Tag Archives: renewable energy

Carbon price policy announced today – here’s a summary

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Let’s be clear, the carbon price policy announced today is not science-based or visionary and won’t achieve that much. However, it can genuinely be described as a small step in the right direction. If Australia is to do its bit towards achieving a safe climate future – a lot more needs to happen. Our hard work campaigning has gotten us this far, but now is not the time to be resting on our laurels.

Written below is not an exhaustive list of what the carbon price policies entail, rather a summary of the most important points as we see them.

 

Summary of policy package

  • $23 a tonne starting price (1 July 2012) rising by 2.5% per annum before an emissions trading scheme starts on 1 July 2015.
  • Compensation through the tax and welfare system means most people will be better off or fully compensated for any increases in costs.
  • Emissions reduction targets of 5% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 on 2000 levels.
  • Stationary energy (electricity generation and gas/oil processing), industrial processes, fugitive emissions and emissions from non-legacy (new) waste are covered by the scheme.
  • Agriculture is not covered, most transport is not covered.
  • $9.2 billion in industry compensation mainly for trade exposed industries, steel, coal and gas – reducing slowly over time.
  • Creation of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest $2 billion a year for five years in “clean” energy – with at least 50% of that money to go to renewable energy. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS – “clean” coal) is not included as “clean” energy.
  • Creation of an independent Climate Change Authority, which will advise the Government on emissions targets and report annually.

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Is it better than the CPRS?

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) put forward by Kevin Rudd after negotiations with the Malcolm Turnbull-led Coalition in 2008 was worse than nothing. There are a number of key differences with this package that make this package better:

  • For the first three years of the scheme it will be impossible for polluters to buy dodgy overseas offsets rather than pay for their pollution. When the emissions trading scheme starts in 2015 it will limit overseas offsets to 50% of the carbon liability. The CPRS had no limit.
  • Some of the coal “compensation” is conditional on the closure of 2000MW of coal-fired electricity by 2020. This means that it is likely that Hazelwood will be closed within this time (we need to make sure it is sooner rather than later!). The CPRS had no such conditions and only paid coal companies to stay open.
  • The creation of independent bodies for controlling the investment in renewable energy (Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency) will take the decision making out of the hands of energy ministers, many of whom, like Martin Ferguson currently, have strong links to the fossil fuel and uranium industries and are biased against renewable energy.
  • The creation of independent advisory body the Climate Change Authority to advise on emissions targets and using the Productivity Commission to examine industry compensation will pressure government to improve the scheme over time.
  • Putting aside a minimum of $5 billion over five years (and maximum $10 billion) for investment in renewable energy is a good way to spend the carbon price revenue. The old CPRS had money going only to household and polluter compensation.
  • There are also a whole bunch of small components which improve on the old scheme. For example burning woodchips from native forests can no longer be counted as renewable energy. Also, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is being forced to plan for a 100% renewable electricity grid, triggering a shift in thinking within the organisation.

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Where does it fall short?

There is still a very long way to go. Some of the key problems are:

  • The target of 5% emissions reductions by 2020 is pathetically small and well below anything even closely resembling a science-based target (which is closer to 100% by 2020). There is still no vision for a zero emissions economy and a clear pathway for how we will get there.
  • The huge amounts of unjustifiable hand-outs to the big polluters remain. A lot of these handouts will go to shareholders as windfall profits at our expense.
  • Most of the fossil fuel subsidies remain untouched.
  • Large sections of our transport emissions are excluded from this package, meaning there is little incentive to reduce petrol usage.
  • There is no mechanism to stop a transition to gas rather than renewable energy. Allowing our economy to go from being powered by coal to gas is suicidal. A carrot and stick approach to gas and renewable energy, such as banning new gas plants and providing a feed-in tariff for large and medium-scale wind and solar projects is something we need to keep fighting for.

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Final points

While this policy by itself won’t do much, once it has passed parliament and implemented it will represent a significant political victory over the big polluters and the climate change denier faction in the Liberal and National Parties, who have been fighting long and hard against any climate action for around 20 years. It will hopefully be a basis from which to shift the politics further towards prosperity and survival.

Word from some of the negotiators is that that without our doorknocking, emailing, rallying and phone calling, this package would have been a lot worse than it is. And of course without the hung parliament and Adam Bandt being elected in Melbourne, it wouldn’t have happened at all.

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Further information

Government website

Greens website

Crikey coverage

ABC Environment

The Conversation

The real public opinion on renewable energy

Originally published in ABC’s The Drum.

By Andrew Bray

As the shift to clean energy transforms the competitive landscape of the world economy, Australians face some very big decisions indeed. The cheap, fossil fuel-based energy that has been our economic trump card until now is starting to look more like a dud hand.

So where do Australians want to get their energy from in the future and what do they think about renewable energy as an alternative?

It suits the Opposition and some sections of the media to pretend that the only thing we care about is our cost of living but you’d think Australians would be smart enough to walk and chew gum at the same time. We all watch our bills but that doesn’t stop us from also considering issues like pollution and the costs of energy into the future.

So to test the case, the 100% Renewable Energy campaign decided to bypass the media and get it straight from the horse’s mouth. We wanted to hear directly from our communities what they thought about renewable energy.

From February to May of this year, community groups associated with the campaign conducted over 14,000 face-to-face conversations at people’s doors, in their lounge rooms, at markets and community events and on the sidelines of football matches. Conversations took place from Bega to Bunbury and Cairns to Hobart.

The sheer number of people we spoke to eclipsed any of the focus groups or randomised polls that are traditionally used to gauge the public mood.

The support we found for renewable energy was overwhelming. The people we spoke to support renewable energy and they want to see politicians get on with the job of bringing it online.

Some 91per cent of participants thought that the government should be implementing strong policy to support new jobs and investment in renewable energy while 86 per cent of participants thought Australia should develop a plan to move to 100 per cent renewable energy.

Another finding was that 90 per cent of the people we spoke to thought we should be installing more renewable energy to counter rising energy prices.

This might come as a surprise given recent publicity about rising electricity prices, but it shouldn’t. The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) identified in its recent report that the three main causes of rising prices were investment in ageing infrastructure, increasing costs of fossil fuels and uncertainty about carbon pricing – none of which involved support for renewable energy.

By contrast, the recent history of solar PV in Australia has demonstrated that the more it is installed, the cheaper it becomes. The cost of small grid systems dropped in price by 40 per cent last year according to the Australian PV Association and we can expect to see a similar trajectory with large scale solar as installations begin here.

But perhaps more interesting than the survey figures were the over 4,000 comments we recorded when the conversations switched to general discussion.

Madge, an 82 year old woman from Townsville interrupted her daytime TV to speak with us. After being reassured that building more renewable energy won’t mean giving up her air conditioning, she told us “Well of course I want solar, I’m a Queenslander!”

David, in Dulwich Hill, Sydney, exclaimed “I can’t understand why we aren’t just using the sun and the wind. It’s just common sense.”

Indeed, the common sense we heard directly from thousands of Australians was the most valuable discovery of the conversations and “just get on with it!” was the sentiment we heard the most.

Common sense isn’t generally associated with government decision making and nor is it readily apparent in the din of vested interests bellowing at the government through the headlines.

So if the government wants to introduce some of this common sense into its carbon pricing package, how would they go about it?

Julie from Tasmania expressed it well when she told us “Tax big polluters. Use the profits of the tax to fund research for renewable energy. Make substantial change and jobs and investment will come.”

The plan to price carbon pollution has been a difficult sell for the government but if they could tap into people’s attraction to renewable energy and deliver significant new funding for research and commercialisation, they could find their plan much more popular than it currently is.

And that kind of leadership would be applauded by the likes of Paul in Orange, NSW: “Australia should be a world leader in renewable energy. Instead we lag behind the rest of the world.”

The final word should go to Dot, a 92 year old woman from Campbell’s Creek in Victoria.

“Go ahead with renewable energy. God gave us a brain and it’s up to us to use it. There has been enough talk.”

You wouldn’t have thought it was rocket science.

 

Andrew Bray is an organiser for the 100% Renewable Energy campaign.

Natural Gas Statement

The Federal Government, with support from the fossil fuel industry, have openly admitted that the price on pollution will lead to coal being replaced with gas, rather than renewable energy – if no further policy initiatives are introduced. Additionally, the Yarra Energy Foundation is exploring gas-fired co-generation and tri-generation as ways to reduce our local area’s emissions.

The statement below clearly shows why shifting from coal to gas, rather than to renewable energy, is suicidal from an economic and environmental standpoint.

 

Contents:

Summary

1. Scientific context

2. What is natural gas?

3. Emissions from gas

4. Other environmental damage from gas

5. Energy security

6. Alternatives to gas

 

Summary

The climate and energy crises that we face demand solutions that fit the scale of the problem. Natural gas is a fossil fuel which produces large amounts of carbon dioxide when burnt to make heat and electricity. Its extraction pollutes land and water and destroys precious farmland.

While gas fired power stations, cogeneration and trigeneration may appear attractive at the moment, there are plenty of zero emissions alternatives available which do not involve locking our society into decades of risky and polluting gas infrastructure.

Gas is not a transitional fuel, it is a dangerous detour.

 

1. Scientific context

Australians are already suffering from the impacts of climate change and fossil fuel dependence. Worsening droughts, heatwaves, bushfires and floods are costing lives, damaging our economy, and increasing the cost of living. The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan[i] neatly summarises the urgency of the current climate science:

“According to research carried out by NASA and others, current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already sufficiently high to carry the climate system past significant tipping points[ii]. They pose an unacceptable risk of dangerous and irreversible changes to the world’s climate, to biodiversity, and therefore to human civilisation. These changes directly affect Australia’s food and water security, and increase the risk of regional instability.

“Using a global carbon budget approach, recent work by the German Advisory Council on Global Change demonstrates that, to have a two-in-three chance of keeping global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, developed nations with the highest per capita rates of emissions, such as the United States and Australia, would need to decarbonise their economies by 2020[iii]. Atmospheric carbon dioxide must be reduced from the current level of over 390 parts per million (ppm) into the range of 300 to 350 ppm.”

Unfortunately we cannot negotiate with the laws of physics and with natural ecosystems. We need to get to zero emissions and take carbon out of the atmosphere.

2. What is natural gas?

Usually referred to as natural gas, gas is a fossil fuel mainly made up of methane (CH4). Gas has traditionally been a by-product of oil extraction, which has now become a valuable commodity. It is usually extracted from oil and gas wells, as well as less traditional sources such as coal seams.

Natural gas when burned produces carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. When it leaks into the atmosphere (as it often does) as methane, it has a global warming potential 72 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20 year timeframe (that is, one molecule of natural gas causes 72 times the global warming of one molecule of carbon dioxide averaged over a 20 year period).

YCAN is generally supportive of the use of other types of gases that are created within the current carbon cycle, like biogas, as long as they are from truly renewable sources and don’t take up land that would otherwise be used to grow food. Our current understanding is that there is very limited capacity to produce gas in this way and no capacity in the foreseeable future to supply all our current gas needs from renewable sources.

3. Emissions from gas

Gas is most certainly not a zero emissions or renewable energy source.  Those that stand to make a lot of money from gas try to sell it as “clean”, but nothing could be further from the truth. While natural gas-fired power plants are the least carbon intensive out of all fossil fuels (producing about half the emissions of coal), they are still highly emitting. Gas-fired power stations produce about 515kg of CO2 per megawatt hour of energy generated[iv].

However, emissions from gas-fired power stations or cogeneration and trigeneration systems don’t tell the whole story. Before it is burnt to produce heat, natural gas must be extracted, refined and transported. Each step of the way, more emissions are produced and gas leaks into the atmosphere. Very little research has been done into the total life-cycle emissions from natural gas, but a recent study out of Cornell University showed that emissions from shale gas extracted by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) was:

“…greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.” (emphasis added)[v]

Fracking is a particularly dirty way of extracting gas. However, this research also shows that the emissions from conventional gas extraction are no less than coal when the whole life-cycle is examined. It is obvious that gas cannot be called clean, and the claims by the gas industry that it is must be treated as false unless proven otherwise.

4. Other environmental damage from gas

Apart from its emissions, the extraction process for gas is highly damaging to human health and the environment.

Drilling for oil and gas sometimes goes wrong and severe land and water pollution occurs as a result.  Also, coal seam gas extraction has been shown to pollute groundwater and destroy agricultural land[vi]. In Australia the demand for gas is resulting in some of our best farmland being turned into gas fields. As the world faces the increasing challenge of feeding a growing population while the impacts of climate change reduce agricultural production, polluting our groundwater and destroying farmland to obtain gas is pure insanity. Any increase in gas use is contributing to this destruction.

5. Energy security

Using gas as a fuel exposes us to uncertainties as the cost of gas fluctuates in the global marketplace. Australia had previously been shielded from this but as our export infrastructure for natural gas is built, international parity pricing (i.e. paying the same for gas as the global market price) will become the norm.  We are already seeing how our dependence on oil is leaving our economy at the mercy of the fluctuating oil price. Why risk the same thing happening with gas? Renewable energy has no fuel costs.

6. Alternatives to gas

Gas should not be a part of the transition to a zero emissions economy. It is not a transition fuel, it is a detour from the renewable energy future we want and need. Large multinational companies stand to make the most profit from gas-fired power stations. These greedy companies are choosing to develop fossil fuels while trying to drive those developing true renewable energy options out of the market. They have no interest in combatting climate change or energy insecurity, only in making profit.

We don’t want to see investment in gas infrastructure, effectively locking us in to this dangerous and polluting fuel for decades, when there are alternatives available.

At the large scale, alternatives to gas include the well known renewable energy technologies such as solar thermal, wind, solar photovoltaic, hydro and others currently in development like geothermal, wave and tidal power.

Policies like a pollution tax must be accompanied by additional measures that encourage renewable energy development and discourage gas.

At the household scale, gas cooking can be replaced with induction cooktops and gas heating with electric heat pumps (powered with renewable electricity) and solar hot water.

We understand that local councils have a strong attraction to the use of cogeneration and trigeneration, which is currently a cheap way to reduce emissions (compared to coal-fired power) and start generating electricity and heat locally. However, for all the reasons mentioned above, we recommend the following alternatives:

  • Energy efficiency measures;
  • Purchasing greenpower;
  • Installing solar photovoltaic panels and solar hot water;
  • Small-scale hydro[vii], and
  • Directly investing in medium and large scale wind and solar thermal plants

There are potential biofuel sources of gas, for example by processing things like green and food waste. If co-generation and tri-generation are to be considered, then the gas should come from a waste or renewable source.

While most of these measures are currently more expensive than using natural gas, in the medium and long term many will be cheaper.

Now is the time to start investing in a renewable energy future, the time for delay has long passed.

 

Knock, knock, knocking on Clifton Hill’s door

YCAN will be knocking on doors, surveying Clifton Hill residents on their attitudes to renewable energy on Saturday 28 May for 2 hours.  This event is part of the national 100% renewable energy campaign, which is aiming to collect 20,000 surveys across Australia to be tabled in Parliament by Independent Rob Oakeshott in June.

We need lots of people to help reach our target of 500 surveys. Training and materials will be provided. Sign up online or contact us for further information.

Renewable Energy: how it reduces the cost of power

From 100percent.org.au. To get a printable pdf version of this fact sheet click here.

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For years the prevailing public view has been that renewable energy will make electricity more expensive. Now, as more countries move towards a renewable energy future, evidence is showing that more renewable energy in the mix actually results in cheaper power, and offers to do the same for Australia.

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International experience: enjoying the benefits

Some of Europe’s early adopters of wind include Germany, Belguim and Denmark. In April 2010 a study showed how wind power was causing a drop in the overall cost of power in these countries. It found that in 2009, the average wholesale electricity price fell in these countries by between €3 and €23 per MWh ($4.3 – $32.8 per MWh based on an exchange rate of A$1=€0.7). If this reduction in wholesale prices occurred in the Australian market and was fully passed on to the consumer, it would lower household electricity bills by up to 15%.*

Europe is not alone in reaping the economic gain of wind power. Since 2005 in the United States, the average wind project has been producing electricity at less than the national average wholesale price (see Figure 1 below). The only exception to this being 2009 as the global economic downturn lowered the cost of wholesale electricity, which you can see as an anomaly in the last data point. In short, this means that the effect of wind power in the US for the last five years has been to reduce the overall cost of electricity.

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Figure 1 – Average Cumulative Wind and Wholesale Power Prices Over Time, from the US DoE Wind Technologies report 2009

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What does this mean for Australia?

Studies from some surprising sources show that increasing Australia’s share of renewable energy would produce the same economic benefit here. A study from the Business Council of Australia (BCA) shows that increasing renewable energy in Australia through the Renewable Energy Target (RET) would result in a lower cost of power, compared to without the RET (see Figure 2).

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Figure 2 – difference in wholesale electricity price with and without the MRET. From the BCA report: Modelling Success, page 134

A study for the National Generators Forum** backs up this conclusion, finding that the RET would reduce the electricity pool price by 5%. Based on the figures in the National Generators Forum report, electricity retailers would be $10 billion better off in 2015 with the RET than without it.

The Business Council of Australia and National Generators Forum haven’t exactly been the biggest supporters of renewable energy over the years for reasons outlined below. However, even their own reports can’t avoid the fact that renewable energy is a good thing for electricity prices.

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How is renewable energy lowering the cost of power?

Renewable energy has a few important advantages over conventional fossil fuel power that produce these economic benefits. Because renewable energy power plants are normally smaller and more distributed through the electricity network, it makes for an electricity grid that is more stable, with numerous points of power supply and more resilient to disruptions to infrastructure or peaks in demand. Further, most renewable energy power plants have zero fuel costs. As they are greenhouse pollution-free, they don’t have to worry about carbon costs. Less moving parts on many power plants also means renewables are easier to maintain and operate. Basically, when a renewable energy power plant gets built, it will run for next to nothing.

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Why then is it more expensive to purchase green power?

In complying with renewable energy target policies, electricity retailers need to prove that they have bought enough renewable electricity from the wholesale market. This comes in the form of renewable energy certificates, each one representing a unit of clean energy. The certificates and the energy they represent have a set price, which the retailers pay and then pass on to the consumer.

However, that’s only one side of the story. In buying electricity from a market with lots of renewables contributing, the total cost to retailers will actually drop thanks to the economic benefits of renewable energy. Unfortunately, while retailers are all too happy to pass on the economic costs of buying certified renewable energy, we consumers don’t necessarily see them pass through the savings from renewables.

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So if renewable energy makes power cheaper, why are policies to support renewables opposed so much?

For most of us, renewable energy brings only benefits from cleaner, safer and more affordable power. The only real losers are the generators of old, dirty fossil fuel electricity. So competition is a major factor as renewables and fossil fuels are both in the same game of providing electricity.

But the major economic benefit of renewable energy is felt at times of peak electricity demand. When there is a major surge in demand – for example, on a hot summers’ day when lots of air conditioners are on – the wholesale electricity price often skyrockets hundreds or even thousands of times above the normal price. Peaks might not last long, but they are a major earner for the electricity generators. An example of these spikes in electricity cost can be seen in Figure 3.

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Figure 3 – Victorian wholesale electricity prices in late January 2009. Peaks are clearly visible during the day on both the 28th and 29th of the month. Graph produced from data accessed from the Australian Electricity Market Operator.

The benefits of renewable energy, outlined above, help to manage the electricity supply and demand, and soften the spikes in wholesale prices during peak times, meaning they are not as profitable for fossil fuel electricity generators. That’s why renewables are met with such strong opposition from the fossil fuel industry: they are threatening the profits of a few companies.

We can’t let the vested interests of a handful of dirty energy companies prevent a future of safe, clean, reliable and affordable power. We need to make the shift to a 100% renewable energy future now!

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*Assuming a final delivered electricity price of 20c /kWh is reduced by 3c / kWh).

**CRA International, 2008. Market Modelling to Assess Generator Revenue Impact of Alternative GHG policies, prepared for the National Generators Forum.

Help us take on Australia’s dirtiest bank

Come along to help hold ANZ accountable for their support of the coal industry. There are two locations, each with two separate shifts for this action. Register for one of the shifts with Ian at iandrmack -at- optusnet.com.au or alternatively, just show up!
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When: SATURDAY MARCH 19
Where: ANZ Branch 219 Smith St, Fitzroy
Times: 9am to 11am and 11am to 1pm

Or:

When: SATURDAY MARCH 19
Where: ANZ Branch 309 Bourke St Mall, City
Times: 10.30am to 12.30pm and 12.30 to 2.30pm
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A new report commissioned by Greenpeace, Pillars of Pollution: How Australia’s Big Four Banks Are Propping Up Pollution, reveals the extent to which Australia’s big four banks are investing in polluting coal power – and they’re using your money to do it. For every $1 ANZ invested in renewable energy over the last five years, it invested $6.40 in coal.
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These banks spend huge amounts of money and time trying to sell themselves as environmentally responsible. But if they continue heavily investing in polluting power, it doesn’t matter how many trees they plant – the damage caused by their coal investments is already too great.
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Local Melbourne climate action groups YCAN and inc3 are organising an action as part of the Greenpeace Dirty Banks campaign to pressure the big four to stop funding new coal fired power stations. We would love to invite and have you join us in this action.
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The action will mainly involve leafleting outside ANZ bank branches, holding banners, etc.
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This is the same strategy that was used to make it hard for Gunn’s and their pulp mill to get funding and holding financial institutions to account for the greenwash they are building into their branding. Tasmania as we know recently has had their breakthrough agreement with the loggers.
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The facebook event page is here.

ANZ Bank – the dirtiest amongst the dirty

Tell ANZ to clean up its act!

Burning coal is endangering our health, polluting the air and water, and making global warming worse.
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And who is providing the dirty money to finance dirty coal power in Australia? It’s the retail bank that claims it ‘lives in your world‘ – ANZ.
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ANZ is officially the dirtiest bank in Australia.
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Despite announcing its plan to be carbon neutral by the end of 2009, ANZ is the largest financer of dirty coal power in Australia. Over the past five years, ANZ has poured nearly 1.6 billion dollars into coal power stations, coal mines and coal ports. At a time when we need to be cutting pollution and investing in renewable energy, ANZ is using our money to expand Australia’s coal industry.
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Click here to go to the Greenpeace site that allows you to send an email to ANZ’s CEO Mike Smith. You can also send him a Christmas card by downloading the image below and sending it to ANZGroupCEO@anz.com and gerard.brown@anz.com.au.
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We also encourage all ANZ customers, and those of the other major banks to switch to companies not investing in coal or other fossil fuels such as Bendigo Bank or MECU Credit Union.

Brumby’s Quarry Vision

Originally published in Arena Magazine.
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John Brumby stands looking upwards into the distance, squinting and baring his nice straight teeth. Behind him is a giant octagonal configuration of mirrors reflecting the sun’s rays against a backdrop of perfect blue sky. They call this greenie porn: pictures of big shiny solutions for the energy dilemmas of our time, like this one taken at a large-scale solar power plant.
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Cashing in on the appeal in this advertisement in an inner-Melbourne local paper we read: ‘John Brumby and Labor – Leading Australia on Climate Change’. There are some dot points about making Victoria the ‘Solar State’, about spending $650 million on climate change and renewable energy programs; $10 billion on unspecified new investment and jobs; a target for emissions cuts of 20 per cent by 2020 on 2000 levels; and a staged closure of Hazelwood power station. Interesting for a state government that has overseen steady increases in greenhouse gas emissions over the eleven years it has held power.
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There is no questioning the motivation here. Following the 2010 federal election (in which Julia Gillard’s strategy on climate policy was to duck and deflect), the large swing to the Greens across the country, and especially in Victoria, resulted in that party gaining the balance of power in the Senate and claiming the lower house seat of Melbourne. Facing an election of his own on 27 November, with four seats at risk of being lost to the Greens, Brumby has made no secret that he has a different strategy in mind. On 26 July, as Abbott and Gillard’s campaigns were already in full swing, he released his Climate Change White Paper.
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This long-awaited statement of Victoria’s climate policy agenda looked fresh: first, because it was in radical contrast with the federal climate change policy vacuum; second, because it actually did reflect a new approach from the Brumby government. Previous drafts focussing almost exclusively on ‘adaptation’ had had to be pulped as carbon prices went on and off the national agenda, and Brumby finally decided emissions reductions could not be left to higher forces.
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Unfortunately, Brumby’s apparent climate policy stance has very little to do with the substance of his policies. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence of politics-as-usual, which continues to fall distressingly short of the task of altering our progress along a path to ecological disaster. It boils down to the question of how we might assess leadership on climate change. If it were a question of relativity we might have reason to congratulate the Brumby government for taking some steps forward. The problem is that they are baby steps, and can be explained more easily by a fear of losing votes to the Greens rather than any real comprehension of climate change science.
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The capacity of politics-as-usual to live up to the task of avoiding dangerous climate change has been questioned before and found wanting. In their 2008 assessment of the dramatic, widening gap between the response that climate science demands and the response actually given, David Spratt and Philip Sutton in Climate Code Red pointed to the short-term, adversarial and incremental mode of politics conventional in Western nations like ours. This mode is ‘steeped in a culture of compromise that is fearful of deep, quick change—which suggests it is incapable of managing the transition [to a safe-climate economy] at the necessary speed’. Nothing has changed, except that is, the amount of evidence in support of this statement.
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Nowhere is this more evident than in the Australian approach to coal, with politics-as-usual meaning a refusal to deviate from the ‘quarry vision’ so aptly described by Guy Pearse in his 2009 Quarterly Essay, Quarry Vision: Coal, Climate Change and the End of the Resources Boom. This is an ingrained mentality—shared by the vast majority of politicians, the business sector and many citizens: that Australia is a nation dependent both for domestic electricity and export income on digging up, shipping out and burning coal.
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While the imperative to break with this mentality could not be stronger, for reasons ranging from the moral to the pragmatic, there is no indication that this is occurring where it matters most. Witness QR National proudly boasting their coal freight activities and asking that Australians invest in the idea that this will continue indefinitely. Witness federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson feigning ignorance when presented with the prospect of the need to draw up transition plans for coal workers. Meanwhile ABARE proudly reports that Australian coal exports reached record levels in the December quarter 2009 and projects that exports will rise by 88 per cent between 2004/2005 and 2029/2030.
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But what of Premier Brumby and his latest advertisements? Should we be grateful that he did not pose next to a big pile of coal and some smokestacks? Unfortunately there is nothing to suggest that Brumby’s own quarry vision is wavering, beyond his apparent recognition that it may not be the best thing to emphasise in an election context.
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A key element of Brumby’s climate policy platform is a commitment to shutting down a quarter of production at Hazelwood—Australia’s most polluting coal-fired power station—over the next four years. Considering it was due to close in 2009 but had its life extended in 2005 by then Labor Premier Steve Bracks for an extra few decades, this is hardly a position worth celebrating. It should have gone completely off-line by now. With Victoria’s potential for baseload solar thermal power it is possible to replace all of Hazelwood’s generating capacity with renewable energy within the same four year timeframe. However as it stands under Brumby’s plan, a quarter of Hazelwood’s current output will probably be replaced with coal power from another source.
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Even worse than this, and certainly not a lead item on Brumby’s climate policy agenda, is the proposal currently waiting for approval from EPA Victoria to build a brand new 600 megawatt coal-fired power station near Morwell in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. The HRL Dual Gas proposal has the support of both the Brumby Government who have committed $50 million and the Commonwealth Government ($100 million). They claim that the use of synthetic gas (from the drying and gasification of brown coal) and natural gas at the new plant will ensure the emissions intensity is lower than any other coal plants operating in Victoria. Again, this is nothing to get excited about. While the HRL Dual Gas plant would indeed help to bring Victoria into line with other coal plants in Australia by producing emissions slightly below the level of a typical black coal power station, the emissions intensity of the plant would still be almost double the OECD average. One wonders why the Brumby Government would make their own target to reduce 20% of emissions by 2020 that much harder by committing to new coal power development that will increase emissions and lock in reliance on coal for years to come.
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Further evidence that the Brumby Government has expansion rather than curtailment in mind for Victoria’s coal industry emerged in September 2009. At that time Victorian Energy Minister Peter Batchelor was reported to be championing a proposal by Australian-based company Exergen, to mine, dry and export 12 million tonnes of brown coal annually to India.  Confidential cabinet documents obtained the next month by The Age showed that this was only the tip of the iceberg with the Brumby Government considering a competitive tender process to sell off billions of tonnes of Latrobe Valley brown coal reserves to companies looking to open up new coal export markets overseas. Premier Brumby himself said that given Australia exports oil, gas, black coal and uranium, he saw no reason why Victoria should not export brown coal. Yet, by December 2009 the export deals had been shelved, seemingly because the run in the media and backlash from environment groups had ignited fears of broader voter disapproval. However this has not been ruled out, and one should ask whether the plan to expand coal exports might emerge again after a Labor election victory.
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Premier Brumby may not be all he is cracking himself up to be on climate change, but how much does it matter to Victorian voters? The gamble is that green message will beat the substance, which is probably a safe bet in this age of marketing supremacy. The strategy is clever enough to sway people without the time or inclination to consider the details.
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Brumby’s approach is likely to mean that NGOs, community groups and individuals concerned about climate change will have to work harder than they did during the recent federal election campaign where it was easy to show that Gillard had nothing to offer on climate issues. The task is to build public understanding so that Brumby and others in positions of power can be judged on just how far their policies are really intended to secure a safe climate future.
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Taegen Edwards is a member of Yarra Climate Action Now, an independent community group based in the inner Melbourne suburbs of the City of Yarra. She works as a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne.

Rally to replace ALL of Hazelwood

Join us to put the heat on our politicians at this state election to Replace ALL of Hazelwood.
When: Saturday, 6 November 2010 @ 1pm
Where: State Library, cnr Swanston and Latrobe Streets, Melbourne

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We’ve written letters, letterboxed our streets, door-knocked our neighbourhoods, held community meetings and met with our MPs to get them to act on Hazelwood. But now, in the lead up to Victoria’s state election, we’ve got to take the campaign up a notch.
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So join us on Saturday, 6 November to make sure our politicians get the message – that Victorians want a commitment from all parties before the election to Replace ALL of Hazelwood power station.
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We can repower Victoria with 100% renewable energy. John Brumby is currently offering to replace 25% of Hazelwood with new coal. He tries to spin his way out of trouble by saying Hazelwood will be closed down entirely while not giving a date. Everything will be closed down eventually! This is not good enough.
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We need to see you, your family and friends, your workmates, neighbours, school teachers and even your local green grocer there on 6 November. Because we all want a safe climate future. And real action to replace Hazelwood is just the beginning.

Replace ALL of Hazelwood – Yarra Council takes a stand

This week Yarra City Council took a stand for sensible action on the climate crisis, passing (six votes to two) a motion calling for Hazelwood power station to be replaced with renewable energy within the next term of the Victorian parliament. The motion also called for the scrapping of the proposed HRL Dual-gas coal-fired power station, which the State Government is currently supporting. See below for the full text of the motion and background information.
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Yarra Climate Action Now worked with Socialist Party councillor Steve Jolly on developing the motion, which was subsequently strengthened by Greens councillor Sam Gaylard. It was supported by the Greens, Socialist Party and independent councillors Fristacky and Smedley.  Two Labor Party councillors voted against the motion without giving any good reason for doing so, while Yarra Mayor, Jane Garrett, also a Labor Party member, was mysteriously absent from the vote.
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YCAN is pleased that Yarra City Council has stood up for its residents and urged the other levels of government to urgently reduce Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions. We congratulate the councillors that passed this motion. We would also like to express our anger and frustration with the Labor councillors who voted and argued against it. At a time when the Brumby Government is desperately trying to create some green credentials, this vote has shown that Labor is still deep in the pocket of the coal industry.
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In other news, at the same council meeting, the YCAN Local Action Group had yet another win, presenting a submission to Council on the Carbon Neutral Action Plan, which received commendation from the councillors and some points of which were acted upon immediately.
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Full text of motion:
12.1 Replacement of Hazelwood Power Station

COUNCIL RESOLUTION
Moved:  Councillor Jolly                           Seconded:  Councillor Clarke

1.         That Council:

(a)     whilst acknowledging the State Government’s Climate Change Bill 2010, sets a target to reduce emissions by 20% below 2000 levels by 2020, and key initiatives to reach that goal, it is recognised that these targets and actions are not sufficient for Victoria to play its part in avoiding runaway climate change, and are lower than Yarra City Council’s own targets;

(b)     supports the replacing of all of Hazelwood brown coal power with renewable energy within the next term of the Victorian Parliament, and In this regard, Council suggests that the State and Federal Governments adopt plans similar to those put forward by Beyond Zero Emissions or Greenpeace that provide detailed, practical and timely implementation strategies for the transition to renewable energy;

(c)     urges the State and Federal Governments to expedite policies and funding to achieve this end;

(d)     also calls upon the State Government to reject a proposal by Dual Gas to build a new coal power station in the Latrobe Valley which proposes new gasification technology which does not even meet the average emissions intensity of power plants in the OECD; and

(e)     write to the Prime Minister, Victorian Premier, Victorian and Federal Energy Ministers, and the Victorian and Federal Opposition Leaders and local members to advise its position.

CARRIED
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Background

Hazelwood Power Station is responsible for almost 15% of Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of Australia’s. It consumes 27 billion litres of drinking water per year – enough to supply Melbourne’s water needs for a month. It takes just four days for Hazelwood to cancel out the entire year’s worth of emissions saved by Victorians though the 5-star energy efficient homes program. That’s 650,000 black balloons every minute. Hazelwood is Australia’s most polluting power station and one of the most polluting in the industrialised world.

Hazelwood Power Station was due to be closed in 2009. However, after privatisation in 1996, in 2005 the State Government extended its coal allocation out into the 2030s.

The climate science is clear that there is already too much carbon in the atmosphere to prevent runaway warming. We urgently need to stop emitting carbon and remove it from the atmosphere.

There are renewable energy alternatives to coal-burning that are commercially available now. Wind and baseload solar thermal power can replace coal, and Victoria has these resources in abundance. The work of the University of Melbourne Energy Institute and Beyond Zero Emissions clearly shows that Hazelwood can be replaced with a mix of these technologies within a few years. Basing the manufacturing of these renewable energy components in the Latrobe Valley can ensure that workers in coal-burning areas can transition to other quality jobs.

Victorian greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise alarmingly. Replacing Hazelwood with renewable energy is the first step in the necessary shift to zero emissions technologies that will ensure Victoria’s energy security and productivity.