Monthly Archives: August 2013

The latest Coal news

Climate campaigners start ‘hunger strike’ to block Queensland coal project | Graham Readfearn

Australia’s coal industry is being targeted by a range of campaigns from divestment to civil disobedience

Ben Pennings has recruited six so far but, according to his campaign group’s website, another 150 people are going to join for a day or two in support.

“We will only have water, and tea with no milk or sugar,” says the 41-year-old environment campaigner and activist. “It will be up to individuals when they end the hunger strike personally. No one will be pressured to continue in any way.”

Pennings is a founder of Generation Alpha, a Brisbane-based campaign group that is launching an assault on a proposed rail and port coal project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

Pennings is one of seven “hunger strikers” going without food from today under the gaze of passersby from a rented Brisbane shop-front. His OverOurDeadBodies campaign is promising “creative direct action” and “civil disobedience” to pressure rail company Aurizon.

Aurizon is sitting on a decision to invest heavily in the reported $6bn project in partnership with GVK Hancock, a company which includes Asia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart on the board.

GVK Hancock’s proposed Alpha coal mine project will dig up 32m tonnes of coal per year from the Galilee basin and export it to Asia for burning in power stations. Analysts have claimed the project is financially unviable – a claim which the company rejects. The company also says that objections by environmental lawyers to the project’s mining lease are delaying the start of coal production, which is likely to be the first quarter of 2017.

Mining magnate and politician Clive Palmer also has plans to mine 40m tonnes of coal a year with his China First project, also in the Galilee basin.

The highest profile recruit to the OverOurDeadBodies campaign is the 49-year-old former Australian Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett, now the convener of the Queensland branch of the Greens.

Bartlett told me he felt the world was “heading over a cliff” on climate change and that he was willing to try a new activist approach. On the hunger strike, he said he was not planning to do himself “any great harm”. He said:

There’s the contradiction of stating support for climate action but then going full steam ahead with coal – it’s completely contradictory. There doesn’t seem any acknowledgement of that, never mind any attempt for us to transition to something else.

Queensland’s one of the biggest – in terms of contributors to emissions – of almost any province or state in the world and that awareness isn’t really there among Queenslanders.

A statement from Aurizon said the rail company had been an “integral partner in developing and exporting coal for the benefit of the Queensland economy for almost five decades” and that it had a focus on “safety and environmental responsibility”.

The statement said its project, which was still going through “due diligence”, would service several mines but no final investment decision had been made.

Aurizon has a long-term commitment to Queensland and the communities in which we operate and understands the need to earn ongoing support by operating responsibly and with care for the environment.

It is this need to earn a social licence which campaigners are targeting as Queensland and Australia’s coal industry comes under an ever-brightening spotlight from campaigners.

Greenpeace brought its iconic Rainbow Warrior boat to the Queensland coast in April to highlight the impacts of climate change and dredging on the Great Barrier Reef, which the United Nations is threatening to place on its World Heritage “in danger” list.

Activists clambered on board a loaded coal ship as it headed for Asia. Later, Greenpeace said a campaign of peaceful civil disobedience against coal was “justified” given the risks posed by climate change.

Campaigner and activist Jonathan Moylan is currently facing the possibility of a heavy fine and a maximum 10-year jail sentence after issuing a hoax press release claiming a bank was pulling out of a loan deal for a New South Wales coal mine.

But it’s not just environment campaigners putting the heat on coal. Some 16 religious leaders across multiple faiths – including the main Christian denominations alongside Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists – signed an open letter calling explicitly for Australia to “wind back our exports of cheap coal”.

“We are despoiling the world given to us as a sacred trust for future generations,” the letter said.

The Fossil Free campaign is pushing individuals and organisations to pull their investments out of coal projects. The World Bank and the European Union’s investment arm have both introduced self-imposed restrictions on financing coal power projects in the name of climate change. Barack Obama has also directed the US Export-Import Bank to restrict financing of new coal power projects around the world.

Preparing himself for a few days without food, Andrew Bartlett insists that the OverOurDeadBodies campaign is “not just a PR exercise” and he hopes it will encourage others to take action. He also says he is motivated by the future planet being built for his 11-year-old daughter.

I’m not criticising it at all, but there’s a feeling that traditional [campaigning] stuff isn’t enough. The corporate elites have still got a pretty strong hold on things. I don’t personally have the answers about what we should do – I just think that we need to do more.

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Berliners’ co-op aims to take over and run electricity grid of city

Successful bid by Citizen Energy Berlin for Vattenfall network will boost renewables and plough back profits, says activists’ group

Arwen Colell was cycling down a Berlin street one afternoon when a friend from her choir group called her and said: “We should buy the electrical grid.” The idea was not out of the blue. Germany’s energy transition, from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewables, has lined rooftops with solar panels. But it was another ambition to run Berlin’s distribution network.

Colell did not hesitate. “We should definitely do it,” she said. “Good idea.”

Since that conversation in 2011, Colell and her friend, who are in their mid-20s, have built a movement aimed at putting the city grid under citizens’ control when the system goes on sale next year. The grid is owned by the Swedish firm Vattenfall.

The co-operative founded by the two students, Citizen Energy Berlin, has recruited around 1,000 members, each paying a minimum of €500 (£430) a share. It has raised €5.4m (£4.6m).

The fundraising has some distance to go. A Berlin civic report valued the system at €800m; Vattenfall claimed it is worth €3bn. And the co-operative faces stiff competition from other bids, including one from Vattenfall.

The Berlin senate will make a decision next year, based on financial resources and capacity to manage the grid. The winner will run the system from 2015 to 2035.

Taking control of the grid is an idea whose time has come. Activists in Hamburg and other cities have launched similar campaigns to regain control of their local grid. In the Black Forest region, a residents’ co-operative in Schönau has been running the grid since the 1990s. “Schönau is showing us the way,” said Colell.

There is broad support in Germany for the goals of the energy transition, or energiewende: cutting coal usage and phasing out nuclear reactors by 2022, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The plan is to cut the country’s emissions by 40% by the end of the decade, and by up to 95% by 2050.

Germany generates a quarter of its electricity from renewable energy. On one bright sunny day in June, wind and solar provided 60% of its power needs.

However, the transition is patchy – with some parts of the country still dependent on highly polluting brown coal – and Germans bear the cost with high electricity bills.

The Berlin grid, the country’s largest, gets more than 90% of its electricity from coal. That is much too high if Germany is to meet its climate-change goals, or the renewable targets of its energy transition, Colell said.

“We need this element of strengthening the voice of citizens in the landscape of energy utilities. It is still very much divided up between the big energy companies. Citizens do not really have a strong voice.”

She said big firms such as Vattenfall had failed to move fast enough on renewables or energy efficiency, and were unsuited to more decentralised generation of electricity from rooftop solar and small-scale wind projects.

About 40% of Germany’s renewable energy is generated by small-scale producers. Farmers alone provide 11%, and there is a growing movement of energy-producing co-operatives – a four-fold rise since 2009 to 735 – most of which generate solar power.

But the big four energy companies between them produce just 6.5% of the country’s renewable electricity.

If Berliners bought back their grid, Colell said, they could put profits back into the system and speed the take-up of renewables and deployment of smart metres.

The idea of control has strong attraction for some Berliners. For Annette Jensen, who recently moved into a new flat in Berlin, regaining local control of the grid was critical.

Jensen’s was one of the first passive buildings in the city. Its four levels of insulation, triple-paned windows and array of solar panels on the roof means that residents could, on sunny days, be selling power to the grid.

“After the financial crisis, we wanted to put what small money we had into a flat, we didn’t want to be dependent on some big energy company,” Jensen said.

Research based on a study trip organised by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, the Heinrich Boll Foundation and German foreign ministry.

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Great Barrier Reef dredging could be more damaging than thought

WWF claims report proves that dredging and dumping of seabed sediment near the reef should be banned

Dredging could be more harmful to the Great Barrier Reef than previously thought, a government-commissioned report has found, amid fresh warnings over the impact of coastal industrialisation on sea turtles and dugongs.

The WWF claimed the report proved that the dredging and dumping of seabed sediment near the reef should be banned.

Last week, the environment minister, Mark Butler, deferred a decision on whether to allow the dredging of the seabed to enlarge the Abbot Point port, near the Queensland town of Bowen, to allow for the export of more coal.

Butler said that more time was needed to assess a report into the impact of dredging and the dumping of it within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, as proposed by North Queensland Bulk Ports.

The report, undertaken by consultants Sinclair Knight Merz, states that spoil from dredging travels a lot further than previously thought, with dumped sediment capable of being disturbed repeatedly by severe weather. However, it doesn’t rule out dumping dredged waste at sea and suggests various locations near current ports that would do the least damage to coral and other marine wildlife.

Previous government analysis, including by the CSIRO, has blamed flooding rather than dredging for rising death and disease among the reef’s fauna, in particular the heavily dredged area of Gladstone.

Richard Leck, Great Barrier Reef campaigner at the WWF, told Guardian Australia that about 40m tonnes of dredged spoil would be dumped into the World Heritage Area if all port development projects were allowed to proceed.

“The science has shown that the resilience of the reef is incredibly low at the moment,” he said. “The government is spending $400m on improving reef water quality by 1-2% a year, which seems like a crazy amount of money to spend when you’re dumping 40m tonnes of waste at the same time.

“There’s not enough consideration of the alternatives to dredging, which is an outdated practice. We should be getting a lot smarter about using infrastructure in order to minimise the amount of dumping, especially when ports are operating at 50% capacity on the reef.”

The Turtle Island Restoration Network, a US conservation group that visited Australia this week, has warned that coastal development in Queensland could push several species of sea turtle towards extinction.

The Great Barrier Reef plays host to six species of turtle, which are threatened by boat strikes, water pollution and the direct impact of dredging.

“The reef is home to some of the most amazing turtle species in the world, which rely on a healthy environment for their future,” said Teri Shore, program director of the network.

“The Australian Flatback lives entirely in waters close to shore and sandy beaches, making them highly vulnerable to coastal port developments and shipping. Leatherbacks, which are also in jeopardy, live more in the open ocean where increased ship movements will take their toll through greater injury and death.

“Ship strikes alone have killed 45 turtles in Gladstone Harbour since the Curtis Island LNG project began, compared with an average of two a year in the past decade.”

There are also concerns over the prospects of the dugong, which has suffered from the loss of seagrass, its primary food, from Cyclone Yasi in 2011. Conservationists claim dredging is also to blame for the species’ decline.

A presentation compiled by Australians for Animals and sent to the environment minister warns that large numbers of dugongs are being stranded on beaches and that dredged spoil is wiping out vast tracts of seagrass. Industry denies that seagrass is severely damaged by dredging.

Australians for Animals said the dugong population on the urban coast of Queensland is “almost certainly on the road to extinction”.

“Future port development will ensure the non-recovery of the species,” it said. “There has been no attempt by federal or state governments to estimate the cost of losing the dugong population, nor any urgent action to ensure protection of the remaining sparse numbers.”

Correction, 16 August 2013: A reference to Animals Australia should have been to Australians for Animals. This has been corrected.

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