Snowy hydro scheme will be left high and dry unless we look after the mountains


Adrienne Nicotra, Australian National University; David Freudenberger, Australian National University; Geoff Cary, Australian National University; Geoffrey Hope, Australian National University; Graeme Worboys, Australian National University; Sam Banks, Australian National University, and Susanna Venn, Australian National University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s plan for a A$2 billion upgrade and expansion of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme, announced last week, will be an impressive engineering achievement. Snowy Hydro 2.0 will increase the scheme’s capacity by 50%. The Conversation

Meeting this extra capacity will depend entirely on the natural water supply available in the Snowy Mountains. But the current environmental conditions of these mountains, and the Australian Alps where they are located, are compromising both water delivery and water quality.

The only way to maintain water flow is to control the threats that are actively degrading the high country catchments. These include introduced animals, wetland loss, and climate change.

Restoration and management

The remarkable Snowy Hydro Scheme was developed over 25 years from the 1940s. During this period the NSW Soil Conservation Service and later NSW National Parks effectively managed soil and restored areas damaged by grazing.

Conservation efforts focused on looking after topsoil, stabilising wetlands, and restoring vegetation after decades of grazing. This ensured good amounts of high-quality water for both hydro power and irrigation downstream.

More recent efforts have focused on the impacts of building the original Snowy scheme. This includes restoring areas cleared for roads and construction sites, and areas where rock and soil from blasting and cutting were dumped.

Before and after revegetation works in the 1970s, following the removal of cattle. Current ecological change is likely to be far more significant and could require new types of intervention.
Image courtesy of Roger Good

Threats to mountain catchments

The Australian Alps are the nation’s water towers. They provide water for growing food and hydroelectricity, but face several threats.

Across the Alps, despite well-informed and committed control programs, feral horses, pigs and deer are destroying wetlands, degrading streamside vegetation, and causing moisture-holding peat soils and stream channels to erode. This leads to more evaporation, more rapid runoff and erosion, less water flow, and lower water quality.

There is currently no effective response to this damage. We estimate that more than 35% of the high mountains’ wetlands have been affected, and the problem is getting worse.

The Alps are also recognised as extremely vulnerable to climate change. Climate models suggest that alpine areas that currently receive at least 60 days of snow cover will shrink by 18-60% by 2020.

Temperatures in the alps are already increasing by 0.4℃ per decade, an increase of 1.79℃ since records began. Climate change projections for the Australian Alps indicate the hottest summer days will be around 5°C warmer in 2100, minimum temperatures will rise by 3-6℃, and precipitation (rain and snow) will decrease by up to 20%, with less falling as snow. These changes are already putting pressure on iconic mountain ecosystems including the peatlands, snowgum woodlands and alpine ash forests.

The Australian Alps are also likely to experience more extreme events such as heatwaves, storms, fires and severe frosts. All of these affect high mountain ecosystems, making the environment more vulnerable to disturbances such as more fires, weeds and disease outbreaks.

For example, the root-rot fungus, Phytophora cambivora, recently appeared in the alps. The fungus killed large areas of shrubs following unusually warm springtime soil temperatures.

New weeds are an additional concern for the alps as these may compromise the existing plant communities and their ability to deliver services such as water. Alpine peat soils, which build up over thousands of years, can also burn in drought.

Reliable water depends on functioning ecosystems

A stable water supply from the Alps is crucial for energy and food production. This relies on intact vegetation.

Back in the 1950s, it became clear to the researchers at the Soil Conservation Service that hard-hooved animals, in this case domestic cattle, were severely damaging the alpine catchments.

The success of the original Snowy scheme depended on removing cattle from alpine areas, controlling soil erosion that resulted from prior grazing and hydro works, and carrying out extensive revegetation works across the whole of the nearby mountain ranges.

However, land managers to this day are still controlling a legacy of disturbance and weed invasions from both the Snowy scheme itself and years of previous grazing. Snowy 2.0 must consider these lessons from the past, and work to improve mountain catchments.

Alpine plants and animals often live close to their environmental tolerances, meaning they are not necessarily able to cope with change. For some species, climate change is likely to exceed these thresholds. Vegetation communities will change as current populations decline and colonisers from different species move in to occupy the gaps, including invasive species.

Feral horses make it even more difficult for native species to respond to a changing climate, by exacerbating environmental degradation and impacts on water.

Part of the solution is restoring and re-vegetating degraded high country landscapes. For example, restoring snowgum communities, which were severely affected by burning and grazing, may lead to increases in the amount of water trapped as drifting fog.

But climate change will demand new research and management partnerships to find species that will survive well into the future and to develop adaptation pathways to respond to uncertain conditions.

This will be a new and different world. We are currently ill-prepared to maintain high-quality water yield in the future, to predict the impacts of climate change, or to effectively protect our alps for future generations.

But we are confident these questions can be answered with adequate investment in the environmental infrastructure needed to underpin the engineering. We estimate that between A$5 million and A$7 million per year is needed to research and develop new management structures. You could see this investment as royalties returned to the system that provides the water and power.

Turnbull’s plan may deliver more power, but only if the environment is carefully managed. Otherwise Snowy Hydro 2.0 may be left high and dry.

Adrienne Nicotra, Professor Research School of Biology, the Australian National University, Australian National University; David Freudenberger, Senior Lecturer Environmental Management, Australian National University; Geoff Cary, Associate Professor, Bushfire Science, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Geoffrey Hope, Emeritus Professor, Department of Archaeology and Natural History; Visiting Fellow, Fenner Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Graeme Worboys, Associate professor, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Sam Banks, ARC Future Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, and Susanna Venn, ARC DECRA Fellow, Australian National University

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

Australia’s new cap on emissions is a trading scheme in all but name


Gujji Muthuswamy, Monash University

The Australian government has released its final draft for a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. The “safeguard mechanism” will form part of the government’s central climate policy, and will fine large businesses for exceeding emissions baselines.

Businesses that produce over 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year will have their emissions capped. The scheme makes some allowances for power generators and landfill (which produces greenhouse gases as rubbish breaks down), as well as those that expand production while improving their emissions efficiency.

The annual cap for the future will be based on the annual greenhouse gases emitted between 2010 and 2014. A final decision on the scheme will be made in late 2015 before starting in July 2016.

In effect, Australia’s climate policy armoury will include aspects of a “baseline and credit” emissions trading scheme.

Lower cost to business

An emissions trading scheme is a way of making businesses pay for the greenhouse gas emissions released from their business operations.

In a “baseline and credit” scheme each company must keep its emissions below a government-mandated level, for example, below the average of its previous five years’ emissions.

Let’s assume that the company’s “baseline emissions” had been set at 28,000 tonnes for a year. Also assume that the business emitted 30,000 tonnes of greenhouse in a year.

The company then has to pay for emissions that exceed the baseline, in this case 2,000 tonnes. They can pay for it by buying carbon credits locally or on the international market. Assuming a carbon price of A$10, the company’s cash outflow will be a modest A$20,000.

In contrast, under Labor’s “cap and trade” scheme, the government would release a number of permits into the market, based on national emissions reduction targets, such as Australia’s current 2020 5% less than 2000 levels by 2020. There is no limit imposed on individual companies’ emissions as long as they buy (pay for) enough permits, each permit giving them a right (but not an obligation) to emit 1 tonne of greenhouse gas. Assuming a permit price of A$10, then the same business will be paying A$300,000 under a “cap and trade”.

Thus the cost impost on businesses, and on the economy, is much less under the coalition’s safeguard mechanism compared to a cap and trade scheme.

Baseline and credit or cap and trade?

The two types of emissions trading schemes were debated in depth in the early 2000s, before the European Union favoured the cap-and-trade design in 2005 and it became the blueprint for Labor’s emissions trading scheme, introduced (albeit with a fixed initial price) in 2012. California and the Canadian province of Quebec have also adopted cap-and-trade schemes.

The case against the “baseline and credit” schemes back in 2005 included the fact that governments had insufficient information to set credible “baseline emissions” at individual business levels and that it involved more intrusive regulation than cap and trade schemes.

However, Australia has now detailed annual, company-level greenhouse gas emissions data for the large to medium-sized businesses, thanks to the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting scheme introduced from 2008. Setting “baseline emissions” for each business need not be onerous, particularly if they are linked to individual companies past greenhouse gas emissions and their future plans.

The “baseline and credit” principle has already been used in the NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement program in the last decade delivering low permit prices. That now-defunct scheme has been reviewed and presumably the lessons learnt would have informed the details the safeguard mechanism.

The actual performance of the European Union’s “cap and trade” scheme over the last 10 years shows its key weakness, namely governments’ inability to release the right number of carbon permits into the market, say for five future years at a time, based on various forecasts.

Random shocks such as the global financial crisis in 2008 impacted EU’s economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions. Demand for permits plummeted and the supply glut resulted in the permit price nose-diving from above 20 to around 5 Euros. So, the EU is now postponing the release of new permits to stabilise the supply demand balance.

Complementing other climate policies

The safeguard mechanism is complementary to the voluntary Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), where the government pays businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for specific projects.

The government will select only the low-cost emissions reduction projects using a tendering process. Those who get funding will reduce their emissions, but what about those who choose not to apply or do not get the funds? Will they continue to emit as before or more?

The safeguard mechanism is designed to ensure that there are mandatory obligations on greenhouse reductions from large businesses to not exceed their baseline emissions. Without a safeguard in the ERF design, emissions reductions by participants in the ERF could be nullified by emissions increases in other areas and businesses not participating in the ERF.

The safeguard mechanism – a baseline and credit emissions trading scheme – involves a fair degree of regulatory intrusion into the operations of liable businesses by mandating their individual baseline emissions.

While such high-handed regulation may be unwelcome, businesses would appreciate the lower cost of compliance to a baseline and credit scheme and the flexibilities built into the baseline setting process.

On the other hand, a “cap and trade” scheme is more market-based while imposing a higher cost of compliance on liable business.

This article is based on a post published on the Monash University website.

The Conversation

Gujji Muthuswamy is Industry Fellow, Faculty of Business and Economics at Monash University

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

China: Seeks Australia’s Help Building Emissions Trading Scheme


The link below is to an article reporting on China seeking Australia’s assistance in building an emissions trading scheme.

For more visit:
http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/china-seeks-australias-help-building-emissions-trading-scheme-20130711-2prjh.html

Australia: Carbon Price Needed Now


Thirteen of Australia’s leading economists have signed and published an open letter calling for a speedy introduction of a carbon price for carbon polluters. They prefer to have a carbon emissions trading scheme institututed as soon as possible.

The introduction of carbon pricing is designed to accelerate a move to more environmentally friendly production methods, increased reliance on renewable energy sources, etc.

For more visit:
http://theconversation.edu.au/economists-open-letter-calls-for-carbon-price-1639

View the actual letter.

 

Renewable Energy: Massive Wind Power Project in Texas


The following link is to an article on a major wind power project in Texas, USA. The technology being developed as part of this scheme could be of major importance for energy production and storage around the world. Being able to store electricity generated by wind power in massive batteries is an interesting development.

For more visit:
http://www.grist.org/wind-power/2011-04-15-no-trees-big-battery-texas-to-install-worlds-largest-wind

 

NSW Road Trip 2010: Packing & Getting Ready


It is now the day prior to the NSW Road trip 2010. I have begun packing and getting ready for the journey that lies ahead. I don’t expect to be taking a lot of gear, as I won’t be doing a lot of cooking, washing, etc, on this trip.

I have learnt that it is important to not assume that you have everything you need and then find out the day before that you may not – I already knew this of course, but having recently moved, I no longer have everything that I once did. For example, I do not presently have a sleeping bag. I got rid of the last one because it was old and smelly, and I planned to buy another. But a lot has happened since mid 2007 when I packed to move – including a near fatal car accident that put my purchasing plans well and truly on hold, and they then slipped into the area of my mind that ‘forgets.’

So now I have no sleeping bag – but that isn’t too important as I don’t believe I really need one this time round. It is a road trip, with several cabin stops along the way and only caravan parks with powered sites for the rest. I will take a couple of blankets should I need them (which I don’t believe I will – it will be quite hot in the outback this time of year).

Of course it is not just the sleeping bag that is missing. I am also missing a fly cover for the tent, but thankfully I had two tents so I’m OK there. There are a number of other items missing also, but I don’t really need them this time round. Thankfully I have spotted all this now, which means I can plan to purchase what I need for future adventures, back pack camping, etc. I had of course planned to buy these items, but with the passing of time I forgot.

Anyhow, the packing is under way and I just hope I don’t forget something I wish I had packed when I am on the journey. I’m relatively sure I haven’t – which isn’t to say That I have forgotten something.

What I’d like to remember – and tomorrow I’ll know for sure if I have – is how I packed the car, so that everything was easily accessible. I was fairly well organised for this sort of thing when I was doing it fairly regularly several years ago – but it has been a while. Minimal gear wisely packed, without leaving anything necessary behind – that’s the key for this type of journey and vacation.

This will be the first time however, that I have a bag dedicated to my online activities – laptop, digital camera, web cam, flash drives, etc. I hope to keep an accurate and useful journal online at the kevinswilderness.com website, with photos, comments, route map, etc. So this is a ‘new’ bag that I need to organise in the overall scheme of things.

Anyhow, packing is now underway and coming to a conclusion. The journey will soon kick off.