Sydney, NSW: Health and Social Harms of Coal Mining in Local Communities: Spotlight on the Hunter

When: Monday 29 October 2012

Time: 5:30pm-7pm

Location: Medical Foundation Auditorium - The University of Sydney,
92-94 Parramatta Road Camperdown NSW 2050
See map below for directions

Cost: Free but RSVP is essential to (02) 9036 3075

Rapid expansion of the Australian coal mining sector has highlighted tensions over conflicting needs and priorities of the industry and local communities. Anecdotal reports of disease clusters and social and environmental injustices abound – notably in the Hunter Region which has the highest concentration of coal mining and combustion in Australia, all in close proximity to population centres and farmland. With a massive expansion of coal mining underway, there is an urgent need to better understand these impacts.

Against this backdrop, Beyond Zero Emissions commissioned the Health and Sustainability Unit to explore and report on the local and international evidence about the health and social impacts of coal extraction and combustion on people living in nearby communities. A panel of experts will discuss the findings of the report and their implications for health and public policy.

Professor Stephen Simpson, Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, will open proceedings. The report will be launched by Professor Ian Olver AM, CEO of the Australian Cancer Council who will join Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri, principal author of the report, Professor Linda Connor, Mr Phil Laird (community) and Dr Tiho Ancev, for a panel discussion and Q&A moderated by Mark Ogge, Beyond Zero Emissions.

BZE submission to Sydney Trigeneration plan available

Download full submission here: Trigen_master_plan_BZEsubmission.pdf
Download accompanying spreadsheet here: BeyondZeroEmissions_Trigen_master_plan_data.xls

(NOTE: Some people have trouble downloading files from our website, with some downloads stopping before completion. If you have this problem then right-click on the link and "save link as" to save the file onto your computer)

Trigen: Energy efficiency plus renewables can do it better

The city of Sydney’s Trigeneration Master Plan, to supply city buildings with electricity, heating and cooling from a decentralised generation network, asks the right questions, but comes up with the wrong answer.

That’s the conclusion of Beyond Zero Emissions in their submission to the Master Plan.

Trigeneration uses waste heat from decentralised gas-fired electricity generators in city buildings to drive building heating, and heat-driven absorption chiller building cooling systems.

In recent years, the energy efficiency attained by electric (heat-pump based) building chillers has risen to a level where trigeneration cannot compete for efficiency in any likely scenario.

Modern electric-powered systems are also cost-competitive with the absorption chillers used in trigeneration.

Image: example trigen plant

Biogas no saviour for Sydney’s trigen plan


The City of Sydney plans to build a network of gas burners, each of which would simultaneously provide power, heating and cooling to public and private buildings.

The City believes that this approach – known as trigeneration – would reduce the carbon emissions of connected buildings by 40 to 60 per cent.

Unfortunately, rolling out a trigeneration network would have the highly undesirable consequences of fostering coal-seam gas production – which has dire environmental side-effects – and reducing the amount of biogas available to chemical and industrial processes.

It would also be a missed opportunity to build a grid powered by wind and solar. We have already covered this in our earlier article at Renew Economy.

Talking biogas, using coal-seam gas

Building the trigeneration network would result in greater demand for gas in NSW. This is because it would displace grid electricity that is currently largely drawn from non-gas sources (ie coal).

The future of gas supply in NSW is clouded with doubt. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in April, the NSW state government has warned that ”Bass Strait and Cooper Basin gas supplies are dwindling at a time when the gas export industry is growing at an extraordinary rate.”

This means that, for the foreseeable future, the demand for extra gas will stimulate growth in the dirty, unconventional gas sector – shale gas in SA, and coal-seam gas in QLD and NSW.

Image: Lemvig biogas plant in Denmark

Zero carbon housing arrives in Australia

By Matthew Wright

Designs have been released for the award winning Cape Paterson Ecovillage, Australia's first zero carbon housing development. Thirty-eight of 220 lots are available in the first section of the development.

The project takes sustainable house design, sustainable living and communities to an unprecedented level.

Starting from the ground up, the sub-division at the west end of the existing Cape Paterson village has been laid out such that all the sites have optimal solar access to the north. Excellent solar access is necessary for good quality, healthy and economic housing, a prime consideration of the Cape Paterson design team which is unfortunately lacking in most new housing estates.

Ecovillages aren't new; they exist in every state of Australia. Unfortunately they tend to fall down with either bland designs or ones that are too pricey – and they come with building envelopes and appliances that lack energy performance.

The Cape Paterson Ecovillage succeeds where others have fallen short as it has no fossil gas connection, instead its houses will utilise renewable ambient heat combined with electricity (to drive refrigeration pumps) for space and water heating.

Gas industry admits: electricity is cheaper!

Ben Courtice

All over Australia, people are looking to ‘natural’ (fossil) gas for a cheap, efficient way to heat homes and hot water, and to cook. In some areas, people even protest their lack of access to reticulated (piped) gas.

For example, for 12 years residents of Melbourne’s northern fringe suburb of Yarrambat have been “calling for their town to be connected to natural gas to combat skyrocketing bills.”

Energy companies market gas as cleaner, cheaper, more efficient. AGL bills, for example, come with a flyer suggesting you “heat your home and hot water efficiently” with deals on one or another brand of gas hot water or ducted gas heating.

But they are wrong. Gas is now more expensive, as well as less energy efficient, than electricity in modern appliances.

BZE submission to the National Food Plan now available

To download the full submission click here.

(NOTE: Some people have trouble downloading files from our website, with some downloads stopping before completion. If you have this problem then right-click on the link and "save link as" to save the file onto your computer)

Climate change has great potential to disrupt agriculture, and is already disrupting weather patterns. Shifting climatic regimes are likely to affect all aspects of food production in Australia, and a decades-long drying trend is apparent in the agriculturally important east coast, south-east and south-west regions. Also, many of Australia’s productive landscapes may already be at the outer limit of their productivity potential. Recently, a study by the University of Melbourne and CSIRO argued that adaptation to climate change would need to be transformational rather than incremental.

While modelling indicates great uncertainty but alarming possibilities for future climate, the National Food Plan green paper is quite dismissive of their impacts on Australian agriculture, indicating without evidence that “innovation and the market” will correct supply deficits.

Incongruously, the green paper states that climate change could reduce agricultural productivity to 2050 by almost 20%, yet proposes the target of doubling Australia’s food exports by 2030. Climate change has not been adequately considered in the National Food Plan.

There is little consideration in the green paper of agriculture as a major source of greenhouse gases and therefore as a driver of global warming. Agriculture (especially rangeland grazing) occupies 59% of the Australian continent. With this huge area, and all those animals emitting methane, it’s not surprising that agriculture has a strong greenhouse signature, but it also has a huge capacity to sequester carbon.

A couple of the points we make in our submission:

  • Agriculture can help mitigate climate change, by sharply reducing its own emissions and sequestering carbon in plants and landscapes; initiatives that achieve this should be researched and implemented.
  • The period of foresight considered by the National Food Plan should be well longer than the fifty-year period currently projected.
  • The food system will need to be resilient to other changes that are likely to affect it in the coming decades, including peaks of supply in energy, fertiliser, fuel, and land.
  • Analysis of risks to agriculture in the medium to long-term and the urgent development of resilience in agricultural systems should be priorities of the National Food Plan.

A safe climate is an important, finite natural resource and is necessary for reliable, productive food supplies. The agriculture sector must not jeopardise the stability of the climate system in which it operates. The National Food Plan should consider the greenhouse footprint of our food production system and advocate for the urgent adoption of comprehensive measures to turn this sector into a (net) carbon sink. Such strategies may include transformational adaptation such as large-scale changes to production systems.

Beyond Zero Emissions is currently researching possible future directions for food production and other land uses in Australia.

Biogas no saviour for Sydney's beleaguered trigen plan

The City of Sydney is planning to roll out gas burners within the city limits for a regional electricity and heating/cooling grid, powered by gas, known as “trigeneration”.

When campaigners pointed out this rollout of gas generation would support the rapid development of the devastating coal seam gas industry, their response was confused (and confusing).

At first the City’s chief development officer of Energy and Climate Change, Allan Jones, said that “trigeneration cannot run off coal seam methane as this contains damaging trace elements which would destroy the trigeneration engines… the effect would be similar to filling up a petrol car with diesel fuel”.

This is also stated in a briefing note for the Lord Mayor.

Addressing this confusion about whether “gas is gas”, the Australian Energy Market Operator, in the 2011 GSOO Gas Statement, notes that:

“The major chemical constituent of both conventional and unconventional gas is methane. Although unprocessed gas from either source contains various minor components and contaminants, gas from conventional and unconventional sources can be mixed before or after processing to industry quality standards and used interchangeably in gas transmission and distribution networks.”

Mining energy efficiency in the home

By Matthew Wright

Before buying my first TV in 2008, I had heard horror stories of early 2000s plasma screens that guzzled as much as 500 watts when in use. I knew that typical 1980s or 1990s CRT sets only used about 80 watts when in use (and about 20 watts on standby).

I didn’t find a TV that made the grade at 80 watts, so I settled on a 40-inch Sony that used 105 watts when active.

Fast-forward to 2012. My younger brother needed a TV, so I decided to give him mine and buy a new one for myself.

My new set – also a Sony – was the same size as the 2008 version, but was half the price, refreshed its screen twice as fast and had an inbuilt computer for accessing online content and data from an external hard drive.

But the important point is this: the newer model drew about 47 watts when in use – less than half the old set’s power demand, less too than the old CRT units.

This experience supports a thesis I have long held: technical innovation creates better appliances that demand less resources.

ACT Labor: renewables policy for 2016 not 2012

Climate and renewable energy think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions congratulate ACT Labor for ambitious targets in their early-announced 2016 renewable energy policy, “Action Plan 2”.

“The plan for 90% renewable energy is a great step forward compared to the national 20% renewables target. It’s particularly good to include large scale solar and wind farms explicitly in the proposal,” said Matthew Wright, Executive Director of Beyond Zero Emissions.

“Energy efficiency and public transport improvement targets in the short term are also positive.”

However, Beyond Zero Emissions questions the timeline of the policy.

“Too much renewable energy and climate action planning is deferred until future governments, beyond the responsibility of today’s ministers,” said Mr Wright.

BZE submission to the Renewable Energy Target Review now available

To download the full submission click here.

(NOTE: Some people have trouble downloading files from our website, with some downloads stopping before completion. If you have this problem then right-click on the link and "save link as" to save the file onto your computer)

We welcome the opportunity to provide comments in response to the Review of the Renewable Energy Target Issues Paper. We believe that the Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme has been a crucial mechanism in deploying renewable energy in Australia to date. However, we also recognize a desperate need to achieve a transition to a 100% renewable energy electricity system and rapid decarbonisation of the Australian economy. The RET is one policy option that can play an important part in the decarbonisation challenge and rollout of renewable energy generation.

This submission outlines the following key points:

  • The 20% RET acts as a limit to renewable energy deployment;
  • The 2020 RET should be expanded to 40% (82,000 GWh) and continue to support the development and deployment of wind generation;
  • The RET should be expanded beyond 2020 to continue the  deployment of renewables, and prevent a boom/bust scenario;
  • The ‘phatom RECs’ should be removed from the scheme to rejuvenate the wind industry;
  • The RET should not be a floating percentage target;
  • The RET should be expanded to accommodate CEFC funded projects;
  • Any consideration of scheme cost of the RET schemes should include the Merit Order Effect;
  • The shortfall charge should be increased to prevent liable entities simply paying the charge;
  • Waste Coal Gas should be removed from the scheme;
  • The SRES scheme is important to support a suite of technologies;
  • Feed-in tariffs are a superior support mechanism. Whilst state-based schemes are rolled back, and until there is a national feed-in scheme, the SRES scheme should provide a set subsidy;
  • Alternative mechanisms (e.g. large scale-feed in tariffs, or additional banded RETs) must be considered to achieve a 100% renewable energy system. The RET must be able to compliment additional support mechanisms; and
  • Future reviews should be limited to increasing the RET.
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