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Publisher's Letter

Carbon trading may not be needed in Australia after all

I am writing this Publisher’s Letter as Australia starts to come to grips with the aftermath of the dreadful bushfires in Victoria. Already, some green fanatics are trumpeting this as evidence of climate change, neglecting the fact that Australia has had many dreadful bushfire episodes in the past, long before climate change was thought of.

As always, the period just before the bushfires was one of very hot dry weather, creating just the right conditions. This was made much worse by pyromaniacs, another factor which has nothing to do with climate change.

One factor which did become abundantly clear during the weeks of hot weather before the bushfires was that much of Victoria’s electricity grid and generating capacity cannot cope with very hot weather. Even the BassLink HVDC connector between Tasmania & Victoria failed during the hot weather, apparently unable to operate when the temperature exceeds 35°C. If this is the case, one has to ask: “Why?” It seems inconceivable that any piece of infrastructure in Australia would not be designed and maintained to cope with temperatures well in excess of 40°C. After all, such temperatures have always occurred during Australian summers, in all states including Tasmania.

The lack of generating capacity to cope with air-conditioning loads in summer is more serious and points to the fact that Australia urgently needs to build a lot more generating capacity, right now.  But where are the plans to do so? Right now, we are mired in panic over the introduction of a carbon trading scheme, something which makes any new coal-fired power station an unlikely proposition. Nor is there any political will to consider nuclear power stations. Unless this changes and very soon, we can look forward to serious power shortages in the near future.

In fact, it is clear that many states are facing up to the fact that they will need to increase electricity tariffs quite drastically over the next few years, in order to cope with the need for increased maintenance and upgrading of their distribution networks. Just how drastic might these increases be? Western Australia is considering increases in household electricity tariffs by 78% over the next three years! And that is in a state that is not as badly affected as the eastern states.

This neatly dovetails with the Federal Government’s plan to subsidise the installation of ceiling insulation in homes that do not already have some form of insulation. No doubt the Federal Government knows about the potential increases and is seeking to soften the impact. However, as with much Government reaction, it is probably the wrong move.

In fact, they would be better off subsidising the installation of double-glazing with low-E glass in all Australian homes. While this would be a much bigger budget measure, it would greatly reduce summer-time air-conditioning loads and winter heating loads. To support this idea, a recent industry report by Dr Peter Lyons in Glass Australia magazine (September 2008) demonstrated the very large power savings that could be obtained by upgrading the windows of all Victorian houses –equivalent to at least one or two very large coal-fired power stations. Not only would this reduce carbon diode emissions, it would also lead more comfortable home living conditions.

Surely, Australia should be adopting measures such as these, to reduce electricity demand, to stimulate the domestic economy and not adopt financially risky schemes involving carbon trading.

Leo Simpson

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