To Make a Living We Must Wreck Our Home?

Geoff Davies is a Braidwood local with a passion for the environment and a firm commitment to interrogating and reforming our economic system. Geoff has published several books and writes on his blog ‘Better Nature’. Geoff’s work incorporates ecological, social and ethical realities, which dominant economic discourse ignores to our detriment.

Here Geoff reflects on a recent ‘Australian Story’ program which dealt with the sale of Tarwyn Park to an international coal mining corporation. Tarwyn Park will be familiar to some readers of the Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare Group blog as the home of the Andrews family, where Peter Andrews perfected his techniques for farming in accord with the ‘Natural Sequence’ of the Australian landscape.

Better Nature: books and commentary by Geoff Davies

Coal mine amidst farmland Coal mine amidst farmland

[Published on Independent Australia 14 May]

I spend a lot of my days trawling the follies of our time. To avoid sinking into the mire of despair I need to keep a firm hold of love and hope and grandchildren. But every now and then something lands too heavily in my heart, and I can only grieve.

Tarwyn Park is the Hunter Valley property where Peter Andrews worked out how to get the water back into the ground, by reconstructing a degraded creek so it flows slowly and the water can soak across the valley. His work is revolutionising the way we live in the Australian landscape, restoring its original productivity and resilience in the face of our challenging climate. We learnt last Monday, May 4th, in the ABC’s Australian Story that Tarwyn Park has been, very reluctantly, sold so it can…

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2 responses to “To Make a Living We Must Wreck Our Home?

  1. Geoff D, I am taking the liberty of linking to your article with ‘not a response’. I hope none-the-less it is relevant. In essence it is an attempt to describe just how centralized coal fired electricity generation meshes, or doesn’t, with this small country town. Under moderator radar.

    A question: Does, stranded coal fired generation = the grid death spiral.
    Answer: not uniformly.

    The last seven years has seen significant reductions in coalfired electricity demand.
    This unexpected reduction coincides with the uptake of solar panel installs on homes; feeding into the grid.
    There has also been significant price rises in that period.

    Arguably, the linkages are: solar panel inputs to the grid have offset demand for coal fired generation.
    Reduced demand = under utilized generating capacity. By definition that also includes under utilized grid capacity in certain sectors.
    In a system where economy of scale underpins the business model, redundancy or under utilized capacity translates to higher unit price.

    I would argue the economic prospects of the main long-haul grid feeders are locked into coal fired electricity generation viability.

    Reduced Demand = Higher Unit price = Reduced Demand and reduced consummer satisfaction.
    So the cycle of Stranding Coal Fired Generation for domestic consumption takes hold.

    So what role the grid.
    If in fact ‘Grid Connect Solar take-up’ did trigger the cycle of stranding coal fired generation, then arguably there was a net shift in grid load carrying activity from the centralized coal-fired generator sector to the outer ‘redistributive solar’ driven grid fringes. Essentially localised load sharing. That translates to the grid being a critical ellement in the uptake of solar.
    Not withstanding some roof-top solar generation is consummed on-site where it is generated and is not recycled around the local grid network.
    Many questions arise from this scenario, for instance, just who is using which part of the grid, for what purposes, how much and the extent of impacts.
    The above questions take in bigger picture issues of access and equity around energy and polution issues more generally.

    How far does the Solar generated component travel!
    Without being able to tag electrons we will never know. What industry knows is quantity variations at knodes in the system.

    However at this point in time grid User-Pay scenarios matter little beyond just how far governments are willing to subsidize the system in general and those users with no capacity to absorb both rising electricity prices or the service fee.

    The real problem for the grid is that it is being impacted on many fronts; none the least of which is the inability of governments to develop policy that reflects not only the changing face of electricity generation and distribution patterns but also ‘ethical’ investment considerations.

    If the influence of solar panels seems a touch over stated then hang about because their potential impact on coal fired generation is as yet, unrealized.

    Enter tesla batteries.
    Henry Ford style ‘large scale battery production’ aiming to halve battery prices with their new lithium iron, only in one color, storage batteries; taking stand-alone electricity generation to new levels.
    Solar generated energy storage minimizes need for importing coal fired generation of electricity.
    Infact, back-up of solar generation could be achieved locally using gas fired micro turbines all but elliminating the need for coal fired generation. At a local level there is the additional benefit of being able to reuse waste exhaust heat as space heating. Particularly useful in commerce and human services.

    In the event that the grid evolves into a more complex Smart Grid, then you choose however many naughts to add to the subsidy; because your guess would be as informed as anybody else’s as to what that would cost. Not to mention vulnerability issues in times of emergency.

    It should be noted that stranded coal fired generation = stranded windfarms. Add more naughts to subsidy for wind farm generated input to the grid with out coal generated input carrying the bulk of the large pylon grid corridor costs. Wind farm output piggybacks on the distribution network of centralized coal fired generation.

    UN-availability or lack of, local battery storage is crucial to the continued viability of the business model underpinning the present electricity supply and distribution system.

    It is worth understanding that there is substantially increased potential for use of ‘bit generation’ from a multitude of generating sources, eg biogas from waste decomposition(sewerage/greenwaste) when utility scale local battery storage is added to the equation.
    Any input from any source in any quantity at any time, can be accommodated.

    Without consistent home hook-up to the grid in the town sector, the service fee component will rise.
    As things presently stand some consumers will not be able to further reduce demand to offset rising costs; resulting in an ‘underclass of involuntary polluter debtors. All in or all out is the only equitable answer to that scenario. In all likelihood, if the grid goes past your house you will have to contribute to a state infrastructure rate levy, whether you connect or not.

    Coal and gas dependency down but not out: meeting big industrial demands for electricity from battery storage will take forever to develop; coal could be replaced with gas for industry needs, closer to demand.

    Bigger picture considerations:
    From stranded coalfired generation in Australia to coal Stranded in Australia. Coal a stranded asset.
    Isolated, stranded and left in the ground, is the hope of the ‘divestment in coal’ advocates. Gaining a divestment response from the Australian National University in Canberra and with the largest national investment fund in the world, Norway’s Global Pension Fund worth a whopping 867 billion in total, in their sights, the ‘divestment campaign’ is gathering momentum world wide.

    An ideal outcome for Braidwood would be the grid as a steady-state battery trickle charger; charging banks of utility battery storage units, strategically located through-out Braidwood block by block. A combination of AC and DC Micro grids making use of domestic solar installations for bulk charging of the battery storage banks. Inverters, industrial scale and existing domestic units will convert the direct current battery output to ac for normal domestic consumption. This model would have to incorporate full spectrum ‘community owned’ generation and retailing so that ‘voluntary-demand-reduction can be instituted with- out impacting the business model or disadvantaging particular individual households. The grid network(town inter connecters)would be best served by the reintroduction of a county electricity service corporation. (combined councils)
    Small stand-alone gas turbines respond to any peak demands unable to be met by stored renewables.
    This concept, in-part, was incorporated into an un-successful application by Braidwood Science and Technology group for funding of a local feasibility study… Goulburn however, was successful with a solar farm proposal; to feed into the ‘national grid network’.


  2. Just a little bit more.
    as of minutes ago Norway has voted to sell it’s pension fund shares in coal.

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