Saturday, May 24, 2008

100K means test on solar rebate is lunacy

Just when I thought things could not get much worse for solar power in Australia after Peter Batchelor succeeded in gutting the Victorian Feed in Tariff (which is yet to go through Parliament, word it is could be introduced around June 9), Peter Garrett and Kevin Rudd announced that the Federal solar rebate scheme would be means tested on $100,000 on household income. This is less than two minimum wages.

This will be the nail in the coffin of the solar panel industry and domestic installation in Australia.

The reasons they gave are simply not valid; the rebate scheme is simply not middle income welfare. While the rebate should not go on indefinitely, it is an important mechanism for shifting us towards emission reductions and a carbon constrained economy.

A means test of 250,000 would be more appropriate, and would encourage many to install panels.

For more information on this, and a link to an email form you can use to contact the Peter Garrett (the Enviroment Minister) go to

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Petrol prices hit 162.9c per litre and still no action on public transport

Petrol prices have just hit a record high of $1.62 per litre in Australia, even though petrol is still cheaper in comparison to Europe ($2.25 in Italy, $2.28 in France, $2.33 in UK, $2.45 in Denmark).

As demand (mainly from China) increase and supply dwindles, this trend is set to continue quite rapidly, as I have noted previously.

Kevin Rudd said today that "unfortunately there is no silver bullet for petrol prices" on television tonight. I beg to differ. Fortunately, there are at least two silver bullets.

1.CNG conversions and refuelling infrastructure for cars, trucks and buses

While natural gas supplies are finite, it is a cleaner and cheaper fuel than petrol. We should be using it for transport now.

2. Improved public transport and more cycle paths

The impact of petrol and fuel price rises on household incomes will be reduced if people have practical alternatives to cars. Improved public transport and better cycle paths provide us with options for lower emissions and cheaper transport. Unfortunately, the federal budget provided no funding for either.

We need leadership and funding from federal and state governments for both these opportunities as we shift towards a carbon constrained economy.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Feed in Tariff - Victorian government reasons don't hold up

I rang Peter Batchelor's office to discuss details and reasons for the structure of the Feed in Tariff being introduced in Victoria. I spoke at length to one his ministerial advisors. The concerns raised by the advisor and my reponse to them are listed below.


Thanks for taking the time to speak with me last Friday about the feed in tariff legislation.

In answer to the following concerns you raised regarding gross metering, and your reasons for justifying the 2kW limit:

1. The government doesn't want to pay people for the energy they use

The government should pay a premium for every watt of renewable energy, both when used domestically and when exported to the grid. This is because the energy is zero emissions and directly replaces energy from coal-fired power stations. The energy is also very valuable as it is generated at peak times on hot days when the grid is nearing capacity to supply.

2. A gross metered feed in tariff without the 2kW cap will drive up electricity bills for low income households

Premier Brumby claimed on Stateline (Friday May 9, 2008) that the FIT "would have imposed a significant burden on low income households, with some estimates that this would add up to 10% to the cost of power bills". I understand from you that the economic model used to support this claim is now a Cabinet in Confidence document that cannot be released to the public.

Given that other economic analysis has estimated no more that 1% increase in power bills, I question the veracity of the report (or model) that the government claims has informed their decisions on structuring the FIT.

I also think is is quite inappropriate for such an important and non-sensitive piece of economic information to be subject to Cabinet secrecy. This is not transparent or accountable process or decision making.

In addition, specific measures, such as Government funded installation of a solar system, could be provided for low income households if they are genuinely disadvantaged by the feed in tariff. Other subsidies or grants to them are also possible.

3. The FIT doesn't encourage energy efficiency.

The feed in tariff is not a policy instrument for directly encouraging energy efficiency, and should not be regarded or measured as such. However, households with solar panels generally become more aware of their electricity consumption and production and are therefore more likely to investigate and adopt measures to improve the efficiency of their electricity usage.

A more appropriate way of encouraging energy efficiency - which is complementary to a gross-metered non-capped FIT is to mandate that homes produce an amount (say 15% or 20%) of the energy they consume. This would drive efficiency measures so that the energy production percentage can be achieved (e.g. by solar panels) with the minimum and most cost effective energy generating system.

The Government should also mandate energy efficiency labelling for all appliances immediately.

4. The VRET is a more important factor in encouraging renewable energy

While the Victorian Renewable Energy Target is good to have, I would argue that it should be higher (e.g. 20%). Also, it yields little benefit to household producers with solar panels, it mainly benefits energy companies and large scale producers. I addition, a FIT complements and supports the VRET. Treating them as alternatives is a false dichotomy - we can have both.

5. The 30 minute timeboxing for net metering reduces the impact of the 2kW cap

While this may result in some additional payments to producers I think this will be insignificant compared to what gross metering would yield. This is very complicated too - the vast majority of people simply don't understand this measure.

A 2kW system will supply about 60% of an average household's elecricity consumption, so there will be very little net exports to the grid from such systems. I can see no good reasons for the 2kW cap.

In summary

It seems to me that the Victorian government has lost sight of the overall goal of reducing carbon emissions. Many more solar panels on Victorian and Australian roofs would directly reducing carbon emissions, and successful Feed in Tariff models in other countries have proven that this works. In Germany, this has resulted in power now produced from solar panels that is equivalent to two coal fired power stations - Germany now has 4,000 times more energy output from solar panels than Australia.

The Victorian Government's claim on the proposed Feed in Tariff will pay off solar panel systems in 10 years is inaccurate. More accurate financial modelling indicates that it will have negligible effect on reducing the payback period for panels.

Increased clean energy production for solar panels, along with investment in other forms of renewable energy such as wind power and large scale solar, will reduce and hopefully eliminate the need to build any more coal fired power stations which the entire community would have to pay for - and which would also impose significant financial burden on low income households.

I strongly urge the government to modify the tariff to a proven effective and equitable model , which is:
  • 60 cents per kWh
  • paid for at least 15 years
  • paid on the entire output of a system via gross production metering
  • no caps on array size and/or outputs.
This tariff would encourage many more people to install panels, dramatically increase output of clean zero emissions energy, and contribute to a thriving and growing local solar installation industry in Victoria.

It would benefit all Victorians, and be a key local measure in tacking climate change.


Peter Campbell


Thursday, May 08, 2008

The rally against the crappy feed in tariff - photos

Here are some photos of the rally at Parliament today about the crappy feed in tariff legislation the Brumby Government is introducing.

Solar kids

Solar Faker?

Greens MLC Colleen Hartland

Brumby government delivers a useless feed in tariff

What on earth is going on in the Victorian Cabinet?

After visiting the Bali convention on climate change and using their generous travel allowances to see how a good feed in tariff can promote emission reductions and jobs from solar power in countries like Germany, our Victorian Government has delivered a feed in tariff that is crippled and worthless.

It really is cynical greenwash, and follows the trend of them taking no real action to address climate change.

Who in the big end of town has guided them to such a poor outcome? They can't really be that stupid can they? Once again, politics delivers a very poor and non-transparent policy and legislation for the people, who expect so much more.

Read the letter below I sent to Cabinet for more details. And watch this video.


Dear Mr Batchelor,

Thanks for your late advice about the introduction of the new Feed in Tariff in Victoria further to my correspondence with your office on this matter on 19/3/08.

Unfortunately, I believe that the Government has made serious mistakes in the structure of this tariff, which almost completely negate the positive effects a well structured tariff would have.

My concerns are:

1. The Feed in Tariff is only paid on net metering.

The total electricity generated by panels should be subject to the tariff, as all the clean electricity generated has zero emissions which directly substitutes for coal-fired power and therefore reduces emissions accordingly.

In Germany and other locations where they pay the tariff on gross metering, there has been a dramatic rise in installation of solar power. Germany now has 400 times the solar output of Australia despite having about half our sunshine.

You have missed the opportunity to provide similar encouragement to a new economy and local industry (and jobs) based on increased installation of panels on available roof space.

2. The Feed in Tariff has a maximum ceiling of 2kW

This is nonsense. The more solar zero emissions power we generate as a nation the better. This is a critical measure for reducing our emissions to combat climate change. The 2kW array size limit for getting the Feed in Tariff is simply crippling the financial motivation for people to install solar panels, and crippling their payback if they choose to install a bigger array.

We currently have a 1.5kW array that has been running for 6 years and intend to expand it to 3kW. Your Feed In Tariff will provide us with no benefits.

Most five star standard households currently consume about 20 to 25kwH of electricity per day. A 1kW array produces about 5kwH per day, while a 2kW array produces about 10 kwH per day. Such systems will therefore export negligible net energy to the grid, particularly if a 2kW air conditioner is run on hot sunny days.

There is no rational reason to apply such a tariff ceiling; it should be removed.

3. No certainty for investment is provided

The complexities and restrictions of your feed in tariff resulting from net metering combined with the 2kW ceiling provide no certainty or guarantee for investment in a solar array, unlike gross metering with no ceiling which does. This is evident in countries like Germany where there has been significant investment in solar power - now the equivalent of two coal fired power stations, but with zero emissions.

The resultant lack of certainty for investment will greatly impede the uptake of solar power in Victoria.

4. Your Feed in Tariff is discriminatory.

The very few who may be lucky enough to benefit from your tariff will be those who can afford a 6 star house, relatively expensive efficient appliances and a 2kW array. By contrast, lower income less efficient households with a 1kW array and less efficient appliances will get no benefit. This is discriminatory.

In summary

Your assertion that the FIT "could pay off the cost of installation in less than 10 years" is incorrect. The combination of the 2kW ceiling and paying on net metering means very few, if any, will get any financial benefits from the tariff so it will be impossible for it to pay off the residual cost of solar panel installation after the rebate.

This scheme effectively does not deliver on Labor's 2006 election promise to introduce a workable feed in tariff due to its crippled nature.

Your tariff will not provide any incentive for leadership in Victoria in uptake of solar power or renewable energy initiatives.

Your tariff is not strategic and does not improve affordability of sustainable solar power. It will not empower Victorian households to take action on climate change.

I attended the rally at parliament today with 400 others to protest about the problems with your feed in tariff. I spoke to some of the many ETU members present who had expectations that the Brumby government would provide a feed in tariff that would stimulate local employment in clean energy energy industries. They feel you have let them down. I agree with them on this.

Your tariff has also not met the expectations of many local community groups who are very keen to see real government action on climate change. As such, it is a great disappointment.

I strongly urge you to adjust the tariff to remove the 2kW ceiling and use gross metering, so that Victoria can mirror the proven success of such tariffs where they have been implemented elsewhere and I understand will be implemented in the ACT.

As a reference, has many examples and much information about successful and implemented renewable energy policies, initiatives, and sustainable housing.

I would like to meet with you to discuss my concerns about this further.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Campbell

CC: Cabinet members and other MPs

Friday, May 02, 2008

Of mythical water grids, pipelines and logging in catchments

After a period of denial and inaction about our looming water crisis, the Brumby Labor government is now hell bent on pushing their so called "water grid" as a solution for our ongoing reduced rainfall. I am not sure where they got this concept from. It seems to have entered "government speak" around the world from the Thames in the UK to Queensland.

Unfortunately the concept as described in Victoria has a number of serious flaws and seems to be mainly a public relations exercise.

My understanding of the concept in Victoria is that large scale engineering works - such as the North South pipeline, and perhaps the planned $3b desalination plant at Wonthaggi - will create a system where water can be transferred long distances to places where it will be used.

The major problems with this approach are:
  • Any pipelines that are not gravity fed will require a lot of energy (mostly derived from coal-fired power) to pump the water. This will result in major greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The proposed North South pipeline is taking water from the Murray Darling catchment - where it is desperately needed - to Melbourne, where it is not. This has major impacts for people living both along the Goulburn, and all the way down the Murray River to Adelaide, whose residents rely on the river for most of their drinking water
  • The costs of pipelines is high. The 70km North South pipeline is estimated to cost $750m.
  • The environmental impacts of pipelines is high. The North South pipeline route has the potential to affect 75 threatened animal and plant species.
  • The planned desalination plant will produce a lot greenhouse gas emissions too, and the water from it will have to be pumped all the way to Melbourne.
  • Logging in Melbourne's water catchments continues - which is resulting in less water and a reduction in its quality.
The Brumby Government's rationale for all this is not clear. We are quite obviously running low on water, but we are not yet on Stage 4 restrictions, and Melbourne's daily household water usage is still quite high.

People still have their swimming pools full too - topped up with water trucked in, resulting in yet more greenhouse gas emissions.

There is a cruel irony in climate change causing reduced rainfall, then most of the governments measures to address water shortages resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions, which will further exacerbate climate change.

Brumby has also stated that:

"the only way you can find new water is by reducing savings, evaporation and seepage and those things".

Fixing leaky irrigation channels and pipes does save water loss and is worth doing, but it doesn't "find new water" (or create it).

Here is my proposal for addressing the water shortage:
  • Mandate water tanks for every new household - 5000 litres storage per bedroom - to catch and use rainwater.
  • Subsidise a retrofit scheme for water tanks to existing households, or provide a rebate on water bills for those who have tanks installed.
  • Aim to recycle 80% of the water we use, rather than just flushing it down sewers and out to the ocean. Cease putting water out at the Gunnamatta and other ocean outfalls.
  • Aim to reduce domestic usage to 120 litres per person per day
  • Stop logging in Melbourne's water catchments immediately - this should save 30 gigalitres of water per year.
  • Use recycled water for the cooling towers of Latrobe Valley power stations, rather than drinking water.
  • Design gardens that capture water. A lot of new housing developments have more paved area than garden, which results in more water runoff and less entering the soil and water table.
  • Shift agricultural usage to the most efficient methods. Eliminate sprinkler application and flood irrigation where they are still in use, in favour of drip irrigation.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Brumby goes for "green coal" and subverts real action on climate change

Just when I thought government rhetoric and funding (using taxpayer's money) on pretending that the coal industry can somehow be made "green", "clean" and even "carbon neutral" had reached ridiculous levels, Peter Batchelor comes out with this:

"But Mr Batchelor said coal must be used in a more environmentally friendly way and clean coal technologies, such as burying carbon emissions underground and drying coal, offered the potential for zero emissions from coal-fired power stations."

"The future of coal relies on it becoming greener," he said.

Mr Batchelor said that capturing carbon, by returning and storing it underground in a safe and environmentally friendly way, "mimicked nature".

The question here is whether he actually believes this nonsense.

Zero emissions coal fired power stations? Green coal? That's funny, I thought it was brown or black.

Mimicking nature? Oh, we dig it up (using fossil fuel energy), process it, burn, capture CO2 from the chimneys (using more than 30% more energy and coal in doing so), liquefy it (using more energy), pump it a considerable distance (using more energy), squirt it under the ground - if we can find cavities vast enough to accommodate it - then cross our fingers and hope it stays there.

So how exactly does this mimic nature?

Next week's state budget will contain $110 million for an industrial-scale project investigating the capture and storage of carbon produced by power plants.

The Government will also fund a new body, Clean Coal Victoria, based in the Latrobe Valley, and commit $5 million to search for carbon storage sites, such as used oil and gas reservoirs in Bass Strait. So they don't even know yet whether they will be able to store it.

No public money should be spent on this risky venture, which even if it can be made to work, won't be viable until 2020 or later. We need emission reductions now.

So why are they doing this?

Well, there are marginal Labor state seats in the Latrobe Valley and an upcoming by-election in Gippsland which Labor wants to win. Looks like politics wins and real action on climate change looses. Or maybe they do believe their own nonsense.

Link: State puts greenhouse money on clean coal The Age