one that could soon have serious implications for investment returns. This is according to a group of mainstream institutional investors who are pushing companies to deal with the risks and opportunities a warmer climate holds.

They say climate change has the potential to affect the future earnings, liabilities and general risk profiles of thousands of companies.

"What this means is that anyone with money (to invest) needs to know if a company has a plan to tackle the risks involved in climate change," said Corin Millais, chief executive of the Climate Institute.

The Investor Group on Climate Change, which represents 16 mainstream institutional investors with more than $195 billion funds under management, recently surveyed most of Australia's and New Zealand's largest companies.

While 94 per cent of companies recognise the potential for climate-related issues to affect earnings and liabilities, only 9 per cent have a fully disclosed emissions trading profile. Three per cent are actively trading emissions, 19 per cent are engaged in limited trading and 17 per cent are considering a strategy.

Andrew Gray is head of quantitative research at Goldman Sachs JBWere, which co-sponsored the report. He said it was intended to encourage companies to reveal how they were dealing with climate change to allow potential investors to make informed decisions.

"Clearly there are impacts in terms of profitability and risk profile," Mr Gray said. "Investors use price to earnings, or various other measures, to assess whether to invest in a company. This study allows them to measure any potential impact from climate change.

"How companies manage risk or take opportunities could have a direct impact on their profit and loss, revenue and costs going forward. Future earnings is a key factor that investors need to consider, so the extent climate change will impact that is a potentially relevant consideration."

Although the Federal Government has so far refused to introduce a system of carbon trading similar to the $30 billion European scheme, AMP Capital's head of investment strategy Shane Oliver reckons it's only a matter of time, with some states already adopting their own system.

"To get a reduction in carbon emissions, you need to put a price on emissions and that's what carbon trading is attempting to do," Mr Oliver said. "The bottom line is, the cost of dirty energy will go up in time, which in turn would make cleaner technologies more competitive in the marketplace."

Mr Oliver said investors should look towards low carbon producing companies, such as wind farms and solar energy businesses, particularly now that the Victorian Government has set a target of alternative energy supplying 10 per cent of household needs by 2016.

"It is important for investors to be aware of the risk companies are facing and those companies that are taking action or are aware of the problem will probably do quite well," he said.

"For retail investors it's just a matter of being aware of what companies are doing and … staying away from the companies which are carrying on regardless of the problem."

The companies that are taking action on climate change*
  • Banks: ANZ, NAB, Westpac
  • Construction materials: Boral
  • Energy: Origin Energy
  • Food: Goldman Fielder, Lion Nathan
  • Health care: DCA Group, Symbion Health
  • Leisure: Tabcorp Holdings
  • Industrials: Transurban
  • Information technology: Computershare
  • Insurance: IAG
  • Metals and Mining: BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto
  • Property trusts: GPT Group, Investa, Mirvac
  • Retail: Warehouse Group
  • Telecommunications: Telstra
  • Utilities: AGL

Source: Carbon Disclosure Project, based on self-disclosure

* Only top three included

Climate's last chance

The Age
October 28, 2006

By Tim Flannery

THE Howard Government seems recently to have accepted that climate change is caused by humans and needs to be dealt with. But has it really accepted this? And will its policies make a difference? The key to answering these questions lies in understanding how urgent the climate threat is.

The main indicator of how long we have to address climate change is the state of the Arctic icecap, which covers Earth's northern ocean. The entire weather system of the northern hemisphere depends on the temperature gradient between it and the equator, so if the North Pole warms up, the winds, monsoons, rains, temperatures and seasons will shift in dramatic ways. And of course, the southern hemisphere's weather system will be affected as well.

By the mid-1970s, the Arctic icecap began melting away at the rate of 8 per cent a decade. This rate of melting persisted almost unchanged until 2004, by which time about one-quarter of the icecap had melted, revealing the dark ocean underneath.

During the summer, the sun falls for 24 hours a day on the Arctic icecap, delivering a huge amount of energy. But ice is bright, and before its melting the Arctic icecap reflected 90 per cent of the sun's energy back into space, keeping the planet cool. But as the ice has melted, more of the sun has fallen on the ocean, and it absorbs 90 per cent of the sun's energy, turning it into heat.

By last year, so much of the sunlight was being captured by the ocean and turned into heat energy that a dramatic change occurred: the ocean stayed so warm that the winter ice did not form properly, and the following summer about 300,000 square kilometres of ice melted. The same thing happened this year, so now huge areas of ocean are exposed where just a few short years ago there was ice.

Before 2004, the rate of melt was such that scientists believed the icecap would melt entirely by about 2100. At the trajectory set by the new rate of melt, however, there will be no Arctic icecap in the next five to 15 years. And with no ice, the Arctic region will rapidly begin heating, perhaps by as much as 12 degrees.

This change will put further pressure on the Greenland icecap, which is already melting at the stupendous rate of 235 cubic kilometres a year. If it succumbs to the heat, the ocean will rise by six metres, and icecaps in the Antarctic may destabilise.

James Hanson, director of NASA's Goddard Institute, is arguably the world authority on climate change. He predicts that we have just a decade to avert a 25-metre rise of the sea. Picture an eight-storey building by a beach, then imagine waves lapping its roof. That's what a 25-metre rise in sea level looks like.

Whatever you think of such predictions, the rate of melt of the Arctic icecap is indisputable and deeply troubling. It should convince everyone that climate change is by far the most urgent threat facing humanity. It also tells us that the long recalcitrance of the Howard Government in respect to climate change has already cost us dearly, and that we must now make great changes in just a few short years. Had we begun a decade earlier, our actions would have been far more effective and less disruptive.

As we judge the Howard Government's climate change policies, we must keep several things in mind. One is the potentially great cost of not ratifying Kyoto. Phase 2 of the treaty begins in 2012, and already the parties are debating who shall accept what restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions. Both China and India must take on meaningful restrictions if our civilisation is to survive this crisis, but with Australia and the United States outside the treaty, they have the perfect excuse to decline: why should they accept such binding restrictions when the richest nations of Earth refuse to do so?

A second thing to watch is Australia's total emissions. Before we rejected Kyoto, Australia was given a target that allowed for a substantial increase in emissions. When the Howard Government talks of meeting its Kyoto target, this is what it's referring to. Sticking with such a lax target is disastrous, and government-funded projects such as the recently announced solar farm and more efficient burning of brown coal cannot achieve a significant reduction in carbon dioxide pollution.

So far the Howard Government's approach has been to hand out hard-earned taxpayers' money — some of it to big corporations — and proclaim that it's doing something. With a world facing as grave a threat as it faced in 1938, John Howard is quickly becoming the Chamberlain of the chequebook, while a climate-change Churchill is nowhere to be seen in Australian politics.

What must the Howard Government do if it is to effectively protect Australians from the looming climate disaster?

First it must inform Australians of the gravity of the situation, then lay out an ambitious plan for emissions reduction that includes public participation. Immediate reductions are required, and these can be had through efficiency gains. In addition, a long-term target of an 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 should be set. If we are to achieve that we must use the power of the market. A carbon tax and carbon trading scheme are absolutely indispensable tools to achieve such targets. And of course we must ratify Kyoto immediately.

My sense of the matter is that none of this will happen.

Instead, the Howard Government will do the bare minimum required to appease public opinion, for it appears to have no one able and willing to absorb the scientific evidence, and to champion a more resolute response through the cabinet.

I sincerely hope I'm wrong, because this Government and the one that follows it may well be the last in Australian history to have the chance to avert a climate disaster.

Tim Flannery is an environmental scientist.

Wind's up for energy industry

A hard wind is blowing - and it's kicking up a lot of energy.

In fact, the U.S. wind energy industry is on track to install a record 2,750 megawatts of generating capacity this year.

That will produce about as much electricity as is used by the entire state of Rhode Island and help strengthen energy security, according to the American Wind Energy Association, which released its third-quarter market report this week.

"To strengthen our energy independence we need safe, domestic, and inexhaustible energy, and wind power provides just that," said Randall Swisher, the association's executive director.

In Southern California, no company is more committed to wind energy - and alternative energy sources in general - than Southern California Edison. SCE is the nation's leader at meeting customer needs with renewable power. Last year, 17 percent of SCE's overall energy was produced by renewable power. That number is expected to be between 16 percent and 17 percent this year.

"We have more than 1,000 megawatts of wind contracted," Stuart Hemphill, SCE's director of renewable and alternative power, said. "We're doing all we can to get more, including building a transmission line to Tehachapi." That area is important because it has about 4,500 megawatts of untapped wind potential, according to Edison spokesman Gil Alexander.

"Our projection for our 2006 power mix includes about 3 percent of all the energy we send to customers coming from wind-generated sources," he said. That includes wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and small hydro sources, Alexander said.

The nation's wind farms currently save over a half-billion cubic feet of natural gas per day and help reduce the supply pressure that's driving up natural gas imports, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

"Every megawatt-hour of domestic, inexhaustible wind energy from our heartland is a megawatt-hour that doesn't burn fuel, and that strengthens our energy security, protects our environment, and creates good jobs," Swisher said.

To produce wind power, a large tower with a propeller is installed in an area where there are strong, steady winds. As the wind blows the propeller around, it turns a generator, which produces electricity. The more towers, the more power. The larger the propellers, the more electricity can be generated.

"We do have quite a bit of wind power from Tehachapi already," Hemphill said. "We also get it from San Gorgonio near Palm Springs. Those wind turbines you see while driving to Palm Springs are under contract to Edison."

Swisher said Edison's use of wind energy is important. "They have been one of the leading purchasers of wind power for many years," he said. "The role of the electric utility is absolutely essential because they are the ones who provide market demand."

Analysis: Deserts may yield Europe's power

BERLIN, Oct. 27 (UPI)

Deserts in the Middle East and North Africa can help meet Europe's and the region's growing electricity demand, according to two German research reports. Some may say the deserts are areas that don't yield any benefits to humanity -- but that's not quite true; the solar rays that burn all day onto the Sahara and the likes can be converted into energy -- a lot of energy.

Every year, the sun beams as much solar energy onto the area as the amount of oil needed to cover the desert with a sea 10 inches deep.

"That's a huge energy potential," Franz Trieb, of the Institute of Technical Thermodynamics at the German Aerospace Center, and author of the two studies, Friday told United Press International in a telephone interview. "And against what some say, you wouldn't have to pave the entire desert -- one thousandth of the entire desert area in the region would be enough."

Across southern Europe and deserts in North Africa and the Middle East, a series of solar thermal power plants, which use mirrors to collect sunrays during the day and generate electricity at night, could supply as much as 15 percent of Europe's electricity needs by 2050, Trieb said.

The studies strongly support switching to renewable energy sources for Europe's electricity generation of the future, and they advise governments to take similar measures to Spain and Germany; both countries have a solar energy feed-in tariff.

The renewable plan for the region includes -- aside from the solar plants in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East -- hydropower plants in Scandinavia, wind energy plants off the North European coast and biomass and hydropower plants in mainland Europe.

"Our studies have found that it is absolutely untrue that renewables can't meet the basic electricity demand," Trieb said. "No single renewable energy source can, but they are able to provide our basic demands of electricity in a wide mix." The existing network of fossil fuel power plants would then simply support the renewable energy mix of the future.

Electricity generated from renewable energy sources is still more expensive than power from fossil fuels, and that prevents investors from putting their dollars into the technologies -- the wrong approach, Trieb said.

Making the cost of renewable energy equivalent to fossil fuels before the year 2020 would take an investment of $75 billion, but that investment will be returned quickly, as the region would save $250 billion by 2050 when compared with a "business as usual policy scenario."

So who should pay?

"If the initial investment would be equally distributed among all electricity consumers in the region, each of them would have to afford additionally $10 per year for electricity payments for a period of 15 years in order to finance the total market introduction of renewables," the study found. "After those 15 years, all consumers will benefit from stable and low electricity costs."

The required amount is comparable to money spent developing and building the first commercial nuclear fusion reactor, which is expected in 2050, the study says. By that time, that plant will not have reduced CO2 emission, while the renewable energy mix will have avoided 28 billion tons of CO2 emissions.

Trieb said renewables, in the long run, will be far cheaper than fossil fuels. "The more you use the renewable technology, the cheaper it gets because of mass production and learning effects, while its is exactly the other way round with fossil fuels," he said.

In the case of the solar plants in Africa and the Middle East, the excess heat produced could be used for other projects important to the region, such as water desalination, the studies say.

First of all, Trieb said, the solar plants in North Africa and the Middle East should be used to satisfy that region's own electricity hunger, which by 2050 will be as big as Europe's.

"The electricity first and foremost is for the North African and Middle Eastern states," Trieb said. But after a decade or so, the sheer mass of energy could enable those states to sell cheap electricity to Europe, Trieb said, which -- in the best of all cases -- provides the poorer African states with additional income.

"It would be great if the whole project had a stabilizing effect, socially and economically, for the African states."

Trieb said North African and Middle Eastern states have already warmed up to the idea, and in Spain, a solar thermal power plant with a capacity of 50 megawatts is currently under construction.

Climate comes in from the cold

Sydney Morning Herald
October 28, 2006

After playing down the effects of climate change for years, the Federal Government has suddenly changed its tune, writes Wendy Frew.

For Matthew Nott, it all started on New Year's Day. Across the state, near-record temperatures drove many people indoors, demand for electricity soared as air-conditioning units were switched on and railway tracks buckled in the heat.

At Tathra Beach, 20 minutes east of Bega on the South Coast, where Nott had gone to cool off, the temperature had soared to 42 degrees by 10am.

"I was reading Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers and I thought 'What a juxtaposition, this book about climate change and record temperatures'," says Nott, an orthopedic surgeon who moved to the Bega Valley six years ago with his family.

It was a juxtaposition he says changed his life. With no political or environmental experience before then, Nott has since spent his spare time researching climate change. He was disturbed by what he discovered: predictions from the world's leading scientists that man-made greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere would dramatically alter the earth's climate, and evidence some of the changes were taking place.

Frustrated by a lack of government action on the problem, in May Nott rallied 3000 residents in the Bega Shire to form a human sign on Tathra Beach that read "Clean Energy for Eternity". From that event, a small group of activists was formed to encourage the local council to cut energy consumption in the shire and source some of its electricity from renewable energy. The group has started to talk to residents in the neighbouring shires of Eurobodalla and Snowy River about similar programs.

While grassroots groups like this one were springing up all over Australia, little was changing in the top political echelons.

The Howard Government remained a steadfast critic of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to tackle climate change, and argued any attempt to penalise greenhouse gas polluters would damage the economy. Government ministers continued to play down the link between climate change, urban water shortages and the widespread drought.

But suddenly, two weeks ago, the Government's tune appeared to change. The Prime Minister, who had long scoffed at the "gloomy predictions" about climate change, finally made the link between drought and global warming. "I don't think it alters my outlook on Kyoto, but it certainly emphasises that the world does have a problem with climate change," he said.

A few days later, he said climate change was a reason Australia should adopt nuclear power. Next up, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, confessed that "a bloody hot day" in early October at the Port Elliot Show in his electorate near Adelaide crystallised his thinking on the issue.

This week, there was a flurry of Government announcements about clean energy: a $75 million grant for a solar power plant in regional Victoria and a backdown on a plan to abolish consumer rebates for solar energy were among them.

Was this a sudden change of heart from a Government derided by many for its "go slow" attitude on climate change? And if so, what prompted it?

An increasing sense of urgency about the devastation wrecked by the drought appears to be part of it. But political commentators, the Opposition and green groups say the Government's conversion is more rhetoric than real and is purely driven by public opinion.

"I think [the recent change] is utterly poll driven," says Greens senator Christine Milne. "In the federal budget, Costello did not once mention climate change and did not say the cost of the drought would blow out the budget.

"Two weeks ago Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said [the climate change documentary] An Inconvenient Truth was "just entertainment" and Howard said we shouldn't exaggerate the link between climate change and the drought. Then, Friday week ago they suddenly changed their position," Milne says.

"The polling shows the Australian community have put two and two together and see that drought, more and hotter bushfires, the water shortage and climate change are all connected and they blame the Government for 10 years of inaction."

A Lowy Institute poll released in early October found 68 per cent of Australians believed climate change was a "critical threat" that should be immediately addressed, even if this involved significant costs. As the institute's executive director, Allan Gyngell, observed, "this has become mainstream; it's no longer just an issue for Greens and people dressed up in koala suits".

The Climate Institute of Australia's chief executive, Corin Millais, agrees public opinion, particularly in rural areas, was a key factor in what he sees as a change in Government rhetoric.

"It is the polling that has focused the Government's mind, more than any intellectual position on climate change," Millais says. "Climate change is on the [political] agenda. I think what the Government is now trying to decide is what [action] is palatable."

The Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, says claims the Government is only driven by the polls are unfair. He says the Government has been concerned about climate change for some time and remains open to new ideas about how to tackle it. However, he concedes things have changed a little recently and he attributes that to the Prime Minister being tuned in to public concerns.

"That is his great skill," says Campbell. "I don't think the Prime Minister has crossed the road to Damascus but he has picked up that climate change has become a mainstream issue … people are seeing a pattern here."

He defended the recent clean energy announcements, made under the Government's $500 million Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund, pointing out that the money had been allocated some time ago.

But energy experts and opposition parties described this week's announcement by the Treasurer, Peter Costello, of a $75 million grant for a solar power plant in regional Victoria as "short-term thinking" and a one-off. Greenpeace's energy campaigner, Mark Wakeham, welcomed the funding but said the company behind the plant had admitted it might not have gone ahead if it was not for a Victorian Government renewable energy support scheme and this highlighted the Federal Government's inadequate policies.

"If you are going to tackle climate change you need systemic change," says Wakeham. "You need a price on carbon … you need incentives for all renewable energy, not just funding for one project. "If that is the Government's response to climate change then we should be worried."

Labor's spokesman on the environment, Anthony Albanese, also welcomed the funding but questioned the timing of the announcement. "The Government is good at allocating money to funds and then making political decisions at politically convenient times," he says.

"But on the issue of climate change, we require a systematic response. We need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. We need to have a significant increase in our Mandatory Renewable Energy Target . We need a national target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we need to have a price on carbon by having a national emissions trading system."

Without a price on carbon pollution, coal will remain Australia's cheapest energy source, way ahead of solar, wind and even less-polluting gas-fired power. It will make it uneconomic for coal-fired power generators to adopt technology that eliminates greenhouse gases, if and when that proves feasible.

It will also mean that nuclear energy - being touted by Howard as a major way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions - will be too expensive. That point was recently conceded by the former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski, appointed by the Government to examine the future of Australia's nuclear sector.

Switkowski, who expects to report to the Government in a month, told the Herald: "Australia is blessed with a couple of things - very low-cost electricity because of access to coal and gas, and many centuries of coal supply available. Any comparison will be unfavourable for every alternative source in the absence of an explicit cost for carbon."

Business groups, particularly banks, investment and insurance companies, have been quietly lobbying the Government for just that kind of policy.

Westpac's group general manager for stakeholder communications, Noel Purcell, says it should be acknowledged that the Government has been working on projects addressing climate change for some time. However, he says recent advice it would have received on the worsening outlook for the drought, plus the shift in public sentiment about climate change, would have influenced its position.

Now, "the big issue is putting a price on carbon and that has to be confronted", says Purcell.

Just how seriously Australians view climate change could be demonstrated next Saturday at the Walk Against Warming marches to be held in capital cities.

The Nature Conservation Council director, Cate Faehrmann, who is helping organise the event, says the response so far has been "absolutely amazing" and far stronger than for last year's walk, which attracted 5000 people in Sydney. "We have handed out 100,000 flyers, we are getting lots of phone calls from people who want to help out, businesses have contacted us to help advertise the event. The people who are coming to the walk are desperate that it be successful and are willing to do their bit to make sure it is."

The heat is on
  • Over the past decade, Australia's greenhouse pollution has increased 10 per cent. It is expected to increase by 17 per cent more by 2020.
  • In 2003, energy production accounted for 68 per cent of that pollution, and by 2020. It is expected to have increased by 70 per cent from 1990 levels.
  • 166 nations have ratified the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Australia is not one of them.
  • The Federal Government has allocated $500 million over 15 years to develop low greenhouse gas emission technology.
  • Every year, it spends $790 million on aviation fuel concessions, and $1 billion on fringe benefit tax concessions for company cars. Transport is a major contributor to Australia's greenhouse pollution.