Denying responsibility for our fossil fuel exports

As Prime Minister Julia Gillard greets other world leaders at the Rio+20 sustainable development summit, a close look at the official messages her government is sending to the world on our behalf reveals a fundamental contradiction.

On the one hand, the Government appears aware of what is at stake on climate change. "This is the critical decade," proclaims the Government's official submission to the conference. "Decisions we make from now to 2020 will determine the severity of the climate change our children and grandchildren experience".

Yet the part of the submission on "sustainable mining" - one of its "priority" themes for the summit - makes no mention of the impacts of the huge quantities of fossil fuels we mine for export.

The Government submission focuses narrowly on the economic and social benefits that mining can provide when it is properly regulated. In this sense, Australia posits itself as a leader, "well positioned to work in partnership with developing nations to assist in spreading the benefits of mining in a sustainable way".

Undoubtedly, the local impacts of Australian mining are better regulated than in many developing countries, and it is legitimate for Australia to help such countries improve their governance processes.

But is it right that we take such a narrow view of the impacts of mining given the need for urgent climate action in this "critical decade"?

By framing sustainability as a matter of localised environmental, social and economic impacts, the Government leads us to focus on the process of mining, distracting our attention from the product of that process.

Solar tariff fitted up

Commission counts only the upfront cost, misses savings

Solar feed-in tariffs have been framed. By focusing on the cost but ignoring the savings from solar power, a backlash is being encouraged when we should be celebrating success.

The Australian has used statements from the Essential Services Commission of South Australia (ESCOSA) to claim that the state’s solar Feed-in Tariff will cause over $100 a year rise in South Australia’s already-high electricity bills.

“This high figure shows two things,” said Matt Wright, Executive Director of renewable energy think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

“Firstly, the policy has succeeded very well in deploying solar power, even if they were unprepared for it.

“Secondly, they haven’t understood the flow-on benefits and don’t realise that solar is generating savings too.

“Research by University of Melbourne, and separately by ROAM Consulting, shows that the lower wholesale electricity prices that have been achieved in South Australia has more than offset the cost of funding the Feed-in-Tariff.”

Repower Port Augusta Petition: support Australia's first solar thermal plant

Click here to sign the petition

We Have A Choice – Add Your Voice !

Australia is the sunniest continent in the world yet we are slow to harness the potential of our solar energy.

 I support replacing Port Augusta’s coal generators with renewable energy: particularly baseload solar thermal supported by solar PV and wind. This would provide 24 hour baseload electricity and...

- Create 1800 jobs

 - Save millions of tonnes of CO2 annually

- Lead the switch to a renewable energy economy

 - Eliminate the serious health impacts of coal and gas

 - Ensure more stable electricity prices for South Australians


Click here to sign the petition

Repower Port Augusta: Help us win!

Support the call for Australia's first solar thermal plant

Beyond Zero Emissions is leading a campaign to get Australia’s first solar thermal power plants built - and we need your help.

Repower Port Augusta is gaining momentum. Next week we are heading to the SA Parliament, the RPA Alliance has gained interest from unions and business groups and the Port Augusta local group is holding a pivotal vote in the community next month.

Click here and make a tax deductible donation to join the campaign at this critical point.

Short-circuiting an electric price surge

According to energy minister Martin Ferguson, our electricity infrastructure will undergo a $42 billion upgrade over the current five-year regulatory period.

At around $6000 per household, these grid upgrades are the biggest contributor to recent and forthcoming electricity price rises.

Much of that is chasing our tail, upsizing the grid to meet ever growing peak air conditioning demand.  Rather than building new poles and wires at such huge cost to electricity consumers, reducing electricity demand is one of the solutions.

In the year 2000, Australia had approximately four million air conditioning systems with an average rated cool value of 4kW (real-time maximum output not electrical input).

This figure doubled by 2011 – we now have approximately eight million air conditioning units throughout Australia.

Co-efficient of Performance (COP) figures are used to determine how energy efficient a heating or cooling system is.  COP is a measure of the energy multiplier that is achieved by concentrating and moving (or removing) ambient heat through the refrigeration cycle. Refrigeration, derived from the compression and expansion of gases, is what drives reverse cycle air conditioning heat pumps. With this system, the heat energy harvested (or removed) is a multiple of the electricity used.

South Australia wind power figures vindicate radical energy plan

Yesterday energy consultants EnergyQuest broke the news that wind power supplied 31% of South Australia’s electricity in the last quarter.

Solar panels added another 3.5% to put renewable energy’s share in that state well above coal (26%) and getting close to gas (39.5%).

31% wind energy is up from 21% 12 months ago. Just six years ago, the contribution of wind in South Australia was close to zero.

Beyond Zero Emissions spokesperson Matthew Wright says the findings vindicate his group’s controversial Zero Carbon Australia plan, which outlines a transition to 100% renewable energy in ten years.

“The message this sends is that Australia can rapidly reduce its high fossil fuel use and carbon emissions, over ten years, not the commonly suggested 2050 date for serious emissions reduction targets.

 “Our plan has wind providing 40% of the annual energy of Australia, and making that transition in ten years. Clearly, progress in South Australia shows that we aren’t being so radical after all. Maybe our 40% was conservative: SA are nearly there already, and still adding more wind capacity.

 “If we combine the variable output of wind farms with a flexible, dispatchable renewable energy source we can abandon fossil fuels altogether. Modern solar thermal plants, that can run around the clock off stored heat can do this.

 “We are helping to develop a plan for the first such plants to replace the coal power stations at Port Augusta.

 “Wind energy has proven it is up for the task. We just need to get the right policy such as a feed-in tariff to support the newer solar thermal plants, and Australia can kick its fossil fuel habit for good.”


Sydney trigen? Try again with renewables

Since the industrial revolution, when cities became dirty places, we have been removing pollution from their streets and neighbourhoods.

We’ve seen old central coal plants closed down and replacements built hundreds of kilometres away.

Stricter and stricter vehicle emissions standards have been enacted to reduce local pollution and improve the health, wellbeing and happiness of city dwellers.

So why would you choose to then bring a gas power plant back into the centre of the city, where it will release large quantities of health-damaging nitrogen oxide?

A subsidiary of Origin Energy and the City of Sydney have done a deal to start rolling out trigeneration (“trigen”) gas generators in the most heavily populated urban area of Australia.

Trigen is being touted as the new clean, decentralised system for generating power. You might hear about its fabulous efficiency, or the potential to burn renewable bio-gas in future, but when you remove the spin, it’s just re-packaged fossil gas.

But our concern is not just that it’s not renewable, or the nitrogen oxide gases, among other pollutants, that will damage respiratory health. As it turns out, trigen’s carbon emissions and energy efficiency aren’t that great either.

CEFC a distraction, not a solution: We need a comprehensive renewable energy policy

Renewable energy think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) has today released its response to the government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) legislation.

To download it click here.

BZE opposes the CEFC in its current form, as it will not secure any extra renewable energy over the already legislated target of 20% renewables by 2020.

Additionally, the government’s flawed definition of “renewable” and low-emissions technology means the CEFC may end up funding dirty, fossil-gas-burning projects.

BZE asks whether the policy is designed to obscure the difference between government-defined ‘clean energy’ and truly clean renewables.

BZE’s statement outlines what will really support renewable energy expansion, in particular a national Feed-in Tariff. This would support key renewable energy technologies such as baseload solar thermal power plants.

To download the statement click here.

For further comment, please contact Matthew Wright, Executive Director of Beyond Zero Emissions on 0421 616 733.

Repowering Port Augusta report now available

To download the report click here.

This ground breaking report makes the environmental, social and economic case for the replacement of Port Augusta’s existing brown coal-fired power stations with baseload solar thermal and wind power.

As with all our work, this blueprint is technically detailed, fully costed and backed up by rigorous research. 

There is currently a battle on between renewable energy and gas for which energy source will replace the brown coal generators. Our research shows that building baseload solar thermal power in Port Augusta will:

  • Create 1800 jobs
  • Protect the health of the Port Augusta community
  • Save 5 million tonnes of CO2 each year
  • Result in lower and more stable electricity prices
  • Provide energy security for South Australia

Fossil gas will not achieve a single one of the points above. It will result in job losses, continued pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and volatile electricity prices. As Port Augusta Mayor Joy Baluch says, "Certainly gas is not an option."

AGL's war on solar

It is deeply troubling that AGL continues to suggest low income households, such as pensioners, are now paying more for their electricity to enable Australians to get solar. This is simply not true.

If we rewind, to a bit over two years ago, before AGL tried to deflate the solar PV industry, many Australians were saving, begging and borrowing money or using their hard-earned savings to buy a rooftop solar system.

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