Wednesday 30 April 2008

Ready for heavy weather

Monday 21/4/2008 Page: 13

As weather patterns turn more volatile, we need to climate-proof our cities, writes Peter Fisher.
EVEN the mild autumn days we're enjoying, it is easy to forget that almost three weeks ago Melbourne was battered by storms that not only caused property damage and a great deal of personal inconvenience but, more importantly, resulted in two deaths. These storms show that climate change need not be a gradual, creeping, almost benign process - balmy winters, growing acidity, water shortages, that sort of thing - but is capable of turning very nasty.

The damage and disruption to Melbourne's urban fabric - houses and commercial buildings, train lines, roads, power networks, even losses to our tree canopy - as well as the loss of human life, have demonstrated that the city needs to be better prepared against such ravages, which Premier John Brumby has conceded will "happen more often" under climate change.

Change is already locked into the global weather system. So in addition to trying to limit carbon emissions by renewable energy and clean coal, we should also be developing means to more adequately manage the effects of climate change, to minimise risks from cyclonic-force winds, deluges, blistering heat waves (such as that visited on Adelaide last month), bushfires and sea-level rise.

Residents still have little to guide them in their choice of housing or building locations. Vast numbers are living and working in susceptible localities. Low-lying flood-prone areas, waterfronts, land likely to slip and perhaps areas liable to strong wind or bushfire are clear concerns. The insurance industry is acutely aware of these risks and in the future will reflect them in higher premiums or a refusal to insure, as already happens with seafront properties in Florida often hit by hurricanes.

While the building industry is researching stronger materials to protect against things such as large hail damage, retrofit programs are needed, especially in more densely settled areas, to guard against heat stress (which killed thousands of elderly people in the Paris heat wave of August 2003), retain run-off from heavy rain and direct high winds away from high population areas. Trees can be strategically used, especially for cooling, with the added bonus of carbon sequestration, provided these are species that are less prone to limb fall. Hard surface coverage and reflective glass should be reduced and other heat absorbing and radiating exteriors limited.

Victoria's building requirements have recently been revised to include five-star energy provisions, but do not incorporate adaptation to weather extremes. For example, there are no stipulations barring box spoutings between joined buildings, which have a tendency to overload and allow water to seep between walls. Houses without eaves, even though frowned on by the Planning Appeals Tribunal, can still be built, and stipulations about surfaces being able to readily absorb stormwater are patchy and spread across many levels of planning jurisdiction.

The Rudd Government's recently announced $15 million Climate Change Adaptation Research networks should help define how many of these issues are to be tackled in the Australian building code. With the state's key infrastructure, we should plan to counter low-risk, high-impact events such as the destruction of the Thomson, our largest water catchment, by bushfire. With winds like those we have just experienced, the best buffer zone in the world could not keep a fire out of the watershed. Once fire had broken through, there would be contamination of dam water and a lowered yield as thirsty mountain ash saplings soak up run-off for a decade or more.

Melbourne proposes to insulate itself against such a supply emergency by building a large desalination plant. But will this solve the problem? These plants, located close to the shoreline, could be flooded in decades to come as sea levels rise from melting ice sheets in Greenland and western Antarctica or by a storm surge through a combination of high tide, torrential rain and gale force winds increasing wave heights under the influence of an intense low-pressure system. This is not the working of an overactive imagination. A storm surge destroyed the clubhouse of the Sea Spray Surf Life Saving Club last June. The rest of the structure fell into the sea a few days later.

It is vital that storm surge and sea-level rise are factored into the placement and modelling of desalination plants. A few weeks ago the Wilke Ice Shelf suddenly lost a large chunk. It lies just five degrees north of the western Antarctic ice sheet, which rests on rock below sea level. Should this disintegrate, global sea levels would rise by five metres. Described by one climatologist as an "awakening giant", the western Antarctica ice sheet should be on the whiteboards of all water planners.

Meteorologists have predicted that cyclones will track further south in the future. But Melbourne's recent storm came from an unexpected quarter - tropical cyclone Pancho, which descended from the Kimberley coast and combined with a cold, low-pressure system in the bight before heading west. While Sydney periodically experiences highly damaging stomas, Melbourne has been relatively immune from such disturbances. If this is about to change, many power lines will need to go underground.

If, as the science suggests, there is a connection between climate change in full swing and extremes in weather patterns, we should not only be thinking about the security of future city water supplies or drought at large. An early start needs to be made on "climate-proofing" our city as it takes time to change buildings, redesign infrastructure and establish coastal setbacks. The longer we delay, the harder it will get.

Dr Peter Fisher is an environment management consultant. He co-ordinated a climate change risk assessment - one of the first in Australia - commissioned by City of Port Phillip council.

Solar thermal energy can `replace coal in US'

Canberra Times
Monday 21/4/2008 Page: 3

Solar thermal electricity can be the "big gorilla on the grid", replacing coal-fired power stations across the United States - the world's biggest greenhouse polluter - over the next 40 years, a leading Australian scientist says. California-based solar energy entrepreneur and former Sydney University physicist David Mills told a US energy conference solar power was the only technology capable of ''almost eliminating" global warming caused by electricity generation by 2050.

Solar thermal electricity could supply "the great majority" of the US electricity grid and " by logical extension those of China and India", as well as eliminating carbon emissions from cars by powering fast-recharging electric vehicles. Earlier this month, federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson described Australia as a fossil fuel dependent economy, adding there was no alternative to building new coal-fired power stations.

Frustrated by a lack of federal funding for renewables, Dr Mills left Australia last year to base his solar energy company, Attsra, in California, after venture capitalists offered $ U S40 million ($A43 million) to bankroll his world-first technology. The company is currently building a 177-megawatt solar thermal plant to supply the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger launching the project last November.

Addressing an International Energy Agency conference in California, Dr Mills said peer-reviewed research showed 90 per cent of US electric grid and car energy needs could be met by solar thermal power. "The US could nearly eliminate dependence on coal, oil and gas for electricity and transportation, drastically slashing global warming pollution without increasing costs for energy.

This new study shows that our daily and annual energy needs closely snatch the energy production potential from solar thermal power plants with heat energy storage, and our models show solar thermal power will cost less than continuing to import oil." Dr Mills called for " a rethink of the function and forth of electricity grid networks" to include solar thermal arrays, which use lines of computer controlled mirrors to capture the still's energy to boil water and drive steam turbines.

During a visit to Australia this month, Dr Mills said China "clearly favours solar thermal far above airy other resource" for electricity generation and had already held high-level discussions with his company. CSIRO National Solar Energy Centre research leader Wes Stein said solar thermal energy could make a "substantial and positive" contribution to cutting Australia's greenhouse emissions.

"The technology is certainly there and we can do it, but there are complexities and a lot of pragmatics to consider because it takes time for large solar installations to be designed and built." It would only require a solar thermal array built across an area about "50km by 50km square in the centre of Australia somewhere" to supply all of Australia's electricity needs by 2020, he said. "solar thermal is really taking off globally and there is an opportunity for Australia to get on board as a maker, rather than a taker, of technology."

Oil man backs wind, 'I expect to make money on them'

Townsville Bulletin
Saturday 19/4/2008 Page: 82

LEGENDARY Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens has gone green with a plan to spend $US10 billion ($A10.7 billion) to build the world's biggest wind farm. But he's not doing it out of generosity - he expects to turn a buck. The Southern octogenarian's plans are as big as the Texas prairie, where he lives on a ranch with his horses, and entail fundamentally reworking how Americans use energy. Next month, Pickens' company, Mesa Power, will begin buying land and ordering 2,700 wind turbines that will eventually generate 4,000 megawatts of electricity.

This is the equivalent of building two commercial scale nuclear energy plants and enough power for about 1 million homes. "These are substantial," said Pickens, speaking to students at Georgetown University yesterday. "They're big." Pickens knows a thing or two about big. He heads the BP Capital hedge fund with over $US4 billion ($A4.27 billion) under management, and earned about $US1 billion ($A1.07 billion) in 2006 making big bets on commodity and equity markets. Though a long-time oil man, Pickens said he has embraced the call for cleaner energy sources that don't emit heat trapping greenhouse gases. "I'm an environmentalist - I can pass the saliva test," he said.

But Pickens intends to make money. Though Pickens admits that wind power won't be the cash cow oil has been, he still expects the huge Texas project to give him at least a 25 per cent return. "When I go into these markets, I expect to make money on them," Pickens said. "I don't expect to lose." While many states in the US have rejected big coal-fired power projects on environmental concerns, they are offering a bounty of incentives to build renewable sources.

US crude futures at new records above $US115 ($A122.80) a barrel means a bright future for renewable sources like wind and solar. Pickens' wind farm is part of his wider vision for replacing natural gas for power generation with wind and solar, and using the natural gas instead to power vehicles. To picture Pickens' energy strategy, imagine a compass. Stretching from north to south from Saskatchewan to Texas would be thousands of wind turbines, which could take advantage of some of the best US wind production conditions.

On the east-west axis from Texas to California would be large arrays of solar generation, which could send electricity into growing Southern California cities like Los Angeles. The end result would be to free up more clean-burning natural gas - primarily a power generation fuel now - to power automobiles. Major oil companies have embraced so-called natural gas liquids because they have spent billions of dollars building refineries and pipelines to turn crude oil into petrol, Pickens said. But shifting natural gas used in power generation to transportation needs could cut US crude oil imports by nearly 40 per cent, he said.

Information night on plan for home solar panels

Ballarat Courier
Monday 21/4/2008 Page: 5

A MEETING to explain a solar panel scheme will be held in Ballarat on Wednesday. The "Ballarat Solar Neighbourhood" scheme, run by a company called Beyond Building Energy, aims to make photovoltaic panels more affordable for Ballarat householders. BBE spokesman Erik Zimmerman will make a presentation to members of the Ballarat Renewable Energy and Zero Emissions group and any other interested Ballarat residents. More than 140 people attended an information night late last year, and within a week of the scheme opening to expressions of interest, more than 100 residents signed up. Mr Zimmerman said the response in Ballarat was unprecedented.

BREAZE president Nick Lanyon said the enthusiasm shown for the scheme was "reminiscent of an Internet based Myer Boxing Day sale." "BREAZE knew that people would be keen to hear about the scheme, but we frankly didn't anticipate the size of the stampede," Mr Lanyon said. "What it goes to show is that ordinary Jill and Joe Blows in Ballarat are wanting to do what they can to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that their hones are responsible for. They're impatient to take positive, practical action to protect our future climate." The scheme involves the installation of a one kilowatt solar array and an inverter which allows surplus power to be fed into the grid.

Over a year a one kilowatt array would generate a quarter to one-third of the power consumed by an average household. "And should the Victorian Government see through on their pre-election promise to create a feed-in tariff for renewable electricity generation, people with solar panels will reap even greater financial benefits," Mr Lanyon said. The information night at the Cooinda Centre in Learmonth Rd, Wendouree, would feature news on Smart Meter technology, the possibility of further Ballarat Solar Neighbourhoods and presentations from City of Ballarat heritage advisers and town planners on the installation of solar panels and solar hot water systems in heritage areas.

The presentations start at 7.30pm.

Monday 28 April 2008

Warming threat underestimated

Canberra Times
Friday 18/4/2008 Page: 1

Climate change expert Nicholas Stern says he underestimated the threat from global warming in a report 18 months ago when he compared the economic risk to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The latest climate science showed global emissions of planet-heating gases were rising faster and upsetting the climate more than previously thought, Lord Stern said in an interview yesterday. For example, evidence was growing that the planet's oceans - an important "sink" - were increasingly saturated and couldn't absorb as much as previously of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

"Emissions are growing much faster than we'd thought, the absorptive capacity of the planet is less than we'd thought, the risks of greenhouse gases are potentially bigger than more cautious estimates, and the speed of climate change seems to be faster," he said. Lord Stern said that increasing commitments from some countries such as the European Union to curb greenhouse gases now needed to be translated into action. Policymakers, businesses and environmental pressure groups frequently cite his climate change report - the Stern Review - as a blueprint for urgent climate action.

The report predicted that, on current trends, average global temperatures would rise by 2-3 degrees in the next 50 years or so and could reduce global consumption per head by tip to 20 per cent, with the poorest nations feeling the most pain. Some academics said he had overplayed the costs of potential future damage from global warming at up to 20 times the cost of fighting the problem now, such as by replacing fossil fuels with more costly renewable power.

Lord Stern said increasing evidence of the threat from climate change had vindicated his report, published in October 2006. "People who said I was scaremongering were profoundly wrong," he told a climate change conference organised by industry information provider IHS. A UN panel of scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, writes regular summaries on climate science and shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year with former US vice-president Al Gore for raising awareness.

Its latest report in 2007 had not taken detailed account of some dangerous threats, including the falling ability of the world's oceans to absorb CO2, because scientists had to be cautious and that evidence was just emerging, the former World Bank chief economist said. "The IPCC has done a tremendous job but things are moving on," he said.

"The IPCC's [cautious] approach to this is entirely understandable and sensible, but if you're looking ahead and asking about the risk then you do have to go beyond." Lord Stern said global greenhouse gas emissions should halve by mid-century to minimise the risks of dangerous climate change. The US should cut its emissions by tip to 90 per cent by then. He spoke before a senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said US President George W. Bush planned to call for a halting of growth in US greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

Wind of change concern

Geelong Advertiser
Friday 18/4/2008 Page: 11

A TINY Surf Coast town has vowed to take on a developer who has proposed to build a wind farm near their homes. Future Energy Pty Ltd managing director David Shapero has lodged an application with Surf Coast Shire to build 14 turbines in Gnarwarre, just outside Winchelsea. Local residents said it would change the rural town's skyline, increase the dust, bring tourists to the area and there had been a lack of consultation. The wind farms are proposed to be built on a 700ha site which borders Gnarwarre Rd, Mt Pollock Rd and Peels Rd.

Gnarwarre resident Kathy Russell said the 130m turbines sat on top of a 184m volcanic cone. "We believe that the siting of seven of the proposed 14 turbines on the top and slopes of Mt Pollock has the detrimental effect of changing the natural sky line forever. Mt Pollock can be seen from as far as the You Yangs, Anakie, Mt Buninyong and areas in between," Mrs Russell said. She said Mt Pollock Rd would turn into a "dust bowl" with increased pressure on the road from tourists wanting to see the turbines.*

"We suffer now from a lack of maintenance on this road - construction and tourists will make it even more dangerous," Mrs Russell said. Surf Coast Shire's Cr Lindsay Schroeter said he did not have an issue with the proposal. "I say bring it on," Cr Schroeter said. "The ones proposed are not loud and will only make a swish - if I couldn't sleep under them I'll eat my own socks." Cr Schroeter also quashed claims the turbines would kill bird life. "We have had windmills for 2000 years and you don't see dead birds under them," he said. "The problem is people want renewable energy but nobody wants it in their back yard. You would not have them in a main street and this is the ideal spot for them."

* Clearly Kathy Russell hasn't studied the anti-wind propaganda. Wind farms are supposed to "destroy" tourism.

Thurla leading `industrial ecology' charge

Mildura Weekly
Friday 11/4/2008 Page: 10

TO the casual observer heavy industry and the environment don't exactly go hand-in-hand. But Sunraysia will soon be at the forefront of a push to show they can work together. It's called 'industrial ecology' and aims to minimise and re-use waste products produced by industry. And Sunraysia's upcoming, state-of-the art Thurla Industrial Park is set to be one of the only examples of this new concept in country Australia. Melbourne-based industrial ecology company Ecopathways has been brought in to work on the Thurla project and is currently negotiating with several large companies to make the concept a reality in Sunraysia.

Managing director Markus Fraval said industrial ecology was modelled on nature. "With industrial ecology we're really trying to mimic nature," Mr Fraval said. "Instead of the by-products produced or left over from the manufacture of a product going to landfill, there's a more circular approach." Mr Fraval said waste or by-products become 'inputs' which are re-used in the manufacture of other products, rather than going to landfill or other waste facilities.

He said waste could also be treated and then on-sold to other industries. Mr Fraval said Thurla's location in an agriculture- rich area such as Sunraysia opened up opportunities for 'biomass', which is plant and animal material which can be converted into energy and fuel sources. Examples are green waste and manure from livestock which can be used to generate electricity, light, heat and fuels. "In terms of Thurla, we're very keen to target some form of biomass - anything that's agriculture or plant or animal based," he said. Mr Fraval said there were plans for a biodigester, which processes biomass, at Thurla which would put the district squarely in the national spotlight in terms of renewable energy.

"The first one is going in to the United States, a small scale one and ours will be the first, or one of the first in Australia at Thurla," Mr Fraval said. "We're looking at doing a feasibility study now to see what size biodigester would be needed." Water usage will be another focus of the industrial park according to Mr Fraval. "Water coming out of a manufacturing process comes out as a lower class, it's then retreated and re-used in another element of the industrial park," he said.

The combination of water re-use and waste recycling would mean the cost of waste management would drop significantly, which would be another attraction for businesses considering moving into the district. Mr Fraval said the next step was to engage tenants that could help build the industrial ecology side of the park. He said possibilities included biodiesel companies and food processing industries which were well suited to the industrial ecology ethos. "Our next step is to work with the Sunraysia Mallee Economic Development Board in the next couple of months," Mr Fraval said. "We aim to work with them to start approaching local and non-local industries to talk about the concept and the vision with a view to attracting businesses to the park."

Fund adds energy for positive communities

Moyne Gazette
Thursday 17/4/2008 Page: 3

MOYNE community groups are being urged to put pen to paper and apply for the current round of the Sustainable Communities Funding from Pacific Hydro. Pacific Hydro is making the grants available for a second year with applications closing on Monday, April 28. Applications are invited in the areas of health and welfare, education and training, sporting and recreation, the environment and arts and culture. Pacific Hydro's community relations manager, Emily Wood, encouraged Moyne region groups to get their applications in soon.

Last year funding went to a range of projects, Ms Wood said. The projects included the Bridgewater Surf Life Saving Club, Friends of the Great South West Walk, State Emergency Service rescue equipment and an indigenous arts project. Pacific Hydro's Sustainable Communities Fund provides funding for community groups and organisations which are making a positive contribution to their community.

The fund, which is based on a percentage of revenue from Pacific Hydro's Portland Wind Energy Project, calls for applications each year and will be available for the life of the project. Applications can be made online at or contact Pacific Hydro's Community Fund coordinator Chloe Carpenter on 8621 6428.

Wind farm expansion

Mid-West Times
Thursday 17/4/2008 Page: 3

PLANS for a Badgingarra Wind Farm with the potential to power 80,000 homes have been unveiled. Announcing the 130MW proposal with up to 65 turbines, joint project developers Griffin Energy and Stanwell Corporation said the wind farm plans came on the back of the success of their 80MW Emu Downs Wind Farm. Community meetings on the project will be held at 7.30pm on April 29 at Badgingarra Community Hall and 7.30pm on April 30 at Cervantes Community Hall.

Mixed opinions on co-op wind farm

Lithgow Mercury
Thursday 17/4/2008 Page: 2

A meeting in Bathurst this week to discuss a proposal for the establishment of a community operated wind farm received less than overwhelming support. The Western Advocate reported that about 70 people attended the forum but less than half supported the wind farm concept. Nine landholders at the meeting said they would like a windfarm feasibility study to be conducted on their properties. The indications of support have been sufficient for the organisers, the Bathurst Community Climate Network, to press ahead with another planning meeting for next month with a view to establishing a working committee.

The proposal announced by the Climate Network is for a wind farm of six turbines to generate sufficient electricity for 7500 domestic properties. It would require a 400 hectare site 'somewhere between Blayney and Lithgow and would be operated as a community cooperative. Among the speakers at the forum were Hugh Litchfield, owner operator of the twin turbines at Hampton, and Gavin Douglas who has a similar private project at Black Springs. Both spoke of the challenges they faced in setting up their wind turbines. There has been considerable opposition aired by landholders in the Rydal area when proposals for further turbines have come before Lithgow Council in recent years.

Call to reinstate Gorge to more `than a mere trickle': More power, but no more water

Launceston Examiner
Friday 18/4/2008 Page: 1

A MINI power station below Duck Reach in the South Esk River is being investigated by Hydro Tasmania. But it appears that the scheme, which if built could cost around $2 million, would not result in the release of any more water through Launceston's Cataract Gorge. Hydro corporate affairs spokesman David Jeffrey said yesterday that the company was looking at a number of ways to improve efficiency and the mini hydro scheme was one of a number of ideas.

"This is really, really, early days and we have put it on the list of things to look at over the next six months," Mr Jeffrey said. "If it was feasible we would look at it further... but at the moment it is a bright idea on the list to look at." Mr Jeffrey said the Federal Government's Mandatory Renewable Energy Target scheme could "tip the balance" in Hydro's favour to build a 1.5MW station that would provide enough power to supply 900 homes.

A similar station at Lake Parangana, in the North-West, cost Hydro $1.5 million in 2002. Mr Jeffrey said a new station would not lead to an increase in water flow through the Gorge. Hydro releases 1.5 cumec from Lake Trevallyn to "maintain environmental quality" in the Gorge. "If it were to be a goer, it would use the existing environmental flow that's put through the Gorge area. It wouldn't be increased," Mr Jeffrey said.

Since the agreement that requires Hydro to release a minimum of 1.5 cumec, the Meander Dam has become operational - putting a more consistent flow of water into the South Esk River, which flows into Lake Trevallyn. At the height of summer, the Rivers and Water Supply Commission must release 20ML a day, or 0.23 cumecs, from the Meander Dam to meet its environmental flow requirements. In April, the RWSC must release 70ML a day, which equates to 0.8 cumecs.

Because of recent rainfall, the RWSC decided to increase flows from Meander Dam to 4.5 cumecs, but Hydro has not released any of that extra water through the Gorge. However, after concerns about water quality in the upper reaches of the Tamar River, Hydro decided to increase its flows to 6 cumecs for a four-hour period today to flush-out the yacht Basin. The 4.5 cumecs from the Meander Dam added to the Hydro's environmental flow of 1.5 cumecs adds up to the 6 cumecs - which the Hydro said would be released at a value of $5000.