Author Archives: SMOates

Electric Communities

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 9 October 2013. More articles from the CANWin column.

Petition to fund community energy

Click the image for information about more Australian community energy projects

We’re used to thinking of electricity as big and centralised. It’s generated by a few big corporations that trade with each other through the big power network. We buy it from businesses that are so big they use computerised people to answer their phones.

But does electricity have to be big business? Not any more. Renewables can put power into the hands of communities.

Community power, or community energy, are general names for various ways that groups of people are pooling their resources (such as space, money, and skills) into shared renewable energy projects.

Hepburn Wind, near Daylesford in Victoria, is a high-profile Australian example, but community power doesn’t have to mean wind power. The new Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct at Darling Harbour will include a rooftop community solar park. It will enable inner-city residents who are renters or who do not have the roof space to invest in the technology.

Community energy projects are under way in many Australian regions too. Close to home, Wagga Wagga City Council has agreed to provide their energy usage data and site access to establish whether there is a sound economic and environmental case for the Council to host a community-owned solar farm. Riverina Community Solar Farm aims to find up to five hosts for solar systems, and a group on the Central Coast is investigating solar and biogas options.

A clever way to help cash-strapped community groups go renewable is through CORENA, the Citizens Owned Renewable Energy Network. CORENA is a not-for-profit that uses donations from the public to fund practical renewable energy projects. Electricity sales and loan repayments from completed projects finance future projects, thus continuously recycling donated money. In their own words, CORENA “… is people power reaching far into the future”.

You can donate to small or large projects through the CORENA website at

Working out the financial and governance arrangements for community power takes significant effort. Most groups set themselves up as co-operatives, drawing on the century of experience developed by co-operatives in other fields. Information and help is also available from Embark Australia, a privately-funded not-for-profit that is “…working to shift the community energy sector into the mainstream, as a proven and financially viable model capable of attracting large-scale investment and growing to meet its full potential.”

For more information about community energy, see the websites of:
Climate Rescue of Wagga
Renew Economy

Predictions and events

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 25 September 2013, under the title “Not an exact science”. More articles from the CANWin column.

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. Niels Bohr

Melting arctic ice, drowning civilisationA great big report is coming out this week. It’s called “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis”, and it’s been prepared by “Working Group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”, the IPCC. Three more massive reports will follow, one each from Working Groups 2 and 3, and then in October next year a synthesis report for policymakers that pulls them all together.

You might already have seen stories in the media suggesting that this first report “admits” that earlier predictions were wrong. Here’s a tip: when a reporter or a blogger talks about an IPCC prediction, there’s probably something wrong with the story.

For example, a couple of weeks ago a story did the rounds about sea ice in the Arctic. The story was that the IPCC predicted that sea ice would be gone by 2013, and instead it increased. There’s something wrong with both parts of that story.

Sea ice is frozen sea water. It grows in winter and melts in summer. In the northern summer of 2012 the Arctic sea ice melted to the lowest amount on record. In the summer just ended it melted to the 6th lowest amount on record. That’s more than last year, but still less than any year before 2005. It’s also 70% less than in the 1980s. Funny kind of increase!

The second problem is that the so-called IPCC prediction never happened and never would. Such a precise prediction would be like a life insurance company predicting the exact date of one person’s death. Insurers work with probabilities and uncertainty, and so does the IPCC.

When we think about how long we can expect to live, we need to remember that it depends partly on what we do in the time we’ve got left.

When we read about predictions in the new report, we need to remember that what happens to the Earth’s climate depends largely on what humans do from now on about greenhouse gases.

You’ll be able to see the report for yourself, starting with the summary for policymakers, which will be available from 30 September at

Election 2013: 5 minutes to midnight

It’s 5 minutes to midnight on 6 September 2013, election eve. Earlier this week Dr Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that the world is at 5 minutes to midnight for climate change. The election campaign has fussed and fluttered about an imaginary budget emergency, ignoring the real emergency of an unstable and unfamiliar world climate.

CANWin is non-partisan. We support policies that we believe will reduce carbon emissions and make Australia, especially our own region, better able to cope with climate shocks. In this election, the Coalition has no such policies.

AYCCElection2013The Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition have each compared the climate related policies of the main parties.

Many other organisations with expertise in climate or renewable energy have reached similar conclusions. For instance:

The Direct Action policy is not designed to meet any emission reduction at all, and Abbott confirmed he still thought the science was crap, despite the various leaks coming from the IPCC. Renewables do not even get a single positive mention in the Coalition’s newly released energy policy. Giles Parkinson in RenewEconomy, 6 September

Even with conservative assumptions, the Coalition’s policy as it is currently defined would see Australia’s emissions rise about 9 per cent by 2020.
To achieve their promised range of 2020 carbon cuts of 5 to 25 per cent below 2000 levels, the Coalition would need to spend at least an extra $4 billion to $15 billion by 2020.
John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute

A change to a coalition government will dilute the RET, a scheme that has been responsible for $18 billion investment, our current 10% renewable energy capacity and credited as being the single most successful policy for the Australian renewable energy industry. The RET has been so successful as it has supported a diverse range of renewables, particularly large-scale wind and small/ household rooftop solar PV. Ironically, it was introduced by John Howard in 2001 with bi-partisan support. Beyond Zero Emissions, 4 September

Fifteen years ago the Howard government started the policy work that eventually led to the carbon reduction programmes introduced by Labor. Surveys this year showed that a majority of Australians support the principles now in effect: a renewable energy target and a price on carbon emissions that is paid by emitters.

Tomorrow, think climate when you vote.

Meet Clive, a Frog with a Problem

First published Southern Highland News, 26 June 2013, Author, S M Oates. More articles from the CANWin column.Clive: boiling frog, or perhaps toad, with martiniCANWin is delighted to introduce our friend Clive to readers of the Southern Highland News.

As you can see, Clive is a frog. He tells us he used to live by a pond with mosquitoes and flies that he had to catch for himself, and water that suited tadpoles but sometimes got too cold for the comfort of a mature frog. But he’s done well for himself, and these days he lives in a comfortable pot where the water is just deep enough and food arrives by magic and never tries to escape.

“This is the life,” croaks Clive, as he contemplates the aesthetic qualities of conical glasses, shaken not stirred, and tasting faintly of olive green morsels. He forgets how water felt when it was just right for tadpoles. And he doesn’t worry that the water around him has started to bubble.

“She’ll be right mate,” Clive says. “Fires are part of the natural cycle.”

Sure they are Clive, but isn’t there something unusual about a fire that’s burning under a pot with a frog in it? Doesn’t that suggest that this fire might be just a bit un-natural? What happens to you and your pot if this fire doesn’t go out?
Life is good here on the Highlands. We haven’t copped the record-breaking floods, storms, and heatwaves of other regions. Our wet weather has been tedious, but not disastrous. We’ve been hot, but not like Victoria. We’ve smelt bushfires, but they didn’t take our homes.

We could go on, like Clive, acting as if the warming world will leave our good life almost untouched.

But we are not pickled and parboiled frogs. We are human beings with families we love and a land we cherish. We know that Australia and the world are on a path to a harder, more dangerous future. We are changing to a safer path towards a livable climate, where Clive can keep croaking and kids can catch tadpoles.