Submission to the Victorian Greenhouse Strategy
by Michael Gunter
stra'teg|y generalship, the art of war; management of an army or armies in a campaign, art of so moving or disposing troops or ships or aircraft as to impose upon the enemy the place and time and conditions for fighting preferred by oneself [ f. F strategie f. Gk strategia generalship] Concise Oxford Dictionary 7th Edition
"It's the ENERGY Market, Stupid"
Australia has become "the greatest share owning democracy in the world". The growth of superannuation schemes in recent years has further alienated Australians from the control of our own money. Another name for this is greed by proxy.
The conventions of neo-classical economics are using this wealth to greedily exploit the Earth's natural capital as never before at recklessly unsustainable rates. Resource depletion, water pollution, salinity, soil degradation, the ozone hole and the enhanced greenhouse effect are the "inevitable" consequences.
Although many ordinary Australians own shares, the real distribution of wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, especially in terms of the control of the wealth. Thus globalisation and neo-classical economics are failing to deliver on the promise of prosperity for all: the American dream is in danger of becoming our worst nightmare.
Because global financial capital is destroying the planet for future generations, it has cast itself into the role of enemy of ordinary mums, dads and families. When we invest in shares and superannuation schemes, we lose effective control over what our money is used for, and through global capital markets it is almost universally being used to destroy the Earth's natural capital, such as prehistoric sequestered carbon (so-called "fossil fuels"), clean water, clean air, forests, even traditional agricultural lands are being destroyed by greedy agri-business practices.
Elected governments in Australia's federal, independent, sovereign pseudo-republic gain their ultimate authority and legitimacy from the people who elect them, not from the corporations who lobby them after election day, and who fund the election campaigns. Governments must begin to claw back the oversight, if not the detailed control, of their economies from clutches of unbridled capital. The present situation is tantamount to terra nullius from the perspective of capital influx, with governments around the world lamenting that they are powerless to guide, direct or control the money as to what it is used for. The seductive attempt of global capital to set-up shop in our region with ecologically unsustainable projects must be resisted through 100% transparent public assessment processes. Otherwise we have surrendered our sovereignty completely.
History and climate science have now shown brown coal utilisation at present levels (per capita) in Victoria to be just such an unsustainable activity. If Sir John Monash were alive today, the great military strategist would immediately see the dangers of foreign control, the loss of sovereignty and the potential risk to the long-term ecological sustainability of our culture and people. He would be appalled at how we let our defences down, and let the enemy march in without a fight.
The Cain Government exacerbated massive emissions growth with more brown coal generation, and massive long-distance transmission losses to Portland, only to produce large quantities of perfluorocarbons in the Alcoa pot lines. Perfluorocarbons live for a thousand years in the atmosphere, and have a greenhouse forcing effect six thousand times greater than carbon dioxide. Corporate welfare continues each year to the tune of $200 million with the hidden payment of this amount by electricity consumers to Alcoa through the Portland Smelter Agreements. The Australia Institute has put out an economic analysis only this year which details that the Australian economy would actually be better-off if the aluminium smelting industry did not exist on our shores. And of course, it is the taxpayer who will carry the cost of storms, floods, droughts, bushfires, and skin cancers in addition to subsidising Alcoa's wholesale electricity purchases. Transfer pricing adds insult to injury.
Capital markets and Western-style governments have a woeful record of reckless "develop at any cost" attitudes and actions. Governments have failed to protect our common wealth, and allowed economic control to fall into the hands of the enemy planet wreckers. As environmental degradation becomes increasingly obvious to all, pressure from small investors will mount for the utilisation of our financial capital in truly ecologically sustainable investments. State and Federal governments must show true leadership and urgently play a facilitating role in this by putting financial markets on notice to focus only on the rapid evolution of an ecologically sustainable, job-creating infrastructure. In this way, our evolving multi-cultural society may be supported for another 60,000 years on this continent. In only 0.3% of that time span we seem to have destroyed most of the assets that were in place at the time of European invasion. We need a vision of how to give back the 99.7 per cent of the time that we have stolen from future generations.
Reductionist Agendas and Victoria's Energy Future - "Divide and Conquer"
The Victorian Greenhouse Strategy Discussion Paper (VGSDP) has fallen into the trap of dealing with Victoria's energy future in the context of existing infrastructure. The vertically integrated infrastructure of the former SECV persists today as a fully integrated real-time electric energy delivery system: one hundred times every second, 360,000 times every hour, fleeting pulses of electric energy are created mostly in coal-fired generators and simultaneously "consumed" by the machines of industry and by the myriad consumer gadgets which litter our homes like confetti. This electric circuit concept (i.e. reality!) of generation and consumption occurring in the same instant seriously calls into question the value of the VGSDP analysis/break-down of the problem into "energy supply" and "energy use". This seems like an exercise in blame shifting by the polluters: If we had a comparably priced 100% sustainable source of electricity supply, then obviously the only imperative for consumers would be to restrict usage to conserve their savings: there would not be a problem with electricity consumption from the greenhouse point of view!
The VGSDP analysis therefore runs the risk that the reductionist approach will cloud our perceptions of the best options, strategies and actions to take. Indeed the analysis assumes the indefinite perpetuation of the existing infrastructure1, when in fact the only ecologically sustainable means of providing for the legitimate energy needs of Victorian residents might be something completely different.
Constructive Engagement in Electricity Competition
Victorians, as investors of capital, and as consumers of electricity, must not be tricked and deceived by the clever spin of powerful vested interests into believing that they can ignore the potential risks to future generations in order to have an acceptable lifestyle now. Victorians need to see the enormous opportunities for empowerment and independence available by engaging constructively (and with outstanding economic efficiency) in the selective BYPASS of the existing monopoly electricity transmission and distribution networks.
Below are a few examples of strategies that home owning investor/consumers must adopt to wage a successful war against the burgeoning emissions growth that threatens the lives of their descendants:
- Lobby local, state and federal governments to mandate the use of solar water heaters on every building that presently has a hot water system. Seven million solar hot water systems on Australia's homes, schools, offices, etc have the potential to save over 25 million tonnes of CO2 every year: equivalent to nearly three times Mr Howard's 2% renewables initiative. Successful implementation is clearly tantamount to a consumer boycott of night-rate electricity consumption, and this powerful free market signal should be unapologetically emphasised to send the strongest possible message to the coal, uranium and baseload generation industries.
- Invest directly in their own "Nuclear Fusion Primary Heat Exchanger" (a sexy, scientifically correct description of a solar water heater). Each household can save 2 to 4 tonnes of emissions annually. I personally have been showering in the primary coolant from my nuclear heat exchanger every day for the past 18 years, and I still don't glow in the dark! It is a safe and mature nuclear power technology: the sun is a rather powerful nuclear fusion reactor!
- Invest directly in replacing an electric stove and/or oven with a natural gas or bottled gas substitute. Women who still think of babies' weights in pounds and ounces, and insist that they "cannot cook" on gas must be encoraged to realise that their lifestyles must "adapt or die" - i.e. If they do not take direct responsibility to reduce their own greenhouse emissions, they will be a part of the generation which kills its own children.
- Resist the temptation to waste valuable capital on a "grid-interactive" photovoltaic solar electric system. These expensive technologies cannot possibly be economically justified when fed into the existing wasteful grid network, though they can provide marvellous BYPASS opportunities in niche applications. Federal taxpayer money presently being wasted on grid-interactive photovoltaics would have about THIRTY times more emission reduction impact if it was spent on solar water heaters.
- Another niche application of photovoltaics is a solar water heater I have developed which, almost incredibly, uses a 5-watt photovoltaic panel to run a small water pump. The advantage of this is ease of installation (tank goes on the ground), improved aesthetics of the roof-line, reduced running cost (zero!), and the potential for tenants to install a re-locatable system if the landlord will not. In retrofit applications, 5.6 sq. metres of panels, the water pump and PV panel can be installed on an existing 315 or 400 litre tank for around $2000 with DIY labour. The local plumber can assist with connection, and simultaneously learn a lot about solar hot water installation. Around midday on a clear day with this system, heat transfer to the storage tank occurs at a power level equivalent to 4 kilowatts, and all being driven by only about 4 watts of photovoltaic electric energy: thus in this application, the photovoltaic electricity is being "leveraged" by a factor of one thousand: this is 100,000 per cent, and indicates exactly how PV technology can find wonderfully economic niche applications by keeping well away from a corrupt and inefficient electricity grid.
- Australian home owners in non-tropical regions must be encouraged by official local government building and greenhouse policies to invest in economical, efficient natural cooling systems, as a direct substitute/alternative to electric heat pumps. For example they could build themselves a solar-powered evaporative cooler similar to the prototype described on my web site.2 If the idea has merit, some entrepreneur will start manufacturing even better versions of the concept. Bureau of Meteorology historical data on humidity (specifically, the wet-bulb temperature) shows that many coastal regions and most inland regions of Australia can keep comfortable with properly installed evaporative cooling during heatwaves, without resort to the construction of otherwise unnecessary peaking electric generation plant.
- When the outcome of the Federal Court case A9 of 1999 ESAA and ACCC (to be heard in Canberra, March 2001) is available, consumer groups, consumers and government regulators must vigorously pursue the reduction of actual average voltages in all Australian homes, offices, schools and shops to match the product description (currently 240 volts, but according to AS 60038 dropping to 230 volts in year 2003). If new appliances designed to the new 230 volt standard are operated at the typical present-day measured household voltage averaging 248 volts, Australia's electricity bills and associated greenhouse gas emissions can rise by up to sixteen per cent. A detailed description of the science of this problem is also available from my web site.3 There you will find details of an experiment that persuasively demonstrates a potential reduction of 400,000 tonnes of CO2 annually by the simple expedient of reducing night-time voltages to 230 volts for the 300 MW load of street lights in Australia. Consumers also stand to save hundreds of millions of dollars off their electricity bills and appliance replacement costs. The concept of "nominal voltage" is technically invalid in a competitive electricity market, and must be consigned to the dustbin of history. In this regard, Australia and Victoria do NOT have to slavishly adopt the lowest common denominator approach of the International Electrotechnical Commission (stacked no doubt with industry insiders) - instead we must adopt world's best practice voltage control in our regulated monopoly electricity networks. Smart meters can be designed to measure average voltage at each customer's premises, so that the distribution business can compensate consumers for excessive average voltage, based on a scientifically determined regulatory formula.
- Victoria must: Encourage the Victorian white goods industry to develop a range of chest and upright "eutetic" (ice-thermal-storage) fridge-freezers which can be run directly from a solar PV cell without the need for any batteries, (but perhaps supplemented from the mains during heavily overcast weather). Such devices are already available for WHO immunisation programmes, and many families would probably like the option of not having to worry about food spoilage during power blackouts, IRFM events, etc.
- Studies should be conducted on the implications of PowerNet investing in an HVDC link from the Latrobe Valley to Melbourne, possibly by converting an existing EHV-AC transmission line. The studies should engage independent experts to see if such a link could reduce transmission losses, free valuable easement land, and allow for reduced system demand in Melbourne while increasing the stability of the remaining EHV-AC transmission system at low-load/off peak times. Such flexibility might in theory allow distribution networks to lower their own voltages and therefore lower electricity "demand", also providing vastly improved quality of supply to the suburbs at night.
- Victoria must: Attack Baseload Consumption #1 Do a scientifically verifiable study to prove or disprove beyond reasonable doubt that daylight savings has a real greenhouse benefit. Although a claimed one per cent overall reduction in electricity usage during daylight savings may reduce our emissions by 0.5 per cent over a full year, this must be offset against the tendency of daylight savings to flatten the diurnal load profile, thus encouraging an increased market share for baseload generation, with a concomitant lesser market penetration of cleaner peaking generation plant. A ten per cent increase in the market share of new hydro, cogeneration, wind and renewables might provide a much better fit with the diurnal load profile of a country like Australia running without daylight savings: and this could reduce our emissions by 5 to 10 per cent.
- Victoria must: Attack Baseload Consumption #2 The impact of retailers' tariff design on generation mix cannot be overemphasised. The loss of regulatory control over this aspect of the market behaviour of NEM participants in 2001 will likely lead to massive growth of off-peak electricity "demand", as retailers seek to take commercial advantage of rock-bottom prices for night-time spot market electricity prices. Only market information to consumers (on the greenhouse impact of off-peak power) can innoculate their consumption patterns against this appalling potential exacerbation of greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately the "conventional wisdom" from the baseload generators is that running their generators at full steam all night into a flat load profile is the most "efficient" way to run the existing system: such a massive lie would seem to have more to do with sustainability of the status quo than anything remotely resembling environmental sustainability or efficiency. Stories in the industry of housing developers recently being offered free network connection for their town house developments if they choose "slab-heating" prove that the alleged ring-fencing of retailer and distributor commercial interests has been a complete and utter failure. Slab heating should be banned in Victoria to punish the electricity industry for such wanton disregard of Australia's greenhouse crisis. At the very least any such network connection offers, if proven to have occurred should result in the public expulsion of the perpetrator from the Greenhouse Challenge program, and a review of their retail and distribution licences by the Regulator General.
- Victoria must: Attack Baseload Consumption #3 Previous excess market penetration of baseload coal generation can lead to a powerful industry culture of high night-time/off-peak voltage settings in the distribution networks: this is the way a distribution business can increase electricity "demand" to the benefit of electricity retailers, transmission asset owners, and baseload generators, and even to their own bottom line where their revenue is based on a price cap instead of a more sensible revenue cap. The potential cost to consumers is enormous, with inflated power bills, the cost of blown light globes, burnt out vacuum cleaners and other appliances. A person who in 1999 suggested a possible causal link to deaths in pre-dawn house fires was served with a Federal Court subpoena for production of his documents, so it would appear to be a sensitive issue for the industry.4
- On matters not related to the electricity industry (which is only a part of a competitive energy market), I would just briefly mention that the Victorian government should (i) continue to have strong pro-public transport, and pro-bicycle policy settings; (ii) do a study on the emissions intensity of town-house/flat/apartment lifestyles versus households with enough back yard for a clothes line, a compost bin, bicycle storage and a vegetable patch; (iii) seriously consider encouraging a vehicle manufacturer to produce the www.zeropollution.org compressed air commuter vehicle in Victoria under licence. In its pure compressed air configuration, it may be possible to re-charge such a vehicle entirely from a home-based air compressor driven by roof-top PV cells.
Our quality of life is enhanced knowing that we are acting responsibly towards future generations, and most reasonable entities (people, corporations) should accept some lifestyle adjustments if a consensus emerges that it is the only ethically responsible course of action for a global citizen. If added inducements are needed, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that an International Court of Justice in The Hague may allow a court case to proceed against rescidivist greenhouse emitters on the basis that their continued activity constitutes a crime against humanity in the form of "trans-generational genocide"5: after all, climate science computer modelling is running the "fast forward button" allowing us to see our own future in ways that our parents and their lawyers never dreamed of.
The bleak future vision of computer climate models provides a powerful driver for the present generation to redouble our efforts to compete effectively against present-day polluters so that market forces put them out of business. The biggest impediments are our lack of imagination, and our gullibility to believe the lies and hype of the energy industry incumbents' propaganda machines. If they made bad investment decisions, then their investors must accept the losses, as any realistic capital investor must ultimately do. There is no room for more corporate welfare or bail-outs of losers. Tell them to go and talk to Alan Stockdale for a lesson on the true meaning of the word inevitability. The future of the human gene pool is at stake.
Melbourne 15th November 2000
About the author: Forty-something baby boomer Michael Gunter is a committed environmental activist and electricity industry "insider" who owns the Breamlea Wind Generator and operates it by remote control down an 80 km telephone line, selling SEDA-accredited Green Power to CitiPower. As primary parenting person to three children since March 1987 he has invested heavily in the future of the human gene pool by inter alia "wiping pooey bums" for ten years, and is not prepared to see that investment undone by any entity or entities which may be negligently destroying the irreplaceable substrate on which the human gene pool relies: the Earth's healthy biosphere is that irreplaceable substrate. He routinely neglects housework to turn his Kensington home into a living renewable energy laboratory and inventor's workshop. He has been a member of the Alternative Technology Association since 1985, and is also a trustee of the Renewable Energy Development Trust. He has never studied engineering at tertiary level, neither does he have any trade qualifications as an electrician. However in 1970 he obtained a Special Distinction in HSC (now VCE) Physics. In monitoring his solar hot water system for eighteen years, he observes that the system can be run on only 600 kilowatt-hours/yr of electric boosting in Melbourne's climate. A qualified medical practitioner, he worked in hospital medicine for ten years before the parenting /green activist "career move." He writes for ReNew magazine.
1 Consider the foolhardiness of Basslink in this context: People still think that Tasmania's use of electricity to heat water is OK because it comes from hydro-electricity, but the Basslink proponents have conveniently omitted to tell Tasmanians that their off peak storage electric water heaters will suddenly become "responsible" for up to 2 million tonnes per year of CO2 emissions as soon as Basslink becomes operational. NGIL is not offering to buy the carbon credits for all the new emissions that Basslink will very probably encourage by extending the market reach of cheap baseload coal power, so the burden falls..........on the Tassie taxpayer??
4 Listen to the RealAudio at http://www.hotkey.net.au/~bmwken/byner1.ram
5 See also the "right to life" argument especially developed for Catholic Premiers and Catholic Herald-Sun editors at http://www.voltscommissar.net/basslink_sucks.htm Ten million billion unborn souls are telling us to stop trashing the planet (it's in the Appendix - red text at the bottom of the document)