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.

Climate news, and what we’re doing about it

I have been away from home recently, with little opportunity to post to my blog, but I have been trying to keep up with the news and will seize this opportunity to share some of it. The first item re-affirms that we do desperately need to act on climate, the next two show what we are doing right, and the last two show the effect on fossil fuel consumption and (hence) companies. In each case the link is the headline and the quote beneath is a key point but the whole article is, I think, well worth reading.

What We Learned About Climate Change In 2014, In 6 Scary Charts

We are currently on track to make drought and extreme drying the normal condition for the Southwest, Central Plains, the Amazon, southern Europe, and much of the currently inhabited and arable land around the world in the second half of the century.

Earlier this month, the U.K.’s Met Office updated its bar chart of the hottest years on record to include 2014, which is headed toward a new record. …

The biggest scientific bombshell of 2014 was that the West Antarctic ice sheet appears close to if not past the point of irreversible collapse— and, relatedly, that “Greenland’s icy reaches are far more vulnerable to warm ocean waters from climate change than had been thought.”

We also learned in August that Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheet more than doubled their rate of ice loss in the last five years.

Those findings have led leading climatologists to conclude we are headed toward the high end of projected sea level rise this century, four to six feet. That means we are in a major coastal real estate bubble (see “When Will Coastal Property Values Crash“).

Why Elon Musk’s Batteries Scare the Hell Out of the Electric Company

… in Davis, California, Honda Motor Co. has developed a “smart home” that produces more energy than it uses while charging a plug-in car. The home was designed in collaboration with SolarCity, PG&E Corp. and the University of California at Davis to showcase energy-efficient and renewable technologies. …

SolarCity rival SunPower Corp. is offering its solar and storage systems to buyers of electric cars from Audi AG and rebates for solar-panels to Ford Motor Co. plug-in customers. SunPower also has struck a partnership with homebuilder KB Home to begin installing solar and storage systems in California.

The time when residents can charge their electric cars with excess solar stored in their home batteries is “not decades away, that is years away,” said SunPower CEO Tom Werner.

Sydney councils join forces to provide cheaper solar for residents, business

In what is becoming a familiar pattern, a group of local government councils in NSW has joined forces to take up the federal and state policy slack and drive Australian solar uptake; this time by working to providing residents and small businesses with ready access to cheaper PV systems – including through a solar leasing option.

The SMH reports that eight southern Sydney councils have jointly approached suppliers of solar PV, solar hot water and heat pumps, asking for their best offers, with the ultimate goal of having up to 30 per cent of the region’s energy needs generated by renewable sources.

‘Coal Is A Dead Man Walking’: A Look Back At 2014

King Coal ran into a slag heap of bad news in 2014. … Taken together, those developments give plenty of reasons to recall the 2011 pithy assessment of coal’s future by the head of asset management at Deutsche Bank. “Coal is a dead man walking,” said Kevin Parker. “Banks won’t finance them. Insurance companies won’t insure them. The EPA is coming after them … And the economics to make it clean don’t work.”

Or, as then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg put it last year, “Even though the coal industry doesn’t totally know it yet or is ready to admit it, its day is done … Here in the U.S., I’m happy to say, the king is dead. Coal is a dead man walking.”

Oil Investors at Brink of Losing Trillions of Dollars in Assets. Gore: It’s That Road Runner Moment

A major threat to fossil fuel companies has suddenly moved from the fringe to center stage with a dramatic announcement by Germany’s biggest power company and an intriguing letter from the Bank of England.

A growing minority of investors and regulators are probing the possibility that untapped deposits of oil, gas and coal — valued at trillions of dollars globally — could become stranded assets as governments adopt stricter climate change policies.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore likens today’s fossil fuels to the subprime mortgages of the last decade that triggered the global credit crisis. Their value “is based on an assumption every bit as absurd,” specifically the notion that all known oil, gas and coal will be consumed.

There’s more on “stranded assets”, with a focus on the Galilee Basin, on a recent post on the NQCC site.

Update: the last section of this post was added a day after the rest was published, since it was too apt to leave out.

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.

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.

Put Solar On It!

putsolaronitFor a while now I’ve been collecting snippets of news about innovative – or just plain smart  – uses for solar photovoltaic power (PV) with the intention of posting them to Green Path. When I read about an American day of action coming soon, #Put Solar On It!, I decided I should assemble my finds now rather than later.

#PutSolarOnIt brings together the strength of Organizing for Action, Mosaic, The Solar Foundation, Solar Energy Industries Association, SolarChat, Vote Solar, NRDC, Interfaith Power & Light, Sierra Club, Environment America, World Wildlife Fund, REVERB, The Climate Reality Project, Alliance for Climate Education, League of Conservation Voters  and The Solutions Project.

This June 21st, the longest day of the year, a coalition of groups will come together in a National Day of Action to show support for switching to clean energy, fighting climate change, and the power of bringing solar power to communities all across the country. …

All across America there are opportunities to #PutSolarOnIt – to turn our homes, our churches, our schools our lands and our neighborhood rooftops into solutions to climate change. June 21st is a National Day of Action for us all to find a way to #PutSolarOnIt by identifying, supporting, and rallying our social networks to support solar energy, or joining a local event to support a community based solar installation.

Their press release also notes that …

2014 has been a breakout year for solar. Solar equipment costs continue to come down and installations continue to grow. More solar energy generation has been installed in the U.S. in the last 18 months than in the 30 years prior, and solar energy is the leading source of new electric generation capacity so far this year.

– and this is in spite of a sustained Republican campaign to block any and all renewable energy initiatives.

Anyway, back to the good stuff, the ingenuity and innovations. As in previous collections here, I’ve linked images to sources where I can. After collecting items for a while I realised that a lot of them involve transport. That’s a Good Thing, to my mind, since transport has always looked liked being one of the hardest areas to decarbonise because it requires compact portable power, and I will start with them.


PV trees make shade sails and a recharging station for electric cars. Townsville airport has had a smaller, simpler instance of the same idea since 2011 – see it on YouTube here. Or there’s the no-frills (but still really useful) version here.
Of course, if you know you won’t be near a facility like any of these, you can take your own gorgeous solar umbrella with you and erect it as you leave your car.

Solar roads, which in practice may begin as driveways, bikeways and car-parks.

Solar cars (and don’t forget the World Solar Challenge).

There’s probably a partially solar powered car in your future, but I wouldn’t bet on a solar powered plane – however pretty this one is.

Good places to put lots of solar panels

solar-airport• Airports – whether closed down, as at left, or fully functional as here – are wide open spaces near urban areas, already kept clear of trees and tall buildings which might shade any panels.


• Canals (above) and dams – reducing evaporative water loss as well as making electricity.

• Football stadium – one good outcome of the World Cup building programme in Brazil.

The price of solar cells has dropped to a point where unsubsidised solar power is cheaper to install than coal-fired power and the reliability and longevity of solar power installations is beyond doubt. Solar power now seems unstoppable and stories like this one on Think Progress drive home that point. Its last line, “shifting economics has increased interest in Texas’ long-untapped solar power potential,” is code for, “coal is no longer a profitable investment,” something for which the environment should be profoundly thankful.