Greener pastures

Geoff Russell writes: Re. “The Power Index: carbon cutters, Martin Green at #8” (yesterday). On the ABC Quantum science show back in 1989, Martin Green predicted that solar photovoltaics would replace coal in “10 to 15 years, but as you rightly point out, it’s only generating 0.1% of our electricity in 2013. His track record on predictions is questionable. We must also keep in mind that electricity is only about a quarter of our fossil fuel energy use, and we have to decarbonise the rest as well. Do the maths, add a 3kw solar PV system to all 7.6 million households (many of which don’t have roofs), and what have you achieved? You’ve cleaned up just 3% of our energy use. We can’t solve climate change problems with toy energy systems, regardless of how cool. We need stuff which works.

And it is positively offensive to pretend that large-scale solar (e.g. Moree Solar Farm-type systems) is green and renewable. Read the Moree Solar Farm Environmental Impact Study. It will require the shipment of 7,200 b-double truckloads of stuff from Sydney and Newcastle (a 1200-kilometre round trip) over a period of four years, and the 1100 hectares the 7200 truckloads of stuff will exproriate will thereafter be gone. It was once food-producing land, but will be no more if the project proceeds. Farm land is finite, so calling this renewable is rather a stretch. I guess you can dismantle it and cart it away with another 7200 truckloads!

The Chinese are gearing up to produce small modular reactors by 2020 or thereabouts, and I’ll wager this prediction will be much better than Green’s 1989 prediction. A single one of these five-metre reactors delivered on a single railway carriage and buried in a hole in a tiny piece of land will produce about five times the electricity of the Moree Solar Farm and do it 24-7. Now that’s what I call green.

David Rossiter, inaugural Renewable Energy Regulator, writes: Congratulations on identifying the top 25 carbon cutters. I think this is great work and should be more widely disseminated. The carbon reduction system we now have in place has been a joint work between government, business and energy technologists (both scientists and engineers). If I were to pick one of those people on your list I would pick Robert Hill. Hill had a determination to see the process through of reducing carbon emissions. While he was a politician at heart, he had the vision that this work needed to be done and doggedly set about achieving this by being a champion of the cause.

Firstly he identified that a market mechanism would be the best way forward and this needed to be demonstrated at a national scale for an environmental good. Carbon trading was then (1997) a step too far, and he set about using such a mechanism for the Renewable Energy Target. He worked on the RET legislation (then called MRET), brought it to Parliament, garnered support and ensured it was enacted (late 2000). He then made sure it worked and encouraged its use for emissions trading. This step to carbon trading, as you know, was not an easy task politically.

I think without the sheer political skill and determination of this one person we would have no systems in place in Australia at his point.

The very competent Greg Combet managed to pass the final carbon legislation suite — no mean task, but he was ably assisted by Martin Parkinson and Blair Comley. While these latter two are listed [on The Power Index] I would have added Roger Beale (Hill’s environment secretary) and Gwen Andrews (Chief Executive of the Australian Greenhouse Office) to the list, and why not list Greg Combet who did the near impossible of getting the final legislation on carbon past the Parliament.

How the West was won

Tony Ward writes: Re. “WA pollies square off … over who hates Canberra more” (yesterday). I think a gremlin crept into the article on WA politics. It has the sentence “WA joined the federation reluctantly at the last minute and isn’t included in the preamble to the constitution. It is also only state to have held a referendum on secession, to which the public voted a resounding ‘yes’ in 1993”. The referendum was in the 1930s, not 1993. As for WA joining federation reluctantly, the referendum was passed on the Kalgoorlie goldfields, largely due to the numbers of out-of-work Victorians attracted to the gold rush. Rural WA voted heavily against federation, and Perth was evenly divided.

ABC board battle inaccuracy 

Ian Mannix writes: Re. “ABC board battle: nine staffers woo colleagues” (yesterday). In the interests of accuracy I’d like to point out that I am based in Adelaide. I started as local content manager of ABC Victoria in 2002 but was asked to undertake the emergency broadcasting manager’s role in mid 2006 and moved to Adelaide to be with my family to take up this new and quite unique position.

The Coalition’s fiscal policy

Les Heimann writes: Re. “Fiscal flagellant or magic pudding? The Coalition won’t say” (yesterday). “To steer the barque of this life without quitting the helm of rectitude …” is part of an ancient and Scottish Presbyterian version of Masonic teachings. It is also quite apt in summing up the ultra-Right-wing version of capitalism, where one might say “to steer the country’s finances so that not a cent will be spent more than that received; and more to save a portion”. Thus those virtuous conservative would-be leaders as personified by Joe Hockey profoundly support the utterance. Hockey’s colleagues, being largely of the same level of rectitude, would support all measures designed to spend less, save more and stand firm above the raging tide of human misery wrought by these actions. Don’t you just love that 18th-century language! So here’s the rub; vote Liberal on September 14 and suffer, sound in the knowledge you have delivered to yourself and fellow Australians a more fine and upright bloody mess.