Critical backbenchers push back on Finkel clean energy target plan



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Josh Frydenberg’s task of garnering broad support for the Finkel scheme is proving to be more difficult than expected.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A sizeable slice of his backbench has sent Malcolm Turnbull a forceful message that his road to implementing the clean energy target (CET) proposed by the Finkel inquiry will be rocky even within his own ranks.

After Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg gave an extensive briefing on the Finkel plan to the Coalition partyroom on Tuesday morning, MPs later reconvened for nearly three hours of questions and debate.

About one-third of the 30-32 who spoke expressed misgivings, according to Coalition sources. There was broad support from another third. The rest didn’t express a firm view, asking questions and seeking more information.

The report from the panel led by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel says a CET “will encourage new low emissions generation [below a threshold level of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour] into the market in a technology neutral fashion”.

A key issue will be where the government, which is disposed to adopt the Finkel plan, sets the threshold. It is clear that to accommodate the Nationals and a section of the Liberal Party it will have to be at a level that allows for the inclusion of “clean” coal.

The meeting was to gauge backbench views ahead of cabinet considering the report. Ministers, apart from the minister with carriage of the issue, don’t speak on these occasions.

Tony Abbott, who had publicly flagged his belief that the Finkel scheme represents a tax on coal, spoke strongly at the meeting.

The degree of pushback against a CET was stronger than had been anticipated, given the intense lobbying of the backbench that Frydenberg had done ahead of the meeting.

Frydenberg said afterwards: “I want to emphasise that this meeting was not making any decisions about Dr Finkel’s proposal. Rather, it was an information-gathering session.”

A common theme from backbenchers was that it was vital to be able to be confident the Finkel plan would make energy more affordable. A number of MPs, especially from outer suburban and regional areas, said affordability was what mattered most to their electorates.

Some questioned the Finkel modelling showing that prices would fall. The chairman of the backbench environment committee, Craig Kelly, said: “If you believe that you can lower prices by replacing existing coal-fired generation with higher-cost renewables, then I have a harbour bridge to sell you.”

Concern was expressed about the place of coal, and there was criticism of Finkel’s projection of an effective renewable energy target of 42% by 2030. Some backbenchers believed it would take the Coalition too close to Labor, which has a 50% target. There were also queries about the status of the Paris targets.

But Frydenberg told the ABC: “There was an overwhelming feeling among those in the party room tonight that business-as-usual is not an option.”

Asked on 7.30 “are you going to be able to get your colleagues to agree to support a clean energy target?,” Frydenberg replied: “It is too early to say.”

Finkel met with the government’s backbench environment committee on Tuesday to explain his plan and answer questions.

Frydenberg conceded that backbenchers “are concerned about the future of coal”. But he flatly rejected the Abbott suggestion that the Finkel plan amounted to a tax on coal, saying it was “absolutely not”.

“Dr Finkel has made it very clear he is not putting in place any prohibitions on coal or any form of generation capacity. He is putting in place incentives for lower emission generation. It is not a price on carbon or a tax on coal.”

The CET had “similarities to what John Howard put forward back in 2007”, Frydenberg said – a point he made in his briefing to the party meeting.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce also slapped down Abbott’s proposition that the CET amounted to a tax on coal, telling Sky that “Mr Abbott’s entitled to his opinion” but “there is no penalty placed on coal.

The Conversation“There is an advantage that is placed on those that are below the line. An advantage, because they get a section of a permit, which is like a payment. Those above the lines don’t … I suppose ipso facto it could be seen as not having the same advantage.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/icjdu-6b9a25?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The plan to protect wildlife displaced by the Hume Highway has failed



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Hundreds of large old trees were removed when the Hume Highway was widened.
Brian Yap/Flickr, CC BY-NC

David Lindenmayer, Australian National University; Martine Maron, The University of Queensland; Megan C Evans, The University of Queensland, and Philip Gibbons, Australian National University

It’s no secret that human development frequently comes at a cost to other creatures. As our urban footprint expands, native habitat contracts. To compensate for this, most Australian governments require developers to invest in biodiversity offsetting, where habitat is created or protected elsewhere to counterbalance the impact of construction.

Researchers monitored hundreds of nest boxes used to offset habitat loss.
Mason Crane, Author provided

Although biodiversity offsetting is frequently used in Australia – and is becoming increasingly popular around the world – we rarely know whether offsets are actually effective.

That’s why we spent four years monitoring the program designed to offset the environmental losses caused by widening the Hume Highway between Holbrook and Coolac, New South Wales. Our research has found it was completely ineffective.


Map courtesy Google/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Trading trees for boxes

The roadworks required the removal of large, old, hollow-bearing trees, which are critical nesting sites for many animals, including several threatened species. To compensate for these losses, the developer was required to install one nest box for every hollow that was lost – roughly 600 nest boxes were installed.

Wild honeybees occupied many nest boxes.
Mason Crane, Author provided

Many of the boxes were specifically designed for three threatened species: the squirrel glider, the superb parrot and the brown treecreeper. We monitored the offset for four years to see whether local wildlife used the nest boxes.

We found that the nest boxes were rarely used, with just seven records of the squirrel glider, two of the brown treecreeper, and none of the superb parrot. We often saw all three species in large old tree hollows in the area around the boxes we monitored.

Even more worryingly, almost 10% of the boxes collapsed, were stolen or otherwise rendered ineffective just four years after being installed. Perversely, we found that invasive species such as feral bees and black rats frequently occupied the nest boxes.

The offset clearly failed to deliver the environmental outcomes that were promised. Indeed, researchers have been concerned for some time now that offsetting can be misused and abused.

What can be done?

It’s worth noting that research supports using nest boxes as a habitat replacement. However, they may never be effective for species such as the superb parrot. It’s not quite clear why some animals use nest boxes and others don’t, but earlier monitoring projects in the same area found superb parrots consistently avoid them.

Still, concrete steps can – and should – be taken to improve similar offset programs.

First, the one-to-one ratio of nest boxes to tree hollows was inadequate; far more nest boxes needed to be installed to replace the natural hollows that were lost.

There also was no requirement to regularly replace nest boxes as they degrade. It can take a hundred years or more for trees to develop natural hollows suitable for nesting wildlife. To truly offset their removal, thousands of boxes may be required over many decades.

An old hollow-bearing river red gum. Trees like this are vital habitat for many species.
Peter Halasz/Wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA

Second, nest boxes clearly cannot compensate for the many other key ecological values of large old trees (such as carbon storage, flowering pulses or foraging habitat). This suggests that more effort is needed at the beginning of a development proposal to avoid damaging environmental assets that are extremely difficult to replace – such as large old trees.

Third, where it is simply impossible to protect key features of the environment during infrastructure development, more holistic strategies should be considered. For example, in the case of the woodlands around the Hume Highway, encouraging natural regeneration can help replace old trees.

Tree planting on farms can also make a significant contribution to biodiversity – and some of these may eventually become hollow-bearing trees. A combination of planting new trees and maintaining adequate artificial hollows while those trees mature might be a better approach.

Being accountable for failure

When an offset program fails, it’s unlikely anyone will be asked to rectify the situation. This is because developers are only required to initiate an offset, and are not responsible for their long-term outcomes.

In the case of the Hume Highway development, the conditions of approval specified that nest boxes were to be installed, but not that they be effective.

Despite the ecological failure of the offset (and over A$200,000 invested), the developer has met these legal obligations.

This distinction between offset compliance and offset effectiveness is a real problem. The Australian government has produced a draft policy of outcomes-based conditions, but using these conditions isn’t mandatory.

The poor results of the Hume Highway offset program are sobering. However, organisations like Roads and Maritime Services are to be commended for ensuring that monitoring was completed and for making the data available for public scrutiny – many agencies do not even do that.

The ConversationIndeed, through monitoring and evaluation we can often learn more from failures than successes. There are salutary lessons here, critical to ensuring mistakes are not repeated.

David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Martine Maron, ARC Future Fellow and Associate Professor of Environmental Management, The University of Queensland; Megan C Evans, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Environmental Policy, The University of Queensland, and Philip Gibbons, Senior Lecturer, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull unveils Snowy plan for pumped hydro, costing billions



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The Snowy Hydro scheme already provides back-up energy to NSW and Victoria.
AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In its latest move on energy policy, the Turnbull government has unveiled a plan to boost generation from the Snowy Hydro scheme by 50%. The Conversation

The government says the expansion, which it has labelled the Snowy Mountains Scheme 2.0, would add 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy to the National Electricity Market. This would be enough to power 500,000 homes.

Claiming the upgrading would be an “electricity game-changer”, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that in one hour it would be able to produce 20 times the 100 megawatt-hours expected from the battery proposed this week by the South Australian government, but would deliver it constantly for almost a week.

Turnbull flew to the Snowy early Thursday to formally announce the plan. The commonwealth is a minority shareholder in the Snowy Hydro, with a 13% stake. New South Wales and Victoria have 58% and 29% stakes respectively.

The government, through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), would examine several sites that could support large-scale pumped hydroelectric energy storage in the area, Turnbull said.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the cost would run into “billions of dollars”. It is being suggested it would be around A$2 billion. Frydenberg avoided being tied down on when it would be completed.

He said three new tunnels were being looked at, stretching 27 kilometres for the pumped hydro-facility. It would not involve new dams, but connect existing reservoirs and recycle water.

The plan had the potential to ensure there would be the needed renewable energy supply for those on the east coast at times of peak demand, Frydenberg said.

Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute, cautioned that the plan would involve technical and economic issues, including whether it could make money, and to what extent it could contribute to solving the short-term power crisis.

“This isn’t some sort of magic panacea,” Wood told the ABC. Some hard-headed thinking was needed on what it would do and how it would work.

Turnbull said: “The unprecedented expansion will help make renewables reliable, filling in holes caused by intermittent supply and generator outages.

“It will enable greater energy efficiency and help stabilise electricity supply into the future,” he said – adding that this would ultimately mean cheaper power prices.

He said successive governments at all levels had failed to put in place the needed storage to ensure reliable supply.

“We are making energy storage infrastructure a critical priority to ensure better integration of wind and solar into the energy market and more efficient use of conventional power.”

Turnbull said an “all-of-the-above” approach, including hydro, solar, coal and gas, was critical to future energy supplies.

Snowy Hydro already provided back-up energy to NSW and Victoria and could extend to South Australia when expanded, he said. The expansion would have no impact on the supply of irrigation water to NSW, South Australia and Queensland.

The feasibility study for the expansion is expected to be completed before the end of this year, with construction starting soon after, he said.

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grand Canyon Development Plan Sparks Dispute


TIME

As morning light painted the far-reaching buttes of the Grand Canyon gold, Renae Yellowhorse stood at the edge of the canyon’s rim, looked out toward where the rivers met below her, and smiled.

“It is my church, it is where I say my prayers. It is where I give my offerings. It’s where I commune with the holy ones, the gods that walk along the canyon,” said Yellowhorse, a member of the Navajo Nation.

This place, called “the confluence,” is where the Colorado River meets the Little Colorado River on the canyon’s east side. According to the Navajo creation story, the confluence is where their people first emerged.

And now this Navajo-owned land is at the center of an ugly land-use dispute…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

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Palau: Marine Sanctuary and Fishing Banned


The link below is to an article reporting on a plan by Palau to ban commercial fishing and to create a massive marine sanctuary.

For more visit:
http://www.treehugger.com/ocean-conservation/palau-ban-commercial-fishing-and-become-marine-sanctuary-roughly-size-france.html

New Zealand: Milford Sound Tunnel Axed


The links below are to articles reporting on the axing of a plan to build a road tunnel to Milford Sound in New Zealand.

For more visit:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/8930108/Government-axes-Milford-Tunnel
http://www.scene.co.nz/minister-blocks-tunnel-plan-for-milford-sound/310712a1.page

Netherlands: Building the World’s Largest Electric Vehicle Charging Network


The link below is to an article reporting on the Netherlands’ plans to build the world’s largest network of electric vehicle charging stations.

For more visit:
http://inhabitat.com/abb-to-build-worlds-largest-network-of-electric-vehicle-fast-charging-stations-in-the-netherlands/