Eco-Fiesta 2017

This year’s Eco-Fiesta, a few days ago, was much like those of previous years: a lovely day in the park with all sorts of loosely ‘greenie’ and ‘alternative’ people and organisations.  I wrote enough about the 2014 and 2013 events that I shouldn’t need to present an overview this time, so I will dive straight in to the things which caught my attention.

Wildlife Queensland had a well-staffed stall featuring a great gallery of flying fox photos. These animals get a bad press and need all the support they can get.

North Queensland Regional Plan had a very boring stall (I’m sorry, but it’s true!) which tried to engage visitors in planning for our region, the local government areas of Charters Towers, Burdekin Shire, Hinchinbrook Shire and Townsville. It’s a state government initiative and welcomes online input here. I told them about our declining rainfall. What’s your concern?

The Beekeepers  Continue reading “Eco-Fiesta 2017”

Ergon invests in wind power

Paying electricity bills is never a favourite occupation but the newsletter which came with my most recent account alerted me to good news I had missed: “Our new agreement with the Mount Emerald Wind Farm will increase the amount of renewable energy we’re purchasing by around 170 MW.”

I found an earlier but longer version of the same announcement on RenewEconomy, dated May this year:

Queensland is likely to get its first large scale wind farm after the regional electricity utility, Ergon Energy, offered a 12.5 year power purchase agreement for the 170MW Mt Emerald wind farm.

The wind farm, to be located about 50kms south of Cairns, is owned by Port Bajool and Ratch Australia Corporation, and was one of seven wind, solar and biomass projects short-listed by Ergon Energy in a tender for new renewable energy last December.

The other projects were two solar farms proposed by Spanish group FRV,  another solar farm from Lyon Infrastructure, Infigen Energy’s 75MW Forsayth wind farm, and a biomass project proposing to generate power from chicken pooh.

… The spokesman would not reveal the PPA price, other than to say that Ergon was “very happy” with the deal.

The Cairns Post was upbeat about it then, too …

DEVELOPERS behind Queensland’s largest wind farm expect to break ground on the Tablelands project early next year.

Ergon Energy has announced it will enter into an agreement to purchase all of the electricity generated by Mt Emerald Wind Farm, to be built at Walkamin, through to the end of 2030.

The $360 million project is a joint venture between Ratch Australia and Port Bajool. … Mount Emerald includes up to 53 turbines to potentially generate enough electricity to power 75,000 homes each year.

… apart from a cautionary note that the Queensland power industry (including Ergon) was starting from a very low base:

Of the 3500 megawatts (MW) of wind generation capacity currently in the country, Queensland only supplies around 12MW from wind farms at Ravenshoe and Thursday Island.

The wind farm’s own website has more information including a map.Walkamin is halfway between Atherton and Mareeba, and the wind farm will be just West of it.

The latest report in the Cairns Post was published only ten days ago:

CONSTRUCTION on the Tablelands’ Mt Emerald wind farm is expected to start in Dec­ember, following the selection of preferred contractors for the $360 million project.

Developer Ratch Australia has awarded its wind farm contract to Dutch manufacturers Vestas and the Sydney-based Downer Group. Vestas and Downer will share responsibility for the ent­ire 180MW project, including supply and construction of more than 50 turbines, a substation, cabling to the grid, civil and electrical works, and wind monitoring equipment.

The announcement follows Ergon Energy’s decision to purchase all of the electricity generated by the wind farm through to the end of 2030.

Congratulations to all concerned! It’s great to see our local supplier moving in the right direction. Let’s hope they follow up this project with many more.

Facing the Fallout: Naoto Kan in Townsville

flyer for Kan's Australian tour
Naoto Kan, who was Prime Minister of Japan when the tsunami struck in March 2011 and knocked out the Fukushima nuclear power plant, visited Townsville last week on his Australian tour. His theme was that nuclear energy is inherently, unavoidably, dangerous and that we should learn from the near-catastrophe three years ago and pursue renewables instead.

There was nothing new in his message but it was especially sobering when heard directly from the man who was ultimately in charge of handling the Fukushima crisis. His own change of heart about nuclear power came, by his own account, with the realisation that the whole of Tokyo – 50 million people – may have had to be evacuated and that such an undertaking would have led to the end of Japan as a functioning society. In the event, the worst was averted but the reality was still grim: thousands evacuated, families broken up, farms destroyed for years to come, and a damage-control project which is still in progress and, by some accounts, still in dire trouble (e.g. CBSNew Scientist, The Guardian)

The Townsville Bulletin interviewed Mr Kan while he was in town (click here to see their article) and ABC News covered his meeting with indigenous people near the Ranger mine and spoke to him about the Australian uranium trade; SBS also covered his visit.

After Mr Kan spoke to his attentive Townsville audience, local people took the lectern to talk about the nearby Ben Lomond uranium mine and why re-opening it was such a bad idea. Bill Laing, Managing Director of Laing Exploration Pty Ltd, Townsville-based international mining consulting company, presented an expert overview of the mining technology and concentrating process, with special attention to the risks in relation to the Burdekin River catchment; David Sewell of CAMBL then spoke about the political side of things.

The audience didn’t need much convincing, actually: common sense and common local knowledge are enough to tell us that a tailings dam 50km from Townsville is clearly very risky in the light of our frequent cyclones and the regular problems with Ranger mine’s dam (and the nickel refinery’s tailings dam at Yabulu, for that matter). The fact that any leaked radioactive material will be carried down Keelbottom Creek into the Burdekin, the main water supply for Charters Towers and the backup water supply for Townsville, merely adds weight to the obvious conclusion that the mine should never re-open.

NQCC was the host for the event and was supported by CAMBL, Citizens Against Mining Ben Lomond. NQCC has a uranium mining page here and will no doubt have more to say on these issues, as will CAMBL.

Going solar – two updates

I have been connected with two domestic solar power projects which I described here on Green Path at the time, and today I have news on both of them.

bushland
Hervey’s Range in winter

The first item concerns our solar bore pump on Hervey’s Range: we pulled down the disused power line over the weekend and took it to a scrap metal merchant. Pulling it down made the property tidier and safer and was a good excuse for mucking around in the bush for a few hours on a beautiful sunny day, while the $150 we got for it was a belated cash-back bonus on our purchase of the solar pump system. 

The system itself, six months down the track from its installation, has performed well. Cloudy weather has not troubled it as much as we thought it might, and neither has the shorter span of daylight in winter.

Back in town, the 1.5 KW system we put on our roof has just passed a good round number in its total output: 7 000 kWh, or 7 MWh. We installed the system in May 2011 so it has produced an average of 6.2 kWh per day for three years. By power-station standards that’s nothing, of course, but it’s a useful percentage of a household’s consumption: Ergon says (on the back of our power bill) that the average daily consumption for a household like ours is about 20 kWh per day, so our panels are producing nearly a third as much as we use.

Of course, we use some of our solar power during the day and export the rest of it and then use Ergon’s power all night, so our net benefit doesn’t quite reflect those numbers. I did the sums a year after the installation and came up with a figure of $700 p.a., with the expectation that that would increase as power prices increased.

The general tariff has just gone up from 29.4 to 30.8 c/kWh, which doesn’t look like a big change until you note that the same tariff was only 19.4 c/kWh when we installed the system three years ago.

In May 2011 the “service fee” or “daily supply charge” was only $23 per quarter, whereas by May this year it had risen to 55 cents per day ($49 per quarter) and it has just increased to 92 c/day (about $83 per quarter). That will make it a major part of our power bill.

The huge increase in the supply charge is obviously Ergon’s attempt to make up for people like ourselves who still want the security of mains power but don’t actually use much of it because we generate a lot of our own. That’s fair enough, maybe, but it simultaneously encourages us (and people like us) to go completely off-grid. I will return to this scenario in another post; meanwhile, Australian households could go off-grid by 2018 is a thought-provoking introduction to it.

A small solar milestone

Our 1.5 KW solar power system has been sitting peacefully on our roof for eighteen months now, quietly turning sunshine into electricity. Today it will pass a nice round number in its production stats: 4 MWh of generated power.

As I said in my item about the installation process:

… pay-back time for the whole project (PV system and switchboard) looks like being in the 5 – 8 year range. That’s perfectly acceptable in itself … Of course, if the electricity tariff rises (hands up everyone who thinks it is going to fall? No, my hand didn’t go up either), pay-back time will drop accordingly.

Guess what came up in the news a few days ago?

The Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) released its draft determination for 2013/14 power prices on Friday. Households stand to be hit with a 21.4 per cent increase, and small business with a 15.7 per cent rise, from July.

It is, sadly, no great surprise that state LNP and federal Labor blamed each other for the rises although the QCA blamed both, saying (and I’m quoting the same news item), “the state government’s decision to unfreeze power tariffs, and green schemes like the commonwealth carbon price, had caused the rises.” But that isn’t what I wanted to talk about. I was going see what influence the power price rise will have on my household.

In our first year with solar power, the numbers were:

  • Total produced = 2220 kWh (6.1 kWh/day)
  • Total exported to grid = 960 kWh, for $425 income
  • Total PV power used at home = 1260 kWh, for $270 savings
  • Total benefit = $700

If we take the first year as being typical and take the “21.4% increase” to be across the board, the standard domestic tariff will rise from 23.1 to 28 c/KWh, increasing our savings in line 3 from $270 to $420. Our income from exports to the grid will not change, so our total benefit will rise by $150 per year to $850 p.a..

In reality, of course, the benefit will appear as a reduction in the price-rise we would otherwise have copped. Our bills are running at around $1000 p.a. ($1500 p.a. gross, less $480 p.a. from the feed-in tariff) and will presumably go up to about $1300 ($1800 gross less the same $480). If we didn’t have the solar power, our bills (on the same consumption) would already be $1800 p.a. and would increase to $2200.

So far, so good. But I ran my figures past David and he is doing substantially better overall from his system (also 1.5 KW) than we are from ours: we are not paying a lot for our power but Ergon is paying him every quarter instead of asking him to pay them. The cheque is only about $170, but it’s a lot better than a bill!

How does he do it? Only two people in the household instead of three; no swimming pool; no-one home on weekdays, so (by his reckoning) 75% of his solar power goes straight into the grid at 44c/KWh; an unshaded North-facing panel array, as compared to our West-facing array affected by late-afternoon shade; and various smaller differences.

One big similarity: we are both happy with our decision to go solar!

Going solar: David – one year on

David and Kate, a young professional couple, installed a 1.52 kW solar power system on the roof of their small modern house in the new suburb of Douglas in March 2011, as described here.  Having recently summarised the performance of my own solar power system over its first year, I asked David how their experiences compared. This is what he said:

We’ve had the solar installed for 532 days so far, and generated 3440 kWh in total, so an average of about 6.47 kWh per day.  It’s not quite a fair average since we started counting from a March install [i.e. it includes two winters but only one wet season], but it still gives an idea of the output.

From memory, I believe we’ve sold about 2200 kWh in total, which would make it about 1240 kWh used off the panels in the house, giving us a net benefit of about $1240 for that time – around $2.33 per day.

Those calculations say the panels will have paid for themselves in two more years time – even earlier if (when) the power price goes up again.

David also celebrated the fact that the power supply company has been paying him, instead of vice versa, because the value of his excess power has been greater than the cost of the power he has used from the grid. What next?

Next step is investigating solar hot water to reduce the reliance on gas…

As for the more distant future, he is not impressed with the slashing (and possible abolition) of the feed-in tariff:

It’s pretty disappointing to not even get 1-to-1 for power sold to the grid – and maybe soon to get nothing at all.  So if we were to get solar at a new house, I think we’d just pay the extra and get a battery storage system.

That’s quite a big step to take, and one that probably deserves a post to itself, but the fact that he would even consider it says a fair bit about how positive his solar experience has been.

Good news on renewable energy

There have been several good-news stories on renewable energy in the last couple of weeks. I haven’t had time to follow them up and write about them, but here they are:

Japan to phase out nuclear power by 2040

Japan has announced it will phase out nuclear power over the next three decades, in the wake of mounting resistance to the energy source after last year’s Fukushima disaster.

Tokyo plans to permanently shut down its reactors by 2040, bringing the country in line with Italy, Switzerland and Germany, which has said it will wean itself off nuclear power by 2022 …

The full story is here.

Gales send turbines into overdrive

While gale-force winds kept emergency services busy across South Australia this week, they also fired up turbines on the state’s wind farms. Figures from the Australian Energy Market Operator show while the winds were howling, more than half the state’s power came from wind farms.

Roughly a quarter of South Australia’s power came from wind farms last year. But the Clean Energy Council’s policy director, Russell Marsh, says when winds topped 90 kilometres per hour earlier this week, that figure was much higher.

“What we’ve seen is over the last couple of days the amount of energy generated from wind power in South Australia has gone through between 55 and 85 per cent since Monday as a result of the very strong winds we’re having at the moment,” he said.

And for a few brief moments in the early hours of Wednesday morning, wind was generating so much power some of it was being exported to Victoria …

The full story is here.

Spanish firm to build ACT solar farm

The ACT Government has announced Australia’s largest solar farm supported by a feed-in tariff will be built in the Territory’s south.

Spanish-based company Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) will build the facility on 50 hectares near Royalla just off the Monaro Highway in Tuggeranong. The 20 megawatt facility will be made up of 83,000 photovoltaic panels and produce enough renewable electricity to power 4,400 Canberra homes.

The project will cost ACT households an extra 25 cents a week or $13 a year. That is expected to decrease to around $9.50 by 2020.

FRV chief executive officer Rafael Benjumea says the company has extensive experience in solar power farms. “We have built more than 350 megawatts all over the world, investing more than 2.5 billion Euros ($AUS 3 billion) in solar panels,” he said.

Construction is due to begin next year and is expected to be finished in 2014 …

The full story is here.

This link will take you straight to ABC’s latest stories on renewable energy and may be useful for future reference.