Morrison government threatens to use Snowy Hydro to build gas generator, as it outlines ‘gas-fired recovery’ plan


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government has threatened to use Snowy Hydro to build a gas generator in the Hunter Valley if the electricity sector fails to fill the gap left by the scheduled closure of the Liddell power plant in 2023.

The threat comes as the government released its plan to place gas at the centre of Australia’s economic recovery, with a package of measures to “reset” the east coast market and “unlock” supply.

Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the electricity sector had to deliver 1,000 megawatts of new dispatchable energy to replace the Liddell power station before it closed.

“The Government will step up and back a new gas power plant in the Hunter Valley if the sector doesn’t replace Liddell’s capacity,” they said in an ultimatum to the sector.

“Snowy Hydro Limited is developing options to build a gas generator in the Hunter Valley at Kurri Kurri should the market not deliver what consumers need.”

The government had a long running battle with AGL over its determination to close the Liddell coal-fired power station, trying unsuccessfully to force it to abandon the decision.

Morrison and Taylor said the government’s Liddell taskforce had found closing the plant without adequate dispatchable replacement capacity could mean a 30% price rise over two years, or $20 per megawatt hour to $80 in 2024 and up to $105 per MWH by 2030.

Morrison said such rises were unacceptable – they would be a huge hit to families, businesses and job creating industries in NSW if the energy generated by Liddell wasn’t replaced.

“We won’t risk the affordability and reliability of the NSW energy system and will step in unless the industry steps up.

“To ensure we do not have a scenario without replacement, the government is giving the private sector until the end of April 2021 to reach final investment decisions on 1000 MW of dispatchable capacity, with a commitment for generation in time for summer 2023-24.”

In its announcement of its gas plan, the government says its proposed multiple initiatives will deliver affordable and reliable energy for households, business and industry, and shore up the energy grid’s reliability as renewables form an increasingly larger part of the energy market.

One part of the plan is the creation of an Australian Gas Hub at Wallumbilla in Queensland to bring users and suppliers closer together, delivering a transparent liquid gas trading system.

This is modelled on the Henry Hub located in Louisiana which is a distribution point on a natural gas pipeline system. It serves as the official delivery location for futures contracts.

The concept of a gas-led recovery is highly controversial. It has been strongly pushed by the chair of the government’s national COVID-19 commission Nev Power, and the government argues that gas is much lower in emissions than coal fired power.

But the promotion of gas is resisted by environmentalists, given it is a fossil fuel, and questioned by some in the investment community who doubt it will be possible to achieve gas prices low enough to make a major economic difference.

Outlining the “gas-fired recovery” plan Morrison, Taylor and Resources Minister Keith Pitt said: “The government wants the private sector to step-up and make timely investments in the gas market.”

But “if the private sector fails to act, the government will step in – as it has done for electricity transmission – to back these nation building projects. This may include through streamlining approvals, underwriting projects or the establishment of a special purpose vehicle with a capped government contribution”.

The government says the east coast market needs change because it is not delivering internationally competitive prices for Australian businesses and households.

International prices have fallen but this has not been reflected in lower long term contract offers for Australian customers.
There are also fears of a supply shortfall in the medium term.

Under the measures, new gas supply targets will be set with states and territories and a potential “use it or lose it” requirement will be enforced on gas licences.

The government aims to unlock five new gas basins beginning with the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory and the North Bowen and Galilee Basis in Queensland. This will cost $28.3 million for the plans.

To avoid supply shortfalls, there will be new agreements with the three east coast LNG exporters with strengthened commitments on price.

The government will also “explore options” for a prospective gas reservation scheme “to ensure Australian gas users get the energy they need at a reasonable price”.

To improve the gas transport network the government will identify priority pipelines and critical infrastructure for a National Gas Infrastructure Plan (NGIP) worth $10.9 million . This will also highlight where the government will step in if private investors do not.

The regulations on pipeline infrastructure will be reformed to increase competition and transparency; competition will be further promoted by kick starting work on a secondary pipeline capacity market.

The government will work with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to review the calculation of the LNG netback price which provides a guide on the export parity prices.

It will also use the NGIP to develop customer hubs to boost competition and transparency for customers.

HERE ARE THE GOVERNMENT’S DETAILED MEASURES.

It will get more gas into the market by:

  • Setting new gas supply targets with states and territories and enforce potential “use-it or lose-it” requirements on gas licenses

  • Unlocking five key gas basins starting with the Beetaloo Basin in the NT and the North Bowen and Galilee Basin in Queensland, at a cost of $28.3 million for the plans

  • Avoiding any supply shortfall in the gas market with new agreements with the three east coast LNG exporters that will also strengthen price commitments

  • Supporting CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance with $13.7 million

  • Exploring options for a prospective gas reservation scheme to ensure Australian gas users get the energy they need at a reasonable price.

It will boost the gas transport network by:

  • Identifying priority pipelines and critical infrastructure as part of an inaugural National Gas Infrastructure Plan (NGIP) worth $10.9 million that will also highlight where the government will step in if the private sector doesn’t invest

  • Reforming the regulations on pipeline infrastructure to promote competition and transparency

  • Improving pipeline access and competition by kick-starting work on a dynamic secondary pipeline capacity market.

To better empower gas consumers, it will:

  • Establish an Australian Gas Hub at our most strategically located and connected gas trading hub at Wallumbilla in Queensland to deliver an open, transparent and liquid gas trading system

  • Level the negotiating playing field for gas producers and consumers through a voluntary industry-led code of conduct, to be delivered by February 2021

  • Ensure Australians are paying the right price for their gas by working with the ACCC to review the calculation of the LNG netback price which provides a guide on the export parity prices

  • Use the NGIP to develop customer hubs or a book-build program that will give gas customers a more transparent and competitive process for meeting their needs.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How bushfires and rain turned our waterways into ‘cake mix’, and what we can do about it



The Murray River at Gadds Reserve in north east Victoria after Black Summer bushfires.
Paul McInerney, Author provided

Paul McInerney, CSIRO; Anu Kumar, CSIRO; Gavin Rees, CSIRO; Klaus Joehnk, CSIRO, and Tapas Kumar Biswas, CSIRO

As the world watched the Black Summer bushfires in horror, we warned that when it did finally rain, our aquatic ecosystems would be devastated.

Following bushfires, rainfall can wash huge volumes of ash and debris from burnt vegetation and exposed soil into rivers. Fires can also lead to soil “hydrophobia”, where soil refuses to absorb water, which can generate more runoff at higher intensity. Ash and contaminants from the fire, including toxic metals, carbon and fire retardants, can also threaten biodiversity in streams.




Read more:
The sweet relief of rain after bushfires threatens disaster for our rivers


As expected, when heavy rains eventually extinguished many fires, it turned high quality water in our rivers to sludge with the consistency of cake mix.

In the weeks following the first rains, we sampled from these rivers. This is what we saw.

Sampling the upper Murray River

Of particular concern was the upper Murray River on the border between Victoria and NSW, which is critical for water supply. There, the bushfires were particularly intense.

Sludge in Horse Creek near Jingellic following storm activity after the fire.
Paul McInerney/Author Provided

When long-awaited rain eventually came to the upper Murray River catchment, it was in the form of large localised storms. Tonnes of ash, sediment and debris were washed into creeks and the Murray River. Steep terrain within burnt regions of the upper Murray catchment generated a large volume of fast flowing runoff that carried with it sediment and pollutants.

We collected water samples in the upper Murray River in January and February 2020 to assess impacts to riverine plants and animals.

Our water samples were up to 30 times more turbid (cloudy) than normal, with total suspended solids as high as 765 milligrams per litre. Heavy metals such as zinc, arsenic, chromium, nickel, copper and lead were recorded in concentrations well above guideline values for healthy waterways.

Ash and sediment blanketing cobbles in the Murray River.
Paul McInerney/Author Provided

We took the water collected from the Murray River to the laboratory, where we conducted a number of toxicological experiments on duckweed (a floating water plant), water fleas (small aquatic invertebrates) and juvenile freshwater snails.

What we found

During a seven-day exposure to the bushfire affected river water, the growth rate of duckweed was reduced by 30-60%.

The water fleas ingested large amounts of suspended sediments when they were exposed to the affected water for 48 hours. Following the exposure, water flea reproduction was significantly impaired.

And freshwater snail egg sacs were smothered. The ash resulted in complete deaths of snail larvae after 14 days.




Read more:
Before and after: see how bushfire and rain turned the Macquarie perch’s home to sludge


These sad impacts to growth, reproduction and death rates were primarily a result of the combined effects of the ash and contaminants, according to our preliminary investigations.

But they can have longer-term knock-on effects to larger animals like birds and fish that rely on biota like snail eggs, water fleas and duckweed for food.

What happened to the fish?

Immediately following the first pulse of sediment, dead fish (mostly introduced European carp and native Murray Cod) were observed on the bank of River Murray at Burrowye Reserve, Victoria. But what, exactly, was their cause of death?

A dead Murray Cod found on the banks of the Murray River following storms after the bushfires.
Paul McInerney/Author Provided

Our first assumption was that they died from a lack of oxygen in the water. This is because ash and nutrients combined with high summer water temperatures can trigger increased activity of microbes, such as bacteria.

This, in turn can deplete the dissolved oxygen concentration in the water (also known as hypoxia) as the microbes consume oxygen. And wide-spread hypoxia can lead to large scale fish kills.




Read more:
Click through the tragic stories of 119 species still struggling after Black Summer in this interactive (and how to help)


But to our surprise, although dissolved oxygen in the Murray River was lower than usual, we did not record it at levels low enough for hypoxia. Instead, we saw the dead fish had large quantities of sediment trapped in their gills. The fish deaths were also quite localised.

In this case, we think fish death was simply caused by the extremely high sediment and ash load in the river that physically clogged their gills, not a lack of dissolved oxygen in the water.

These findings are not unusual, and following the 2003 bushfires in Victoria fish kills were attributed to a combination of low dissolved oxygen and high turbidity.

So how can we prepare for future bushfires?

Preventing sediment being washed into rivers following fires is difficult. Installing sediment barriers and other erosion control measures can protect specific areas. However, at the catchment scale, a more holistic approach is required.




Read more:
The NSW bushfire inquiry found property loss is ‘inevitable’. We must stop building homes in such fire-prone areas


One way is to increase efforts to re-vegetate stream banks (called riparian zones) to help buffer the runoff. A step further is to consider re-vegetating these zones with native plants that don’t burn easily, such as Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylin).

Streams known to host rare or endangered aquatic species should form the focus of any fire preparation activities. Some species exist only in highly localised areas, such as the endangered native barred galaxias (Galaxias fuscus) in central Victoria. This means an extreme fire event there can lead to the extinction of the whole species.

Ash and dead fish on the banks of the Murray River near Jingellic following Black Summer fires.
Paul McInerney/Author Provided

That’s why reintroducing endangered species to their former ranges in multiple catchments to broaden their distribution is important.

Increasing the connectivity within our streams would also allow animals like fish to evade poor water quality — dams and weirs can prevent this. The removal of such barriers, or installing “fish-ways” may be important to protecting fish populations from bushfire impacts.

However, dams can also be used to benefit animal and plant life (biota). When sediment is washed into large rivers, as we saw in the Murray River after the Black Summer fires, the release of good quality water from dams can be used to dilute poor quality water washed in from fire affected tributaries.




Read more:
California is on fire. From across the Pacific, Australians watch on and buckle up


Citizen scientists can help, too. It can be difficult for researchers to monitor aquatic ecosystems during and immediately following bushfires and unmanned monitoring stations are often damaged or destroyed.

CSIRO is working closely with state authorities and the public to improve citizen science apps such as EyeOnWater to collect water quality data. With more eyes in more areas, these data can improve our understanding of aquatic ecosystem responses to fire and to inform strategic planning for future fires.

These are some simple first steps that can be taken now.

Recent investment in bushfire research has largely centred on how the previous fires have influenced species’ distribution and health. But if we want to avoid wildlife catastrophes, we must also look forward to the mitigation of future bushfire impacts.The Conversation

Paul McInerney, Research scientist, CSIRO; Anu Kumar, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO; Gavin Rees, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO; Klaus Joehnk, Principal research scientist, CSIRO, and Tapas Kumar Biswas, Senior scientist, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.