Thursday, June 25, 2009

Victorian feed-in tariff introduced with improvements

I have just received a media release from Energy Minister Peter Batchelor stating that the Brumby Labor Government’s feed-in tariff legislation passed by the Victorian Parliament on 25 June 2009.

The final structure of the Victorian feed-in tariff includes:
  • 60 cents credit per kilowatt hour for energy fed back into the grid within that year. This is about four times the current cost of electricity in Victoria.
  • The tariff is paid to residences, community organisations and small businesses with energy consumption less than 100 MWh a year
  • An array size limit of 5kW applies
This outcome is a significant improvement on the feed-in tariff initially proposed by the government. Amendments introduced in the Upper House which improved the scheme include:
  • extending participation to community organisations and small businesses with energy consumption less than 100 MWh a year
  • increasing the array size limit from 2kW to 5kW
Two electricity retailers have also provided letters which state they will provide cash or rollover credits for energy produced, rather than these credits "expiring" as was initially proposed.

The additional amendment put by the Greens for the tariff to be paid on the gross output (rather than the net output) was not accepted.

The tariff does not apply to large scale solar or wind either, so there is potential to further improve this legislation in the future.

On balance, this is a significant improvement over the legislation initially proposed. The government states that the amendments were made "in response to input from responsible environment groups" which demonstrates that the efforts made to contact politicians and build community support for a good feed-in tariff were successful.

Well done ATA, Environment Victoria, Climate Action Groups and everybody who spent time and considerable effort on this campaign.

2008 Feed-in Tariff rally at Parliament

External links

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Public transport for Melbourne rather than more freeways

Below is a map of the 1969 freeway plan for Melbourne. This is part of the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan commissioned by then Victorian Premier Henry Bolte, which was heavily biased in favour of freeways over public transport options such as rail.

It looks like a nightmare - Melbourne converted into Los Angeles. It is also interesting to note which freeways have been built - such as the Metropolitan Ring Road, the Monash, the Eastern, and most recently Eastlink.

Map of 1969 freeway plan for Melbourne

Here is a map from the same transport plan which shows details of proposed rail projects - including the new Rowville and Doncaster rail lines and the City Loop, which was the only one of these that was constructed.

A map of the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan map of rail projects

And here is a photograph of the new integrated freeway and train line linking the Perth CBC to Mandurah along the coast to the south.

Perth to Mandurah road and rail

So what has gone so horribly wrong in Melbourne? Why has no new suburban train line been built since the Glen Waverley line in 1930?.

The short answer to this is the triumph of short term politics and the road lobby over sensible transport planning.

The Brumby Victorian government announced another Victorian Transport Plan in 2008.
This plan provided no further suburban rail lines to Melbourne's east, but it did at least include some rail project in Melbourne's west and north. It also included a very expensive $8b rail tunnel linking Footscray with Caulfield to be built in stages. Given that the Eddington Report that the plan was based upon was tasked with investing "east west link needs", I have little confidence that a comprehensive study of Melbourne's transport needs and the best solutions was in fact conducted.

For example, new rail lines to new suburbs would surely carry more people than a tunnel linking two sections of Melbourne that not many people actually want to travel between.

Melbourne "metro train tunnel" and Tarneit link. Source: Eddington Report

Proponents of the train tunnel claim that "it is needed to free up capacity in the central rail network to allow more suburban lines to be built" but they don't provide any evidence to support this. The Eddington study was simply not tasked to investigate this so it is spurious to claim that it did. More politics with no planning. In any case, there are no plans or commitments to build any of the promised but never delivered rail lines such as Doncaster and Rowville.

Climate Change considerations

The proliferation of roads and freeways as primary transport infrastructure in Melbourne has proceeded with the assumption that fossil fuel supplies will continue forever, and that the associated carbon emissions don't really matter. The most recent Eddington Report and Melbourne Transport Plan did not even quantify emissions associated with transport modes. Both suggest that "hybrid cars" will provide the solution, when quite clearly they wont.

Here are some relevant facts from the Eddington Report:
  • Car travel is the biggest transport source with more than 10 million trips across the city every day.
  • About two million trips are in the morning peak and 78 per cent of Melburnians use their cars to get to work.
  • 11.3 per cent of Melbournes used public transport during the morning peak.
  • The demand for car travel is forecast to grow 30 per cent by 2031.
Taking the approximate figure of four million commute trips to and from work by car every day in Melbourne yields this information:
  • Number of trips: 4,000,000
  • CO2 per km (kg): .025 (average figure - for a Holden Commodore)
  • Average length of commute trip: 9km
  • Total tonnes of CO2 emitted: 900
A trip on a train has 1/8th the carbon emission of a trip by car, so if all these car journeys were shifted to trains, the total CO2 emissions would drop to 113 tonnes, resulting in a saving of 788 tonnes of CO2 per day.

It is therefore quite clear that rail transport should be the first priority for transport in Melbourne, after decades of neglect.

Our trains and trams are now full to capacity on existing lines and now significant new suburban lines are planned for the next decade. This is not acceptable.

Bass Straight oil is already greatly depleted and Australia now imports over 50% of its oil at considerable cost. If a proportion of the money spent on oil was redirected to climate friendly tranport modes such as rail and cycling, we would see some real benefits and long term financial payback.

Privatisation fails to deliver benefits

Melbourne's public transport system, including trains, trams and buses, was privatised by the Kennett government in 1999. This was done to supposedly create competition between private operaters and thereby provide better services. However, over the next decade several of the initial companies participating have exited. Three train operators became one - Connex, owned by Veolia. Two tram companies became one - which may soon also be taken over by Connex.

The proposed public bike scheme for Melbourne may also be operated by Connex if they win the contract to do so.

So there really is no "competition" except when tenders are renewed.

However, the worst impacts of privatisation are lack of accountability and lack of investment. The Brumby and preceding Bracks Labor government have chosen to retain privatised public transport. The government has blamed recent problems with cancelled services, faulty trains, whole system shut downs during heat waves on Connex. Connex in turn has responded that they operate the service but are not responsible for investing in sorely needed infrastructure improvements.

So it is stalemate, with nobody apparently accountable for delivering an effective and appropriate public transport network.

An unhealthy focus on revenue

Another undesirable by product of the privatisation of public transport is the unproductive focus on raising revenue from public transport users. This of course benefits the companies trying to make profits from the system. However, the large contingents of ticket inspectors, euphemistically called "Customer Service Officers" regularly stake out CBD stations and "bust" people for travelling without valid tickets.

Unfortunately, they often bust peoplewho make honest mistakes, such as those that carry a valid ticket but forget to validate it.

They are dishonest too. When they take your name and address they often suggest that you may not be fined - when the majority of people who they report actually do get fined.

Occasionally they are heavy handed and thuggish. Some people have been manhandled and even injured when they descend on someone en masse and attempt the "subdue" them. Such tactics are wholly inappropriate and should be left to the Police when they are warranted.

The Victorian government is also spending $1.35b - a huge amount of money - on the new Myki ticketing system - the benefits of which lie fairly obviously with Connex as the private operator. This money would be better spent on service improvements such as additional new trains or a new railway line. The current Metcard ticketing system was fully commissioned as late as 1998.


While the facts and figures associated with tranport can be daunting and difficult to find and assess, the directions we need to go in are quite clear.

We need more climate friendly rail and light rail transport to service new suburbs and growth corridors.

A metro service for Melbourne would provide better linkage between inner centres such as Carlton, Melbourne University, the Melbourne Zoo, South Yarra, South Melbourne and Footscray. A light rail metro similar to the Paris metro would be cheaper and more effective than the proposed heavy rail tunnel.

Some existing railway lines could be put underground (e.g. the Glen Waverley line through Toorak and the Box Hill line through Hawthorn to Camberwell and beyond) which would free up land above for residential, commercial, park and cycle path usage options.

More freeway projects such as the Frankston bypass should not proceed.

Cycle paths should be integrated with existing railway easements, where unused land within the easments is available.

We need a safe cycle path network that will allow commuters and recreational riders to use bicycles as the most climate friendly transport option.

We need our public transport system to be owned by and operated for the people, rather than for profits.

A safe climate future and a liveable city needs climate friendly transport options, and they are needed immediately.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What we have here is a failure of politics and democracy

Lesley Canold's characterisation of "failures of communication and tactics" as the barrier to our society taking real action on climate change (Age 16/6) is not entirely accurate.

There is now a common understanding that increased greenhouse gas emissions are the major cause of the climate change now upon us.

However, our current political framework based on adversarial debates, incremental changes and political compromises, is where the major barriers to action lie.

Our politicians must realise they cannot negotiate and compromise with the laws of thermodynamics and nature that govern the maintenance of a safe climate. Then we may get legislation and policies for the immediate emission reductions that scientists around the world are now demanding.

The flawed CPRS is a case in point. The scheme has been designed to reduce impacts on the worst polluters and will not be effective in reducing emissions.

With climate tipping points now upon is and the some of the impacts of catastrophic climate change now evident, we need immediate and substantive emission reductions.

These can be achieved by implementing energy efficiency programs, providing more renewable energy, cutting back fossil fuel usage and protecting native forests and the carbon they store.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Climate Emergency Rallies across Australia give us some hope

The Climate Emergency Rallies across Australia on Saturday 13 June 2009 were inspiring. They delivered a targeted message to the community and our political leaders.

We need to reduce carbon emissions now through emergency action, and we can do this by creating thousands of green jobs to replace those lost in the polluting carbon-intensive industries.

More details on the rallies with photos and videos is available on Greenlivingpedia here.

Unfortunately, Minister for Climate Change Penny Wong has demonstrated why our political system and federal and state governments are currently part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Rather than listen to what the protesters were saying, she reacted with denial.

Penny Wong stated that "what these people are asking for can't be done".

That is a lie Penny. We can transition to 100% renewable energy by 2020, and we need to for a safe climate future.

Penny Wong also stated that "the government is bringing in laws (the CPRS) to reduce carbon emissions".

That is another lie Penny. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will not reduce Australia's carbon emissions until at least 2020, and probably not even by 2050.

This is because the government is handing out corporate welfare of $18b in the from of free emission permits to the worst polluting industries - which means they will continue on their polluting ways.

Penny Wong should resign as the Minister for Climate Change and take a job in the office of the Minister for Fossil Fuel Industries, Martin Ferguson.

We need to get action on climate change and energy policy out of the hands of incompetent politicians who are intent on "business as usual", "politics as usual".

We need to establish a taskforce informed by climate and energy scientists, not those under the thrall of the fossil fuel industries.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Peter Garrett kills solar but supports coal

Peter Garrett's decision to prematurely end the solar rebate demonstrates that the Rudd government is really not serious about clean energy.

Garrett's rationale for ending it without warning is that it was too effective. This has created great uncertainty and disruption for the solar industry,

On the other hand, the Rudd government's flawed CPRS is gifting billions and providing certainty to the coal and other fossil fuel energy industries with no strings attached, which will only entrench their emissions-intensive polluting practices.

In addition, the Rudd government has torpedoed a national gross feed-in tariff which would generate tens of thousands of jobs in genuine clean energy and would really reduce our carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

It is time that Peter Garrett started listening to the Australian people and truly representing their best interests, rather than just looking after the dirty big end of town.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Bob Brown threatened with explusion from the Senate

Senator Bob Brown launched legal action some years ago to stop Forestry Tasmania sanctioning the destruction of Wielangta forest and many of the threatened species that live in it.

Bob won the initial court action which confirmed that forest and species destruction was occurring.

The Forestry Tasmania appealed and won. Now they are demanding that Bob pay their court costs of $240,000. Even though they are quite obviously still very much in the wrong.

If Bob doesn't pay then he may be expelled from the Senate.

You can contribute to help pay these outrageous court costs by either:

Internet bank transfer
Name of account: Bob Brown Forest Account
BSB No. 633 000
A/C No. 125 133 793
Name of person to be placed in the reference

Or - Cheque made payable to Bob Brown Forest Account GPO Box 404, Hobart, 7001.

I have sent my donation through tonight. Keep up the good fight Bob.

Fielding demontrates why politics is not tackling climate change

First some history. Steven Fielding was elected as a Victorian Senator at the 2004 Federal election. In the election, Fielding got:
  • 45,204 primary votes,
  • which was 0.13 of a quota,
  • and was 1.8% of the total vote.
Preferences deals got him elected over David Risstrom from the Greens who gained 8.7% of the primary vote which was more than 2/3rds of a quota.

The most damaging deal was done by the Labor party with Family First. Labor gave their preferences to Steven Fielding rather than to David Risstrom - this was what elected Fielding in the end.

This article from The Age explains the intricacies of the preference deals that elected Fielding:

How party preferences picked Family First - Election 2004

This also gave John Howard control of the Senate - with Fielding on side - which resulted in Work Choices, student union reforms, lack of real action on climate change and a host of other bad things.

Senator Kim Carr (Labor Socialist Left faction), Stephen Newnham (Victorian Labor State Secretary)  and  Alan Griffin (MP, Bruce, Socialist Left faction) did the preference deal with Family First. They may have miscalculated and thought Fielding would not get enough votes, but in the end he did. This outcome was contrary to the wishes of an estimated 90% of Labor supporters who voted "above the line" on the Senate ballot, and preferred the Greens over Family First.

This demonstrates that major party politics (some might say all politics) has devolved to a game played to "get in". The game revolves around getting candidates elected with the first prize being forming a government. The game as played now has almost nothing to do with principles, long term vision, morals or just simply "doing the right thing".

Some more about Steven Fielding.

Senator Fielding, for better or worse, is there to represent the people of Victoria, along with eleven other Victorian Senators. Up until recently he has been fairly silent on the topic of climate change, but this has changed after a trip to the United States in June 2009.

During this trip, Fielding attended a gathering of "climate change sceptics and denialists" run by the right wing U.S.-based think tank - the Heartland Institute - which is partly funded by fossil fuel industry interests.

For more information on this see Fielding's climate mission from The Age.

Fielding, born and bred in suburban Melbourne, is a member of the CityLife Church, a large Pentecostal church which may have been involved in the formation of the shadowy Family First party during the lead up to the 2004 Australian federal election.

He has worked as an engineer and a senior superannuation executive before entering politics and was a member of the Knox City Council in 2003-04.

One thing is for sure - he is no climate scientist.

Soon after the "climate denialist conference" Fielding appears to believe the falsehood that the climate change emergency that we and our fellow travellers on planet earth are now facing is "part of a natural cycle, associated with solar flares". He has also presented this discredited crackpot theory to one of President Obama's senior advisers.

In doing so, he chooses to ignore the vast body of scientific evidence that climate change is in fact caused largely by increased greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity - including the large scale burning of fossil fuels and vast deforestation as a couple of examples.

Here is the "money quote" from Fielding:

"Australians must be given the opportunity to debate the possibility that climate change was part of a naturally occurring, 1500-year cycle or an increase in solar activity,"

Source: Fielding offered talks to sway climate stance |

Nobody seems to know, including Fielding himself, who he now represents. He opposed the "alcopops legislation" in a game of brinkmanship in the Senate and scuttled the bill - despite alcohol and health experts supporting the legislation. This was not a very "family friendly outcome".

It seems his support has eroded among his local Christian base too. His unpredictable behaviour in the senate has highlighted he is out of his depth. "between two rocks and a hard place" and not really sure what he is there for.

Some Labor party folk have even come out boxing and said he should be supporting the Labor government as it was their preferences that elected him.

Which brings me to my main topic - how "politics as usual" is badly failing our community and planet earth.

So we now have a dill in the Senate who got there by back room deals with political parties and appears ready and willing to scuttle any real and effective policy action to reduce our carbon emissions.

Opposing the Labor government's proposed weak, ineffective and unjust Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme would not be a bad thing given its serious faults. However, Fielding, along with a sizeable cadre of climate change sceptics within the Liberal and National Parties (most notably Barnaby Joyce), and a few within Labor too, would have us do nothing.

This is like being in a car about to drive of a cliff with the person driving and quite a few passengers apparently oblivious of the impending disaster.

We have the Labor party ignoring the advice of their erstwhile "chief advisor on climate change and associated economics" Ross Garnaut by delivering weak and ineffective policy that will not reduce carbon emissions (the CPRS).

The Liberal party opposes the CPRS on the basis that "it will cost us jobs" and that our profligate carbon addicted lifestyle can continue on indefinitely.

The Labor party then launches into lengthy personal attacks on Malcolm Turnbull as leader of the opposition using the both the parliament and the media. They are hypocrites - as their CPRS is effectively useless too.

The Greens insist that real action on climate change is an urgent imperative, are are attacked by Labor's Climate Change Minister Penny Wong for "blocking action" on climate change too.

And now we have the looming threat of the joker in the pack - Steven Fielding - most likely throwing a spanner in the works with his "casting vote" in the Senate for all the wrong reasons.

We need to find a way to get climate change and energy policy free from political interference and obscuration.

We need to link it to measures supported by scientific evidence - such as the need to reduce atmospheric CO2 to around 300ppm and stabilise global temperature increases to below 1 degree.

It is now obvious that a 2 degrees rise now has unacceptable risk of severe consequences such as drought, bushfires, acidification of the oceans and sea level rises of 2m to 7m within 100 years.

The Labor government of Australia is still comfortable with a target in the range of 450 to 550ppm CO2 which is clearly not acceptable. They are playing Russian roulette with our future.

See also

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Labor government should introduce an effective feed in tariff to take real action on climate change

An open letter to:
  • Labor Government Cabinet Members
  • Eastern Metropolitan Region Labor party members
I find it very disappointing that the Energy Minister Peter Batchelor is refusing to represent the best interests of the Victorian public by threatening to kill the solar feed-in tariff in parliament.

Peter Batchelor has proposed a crippled feed-in tariff that favours the big end of town. Some energy companies have even been promoting his proposed net feed in tariff several months before it has even been legislated.

The net tariff proposed by Peter Batchelor will not encourage the uptake of solar power by households and community groups.

The Greens have put amendments to provide a gross tariff that has been proven to be effective in other countries and is in line with those in the ACT and Western Australia.

Peter Batchelor cannot even get his sums right. After claiming a real feed-in tariff would cost $100 per household per year, he now claims it will cost $40. He apparently has not bothered to read his own consultant's report that found it would cost about $8 per year.
In addition, low-income households can easily be protected from increased prices by granting them a concession.

A simple gross feed-in tariff should have been a easy and effective way for the Labor Government to provide real incentives for households and community groups to increase renewable energy generation and transition off coal-fired power.

Unfortunately, the Labor party is playing politics and looking after vested industry interests rather than listening to the community and taking real action to address climate change.

If the Labor party kills the solar feed-in tariff, you will kill the only real action on climate change you have on the table. I implore you to see sense and support an effective gross feed-in tariff.

Peter Campbell