Royalties for Renewables

Photo by Laurel Wilson
Walkaway Wind Farm

For the past six years Western Australia has been channelling 25% of the royalties it earns from the mining and oil and gas industries – capped at $1 billion a year – into regional community projects. The Royalties for Regions programme was introduced by the WA National Party in 2008 when it had more of a say in State government than it does now.
As we travel through WA, we can see this money being put to good use in hospitals, schools, regional programmes, community assets and community programmes – for example, an Aboriginal cultural centre and art gallery in Carnarvon and new buildings in Geraldton’s thriving universities centre.
We think this distribution of mining profits goes only so far. What if all States and Territories imposed a royalty (say 5%) which would be spent on renewable energy infrastructure? She Who Is Back Reading Newspapers peered over the top of The Australian to tell me Tony Abbott looked set to break another election promise by asking Dick Warburton to review Australia’s 2020 renewable energy target with a view to scrapping it altogether. Abbott now says he was just floating the idea. We hope it will be like a helium-filled party balloon and that someone lets go of the string.
Australia is often criticised by global renewable energy supporters for apparently squandering the abundant options we have to generate solar, wind and hydro power. There are only two commercial-scale solar energy plants in Australia. The Uterne (“bright sunny day” in Arrente language) Solar Power Station is a 1MW capacity grid-connected solar photovoltaic system 5 kms south of Alice Springs (it provides 1% of the town’s power). Then there is the 10MW Greenough River Solar Farm near Geraldton. On last year’s figures, the cost of using photovoltaics is less than half the cost of using grid electricity.
But despite this, the Federal Government’s $95 million Solar Cities programme is not exactly catching on. Surely solar is a better option for remote communities and roadhouses than the ever-present 24/7 diesel generators. Timber Creek is one of six small NT townships (also Borroloola, Elliott, Daly Waters, Ti Tree and Kings Canyon), that are largely diesel-fuelled. Most of the larger towns supplied by NT power company Generation are powered by gas or diesel. Generation says it also works with independent power producers to support renewable energy power generation initiatives. From our observations, solar power in the outback is small-scale and limited to solar-powered water pumps and the like. Many remote roadhouses, caravan parks and farmstays run diesel generators, if not 24/7 then for peak demand periods.
Considering that diesel fuel has to be transported vast distances by road trains from large cities, this seems a very backward way to generate power when your average outback town enjoys many more sunny days in a year than, say, Melbourne (or Maleny).
Australia’s modest renewable energy target states that 20% of our electricity must come from renewable sources like solar, wind and hydro by 2020. The Howard government introduced this target in 2001 and it was supported by the Rudd/Gillard government, in the ensuing years it has attracted around $18 billion in investment.
The Clean Energy Council this week called the Abbott plan to scrap the target “reckless,” saying four million Australians already live or work under a solar power system and more than 21,000 people work in the renewable energy sector.
The review prompted Silex Systems to suspend its proposed 2,000-dish solar farm near Mildura − enough to run 30,000 homes. Chief executive Michael Goldsworthy told the Sydney Morning Herald the uncertainty about Federal government support for a long-term renewable energy target and low wholesale power prices were the reasons the $420 million project would not go ahead.
Nevertheless, we have seen some encouraging signs of renewable energy around the country, including hydro power from Lake Argyle that powers Kununurra, Wyndham and 85% of the Argyle Diamond Mine. Wind power is big business in WA. Alinta Energy’s Walkaway Wind Farm south of Geraldton is a popular drive-through photo opportunity for travellers. Its 54 turbines produce 90MW of power, only one megawatt less than Australia’s largest wind farm at South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula. The smaller Munbida wind farm 10kms south supplies 55MW to WA Water Corporation to offset the energy used by its desalination plant at Bunbury. The Collgar wind farm in the Merredin district of mid-west WA, owned by local farmers, produces 206MW of electricity a year from its 111 turbines – enough to power the equivalent of 125,000 houses.
In South Australia, Alinta Energy is favouring a stand-alone solar-thermal power plant (solar-thermal uses a field of mirrors to concentrate sunlight for a central receiver) to replace its ageing coal-fired power stations. Repower Port Augusta’s Dan Spencer told the ABC a solar-thermal plant would mean transition away from base load coal to base load renewable energy, “which is something we haven’t seen in Australia before”.
Germany is the world leader in renewable energy and we’d be the first to acknowledge it is easier by far to transmit electricity around a small, landlocked country. But the Germans are showing the rest of us how it can be done. The share of electricity produced from renewable energy in Germany has increased from 6.3% in 2000 to about 30% in the first half of 2014 and the country will easily meet its own target of 35% by 2020, using wind, biogas and solar power. Travelling through Bavaria in 2010, we were astonished to see the roof of a 17th century farm building covered with solar panels. In many other rural areas, sheep grazed peacefully under banks of solar panels, and we spotted a waste-to-energy plant built on top of a small town’s landfill site.
We did our bit for renewable energy a few years back, installing half a dozen solar panels as well as a solar hot water system (admittedly with a booster switch from the grid if we have a prolonged wet spell). But what to do, we asked ourselves this week, about the carbon-burning exercise of towing a caravan 15,000 kms around Australia?
She Who looks up UBIBOI (‘useless but interesting bits of information’ – thanks, Grandad Ray), calculated our carbon footprint for this epic journey. By journey’s end we will have produced 4.77 tonnes of CO2, based on driving 15,000 kms at an average 14.5 litres per 100 kilometres. On this basis, we owe $24.15 per tonne or $115.95. We plan to donate this amount to Barung Landcare http://www.barunglandcare.org.au/ on our return home so they can plant trees to offset our hypocritical squandering of resources. Given the odds against an all-States and Territories commitment to Royalties for Renewables, it’s the least we can do.

2 thoughts on “Royalties for Renewables”

  1. Lovely stuff Bob. I find it it so refreshing to read a list of what is being achieved.
    You weave the story well.
    I have previously enjoyed this type of writing from America and Europe, mainly on a site called Cleantechnica.com
    They may well be interested in purchasing your writing: it certainly is worthy of further publication.
    When you read Cleantechnica, have a look in the comments sections for Ronald Brakels.
    He’s an astute South Australian whom I think you would enjoy reading: a bit less politically polite than your good self.

    Cheers to SWLUUBIBOI

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