Friday, August 26, 2011

Carbon farming legislation passes - first part of carbon price package becomes law

The carbon farming initiative (CFI), which allows farmers and land managers to earn credits by reducing pollution and sequestering carbon in trees and the soil has passed the parliment and is set to become law.

The basic idea here is that carbon credits can be earned for various practices that either reduce emissions from the land sector or sequester carbon dioxide. These credits can then be sold as offsets to polluters both in Australia and overseas. In this way farmers etc can earn money from better land management practices and reforestation etc. Overall carbon farming is only a small part of the carbon price package and will only equate to a small amount of the greenhouse gas reductions between now and 2020. However it does provide an incentive to use the land more sustainably and turn the land into carbon sinks.

One of the questions about carbon farming is its ability to reduce emissions or sequester carbon in the long term. Ie: If you sequester carbon by planting trees and then these trees die in a drought. Clearly verification of actual emission reductions followed by long term monitoring is going to be necessary. Despite these challenges, carbon farming does have potential and seeking to tap this potential is a worthwhile endeavor.

Nb: For those interested in comparing the climate change policies of Labour and the LNP.
While carbon farming is a minor part of the governments carbon reduction plans, the LNP hopes it will provide the majority of greenhouse gas reductions under their proposed policy. However, although the LNP say they support the CFI it in principle, they voted against it. Politics eh?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Have your say on public transport in the Western Suburbs

If you have any suggestions or comments regarding public transport in the Western Suburbs (and I know many of you do!), here is your chance to be heard.

Wilson Lowe is receiving email feedback from people in the Western Suburbs regarding any suggestions or comments about public transport in the area. He will collate all of the feedback and take it to the next Public Transport Advisory Group Meeting. His email address is

More information regarding the Public Transport Advisory Group can be found here:

Native Bee Workshop

with entomologist and stingless bee keeper, Dr. Tim Heard, CSIRO.

When: Saturday October 29 9.30 a.m. - 3.30 pm
Where: The Hut (47 Fleming Road Chapel Hill 4069)

As well as explaining the natural history of our native stingless bee, Trigona carbonaria, Tim will demonstrate keeping a colony, and you will have the chance to taste the honey.

If you have a colony in a hollow log that you would like to transfer into a box, Tim may be able to do it for you at the workshop. Please let us know beforehand.

Morning tea and lunch will be provided.

Bookings are essential. Please contact Pam Jones (Secretary) at or ring mobile 0419648154.

Cost: $25 ($20 for THECA members).

You can send your form to THECA, P.O. Box 804, Kenmore, 4069.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The University of Queensland Solar Array

As hopefully many of you are aware, a couple of months back the largest flat-panel solar PV system in Australia was opened at the University of Queensland. With just over 5000 solar panels spread across the rooftops of 4 buildings it's an impressive sight.

The UQ Solar Array

The array can generate 1.22 megawatts at peak production and is expected to supply 5-6% of the peak power demand of UQ. With a peak demand of ~25Mw UQ is a big energy user so it is good that it's electricity just got a little greener. So good on UQ for building it and also to Prof Paul Meredith for all his work making it happen. No word on whether Paul enjoys being the new poster boy for the university as a consequence.

Professor Paul Meredith

This system isn't just being used to provide electricity though, it's also a research tool for studying intermittent power sources, use of battery storage and panel shading analysis etc. The UQ solar energy website also has a live feed where you can view historical plus real time data about how much electricity the solar array is generating.

The fact that the array is the largest in the country also shows how far we have to go in getting significant amounts of solar PV onto the grid. The UQ solar array is 1.22 Mw, while the next largest is on the roof of the Adelaide show grounds and comes in a 1 Mw. A large coal fired power plant would often be ~1000Mw. Also due to different capacity factors a ~1000Mw coal plant may well generate the same amount of power at ~2000Mw (or more) of solar PV.

Obviously one of the advantages of solar PV is its modular nature in that you don't need to make your power plants 1000Mw. But of course size does help with economies of scale. According to UQ the cost of the panels + installation was around $4 for every watt of generation capacity. Obviously this is more expensive than the coal price for a large electricity user like UQ, but I think it will eventually pay for itself in lower electricity costs (UQ gives a saving on the website but it is not clear to me if this has been calculated from the domestic tariff or the actual UQ tariff). One thing that will make it break even much more quickly would be the introduction of a carbon price, one reason why pricing carbon will be a boon for renewable energy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Carbon price package presentation from TTKD August meeting now available online

There were some requests for a copy of the talk given by Mike Clark on the Government's proposed clean energy future/ carbon price plan at our most recent meeting.

A pdf copy of the talk can now be found on Scribd and is embedded below. The pdf version is without some rather extensive notes contained in the power point to help explain each slide. The powerpoint is also available on Scribd.

Carbon Price Package

Nb: The presentation also contains some extra slides (30-34) not shown in the talk

Monday, August 15, 2011

TTKD August meeting: The Carbon Tax/ Clean Energy Future Package

- Confused about the carbon price package?
- Concerned about the cost?
- Keen on clean energy?
- Got questions?

You are not alone. Come along to the Transition Town Kenmore August meeting where we will dissect the Clean Energy Future package.

Mike Clark, our local policy enthusiast, will be presenting the details of the package, followed by Q&A and general discussion.

We hope to see you all there.

Thursday 18 August,
from 7.30pm
Kenmore Library Meeting Room

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Room for optomism - climate action in China

The rising emissions of carbon dioxide in China is one of the favourite excuses of those who would rather not act on climate change for not doing so. However, a look at what is actually happening in China and their future plans makes it clear they are taking climate change very seriously.

Obviously compared to Australia, China is in a different position with a rapidly developing economy and rising standards of living pushing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class.

Announcements in the last week or so have shown that China plans to:

- Introduce a feed-in tariff for solar power, which is likely to spur massive growth in solar PV generation.

- Set a cap on total energy use, which will help them in their plans to:

1) Improve energy efficiency
2) Set up a number of regional greenhouse gas emissions trading schemes.
3) Track of progress of indiviual provinces towards their emissions goals
4) Integrate regulatory policies such a greener building codes into a national policy.

China's overall goal is to decrease the "carbon intensity" of their economy by 40-45% by 2020. By carbon intensity they mean that a unit of economic active will produce ~40% less carbon emissions that it previously did. Even with these improvements China's emissions are going to continue to rise for the time being (however without serious action so will ours in Australia). What these actions aim to do is slow the emissions increases in China and stabilise them as quickly as possible, at which point they will likely still be considerably lower per person than here in Oz.

These actions in China, while helping them to continue to dominate the clean energy race, will also help to put them on a path to stabilising their carbon emissions. However, nothing promotes progress like progress and we in Australia, as one of the worlds top 20 largest economies and top 20 largest C02 emitters, have a responsibility to play our part by cutting our own emissions and then pushing China to do even more.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

High speed rail in Australia

This week the government released stage 1 of a detailed study into high speed rail (HSR) for the east coast of Australia that would eventually connect Brisbane-Newcastle-Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne.

The major findings of the study, which were widely reported, were:

1) That the entire project would cost between $61 and $108 billion dollars (spread over several decades).
2) Train journeys between Bris-Syd and Syd-Mel would be ~3 hours, while Syd-Canberra and Syd-Newcastle would take an hour or less.
3) Trains would travel ~200 km/h in urban areas and up to 350 km/h elsewhere
4) Fares could be similar to air travel (eg: Bris to Syd from between $75 and $177 for non-business and business class respectively)

This report investigates potential routes and station positions, project costs and likely passenger numbers at various fare prices. It didn't conduct a detailed cost benefit analysis of the entire project (this will be in stage 2 to be released next year).

The idea is to have stations in the city centres of Brisbane, Sydney etc. From here trains will exit the city by tunnel (allows higher speeds, better safety and less resumptions). Near the city edge the trains will emerge, speed up to ~350 km/h and head to their destination with a small number of stops at major populations centers in between. For example Brisbane-Sydney would likely stop near the city outskirts (say Logan) and then at the Gold Coast with a total of 5-7 stops between the cities.

The passenger demand modeling in the study has some interesting findings:
1) Modeling predicts 54 millions passengers a year by 2036.
2) City terminus stations should be in the city center, moving them outside of city center decreases demand significantly.
3) The "rural" and commuter city (ie: Newcastle, Gold Coast) stops are important to patronage numbers with the majority of total journeys not being between the major cities. A lot of patronage will be from Canberra - Syd and Newcastle - Syd etc.
4) HSR would move a lot of people from plane travel to train travel, as well as stimulate extra travel because of the new opportunities available to people.
3) The Brisbane to Sydney route isn't predicted to have huge patronage numbers. Given the long distance and large cost of this route compared to other connections, it suggests to me any Brisbane to Sydney link would be last to be completed.

Overall high speed rail offers the chance to have a more sustainable, but still convenient, transport option for the east coast. It also offers a possible solution to Sydney's current need for a second airport for which there is no politically acceptable place to put one.
The cost of HSR is obviously large but would be spread over 10-20 years and it is likely any HSR would be built in stages. It is unlikely that HSR would ever repay the building cost but would be expected to run at a profit. Over decades we spend similar amounts of money on road transport without any second thoughts or demands that many of our road make a profit.
Moreover, as well as being a good way to get around, HSR would bring economic benefits to those areas connected to it.

The report identifies the cost of buying the land along the preferred route at $6 billion dollars, purchasing this would be a good start for government action, so that even if only some of the sections are economically viable now, the land for the rest will be available in the future.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The government's carbon price mailout

I've just finished reading the Gillard governments' carbon price mailout which arrived yesterday.

It reinforces in my mind, how, by creating a comprehensive policy, they have also created quite a complex policy. Although the household compensation is only one aspect of the package it takes up the vast majority of the handout. (For anyone reading who wants to know how you and your family will be affected the best way to check is this online calculator). As far as I can tell everything in the mailout is more or less correct and I thought the section "How will a carbon price cut pollution?" was quite good with some pertinent points:

"Currently, releasing carbon pollution is free despite the fact that it is harming Australia's environment

A carbon price changes this. It puts a price on the carbon pollution that Australia's largest polluters produce. This creates a powerful incentive for businesses to cut their pollution, by investing in clean energy or finding more efficient ways of operating"
I think this is quite a good way to explain in a nutshell how and why a carbon price will be effective. It seems the govt has decided to back off talking about how carbon pricing will change consumer behaviour at the household level (although it will to some extent) and focus on where most of the action is, which is investment decisions by large companies, especially the large polluters.

The mailout does spend a bit of time talking about one aspect of the package that I like, which is the increase in the tax free threshold from $6000/year to over $18 000/year. I have seen some commentators criticize the package for including things like this, saying it makes it too complex and distracts from the main message. On the other hand, since the package needed to include household compensation anyway, why not utilise the chance to introduce a tax change recommended by the Henry review and which the economic boffins think is a good idea.

Conversely the mailout spends very little time talking about the $10 billion dollars for clean energy in the carbon package. $10 billion dollars is a serious chunk of change and should be a big shot in the arm to the industry. Hopefully this policy has got into the general consciousness of the public despite all the other parts of the package competing for airtime.

Lastly, it is always going to be somewhat controversial when a government carries out public education campaigns. I can understand why some would rather the government not spend any taxpayer money on such things. On the other hand, this is a large and complex policy with important implications for the country. A loud, well funded and often misleading campaign has and is being run against it. In such a case do people not deserve to be given the facts lest they form their opinions based on incorrect or misleading information? In this the mailout does ok but isn't perfect, while it is clear from reading it that not everyone is fully compensated, perhaps unsurprising there are no profiles on a family from the minority of Australian's (generally the wealthy) who won't be fully compensated. Guess that's PR for you.