The long awaited and overdue regional rail study released last week has been met with a hostile reception from rail advocate Karin Kolbe while local state MP Don Page has distanced himself from previous election promises.
The report, entitled Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study, recommends that services remain suspended and ‘rail assets be maintained to a minimum standard only’.
It comes in at 130 pages, cost $2 million and is available at http://bit.ly/15Lo2Du.
The Echo understands that the report’s findings have prompted the state government to shelve any plans to re-instate regional rail services which were discontinued by the then Labor state government in 2004.
Current transport minister Gladys Berejiklian says her government will now consider the findings, ‘as part of our work to finalise the Northern Rivers Regional Transport Plan which we expect to be completed this year.’
But Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) president Karin Kolbe has called for the report to be scrapped and says it’s a ‘whitewash’. ‘The report relies on old and irrelevant maintenance and patronage figures and costs from 2004 to justify a 2013 decision,’ she says.
Even at the time the study was announced in 2011, Ms Kolbe criticised its terms of reference, which failed to identify any social or environmental benefits.
Mr Page however said last year on ABC radio (June 26, 2012) that he asked his government and minister to ‘broaden the terms of reference of the feasibility study to make it beyond any doubt that the benefits of rail services on the Murwillumbah to Casino line will be properly analysed by the project team.’
These included ‘environmental benefits’, ‘fewer people using cars’ and ‘less greenhouse gases’. There is little to no reference to those terms within the report.
Commitments vary from election to election
The report was a major election commitment for local Ballina MP Don Page, who released a carefully worded media statement at the time saying, ‘the NSW government is committed to providing the right mix of transport services.’
But back in 2007, all regional Nationals MPs were photographed (see back page) wearing t-shirts with the words ‘Yes, you can have your trains back.’ When asked about pre-election commitments to bring trains back in 2007, Mr Page told The Echo, ‘Any commitment made prior to the 2007 election relates to being elected to government in 2007, which didn’t happen. Prior to the 2011 election we committed to doing the feasibility study, which we have honoured.’
In response, Ms Kolbe said, ‘After running hard on the rail question for so many years, many electors did not pick up the subtle shift from “you can have a train” to “you can have a study”.’
As for questions regarding his assessment of the report, a commitment to light rail, or the lack of environmental provisions that he called for, Mr Page did not respond.
Meanwhile, Ms Berejiklian, says that ‘The study recommends investigating improving bus services to provide more people with frequent, cost effective public transport to key destinations, rather than reinstating the rail line.’
Light rail eliminated
Astoundingly, light rail transit was eliminated during preliminary assessment, and instead the study focused
on heavy, or freight, rail. A Transport for NSW spokesperson told The Echo light rail was not explored for a number of reasons. ‘We found light rail would not provide additional benefits to the rail shuttle option and is less effective over longer distances (greater than 20km).
‘A local Byron Bay shuttle was considered; however, we found regular bus services between Sunrise Beach, Byron and Suffolk Park would provide a better and more flexible public transport service.’
Lack of sustainability
Despite the spokesperson claiming that ‘All options considered by the study were subject to a sustainability assessment,’ there is only one small
reference to sustainability. Under ‘Rating Against Sustainability’, the report claims returning the XPT extension to Murwillumbah is ‘expected to have a minor positive sustainability impact.’ And for a Casino to Murwillumbah rail shuttle (light rail), it again claimed a ‘very minor shift [is] predicted from car to the more sustainable public transport mode.’
The word ‘sustainability’ only appears three times throughout the document. Similarly, the words ‘climate change’ are absent. And even in its terms of reference on page 100, it claims incorrectly that ‘The study represents a broadening of the previously announced engineering and cost evaluation to include consideration of economic, social and environmental benefits.’
Regardless of the report’s failure to address rail’s environmental benefits, it provides an insight into future growth projections for the region. It claims, ‘Future growth in the region will occur in the Tweed region, extending southwards along the coast to Ballina. Lismore, Tweed and Ballina are the defined long term major regional centres.’
Also, ‘The population of the northern rivers is estimated to grow to around 367,000 in 2031 with an increase in housing units from 129,000 to 161,000 (Department of Premier and Cabinet, 2012). The majority of growth will be experienced in the coastal corridor in the area between Ballina and Byron, and in particular along the Tweed coast and in Tweed Heads.’
An invention that transfers electricity through the ground instead of by power lines is still struggling with investment.
But local supporter and ‘strategic architect’ Ric Richardson says he’s confident the idea has a future.
Gamma Power International Ltd director Keith Howard, who is based in Tumbi Umbi just north of Sydney, says he has lodged a patent for Wireless Power Transmission (WPT).
His invention utilises a transmitter and receiver, which transfer high voltage through the ground. His modelling suggests that a 200 MW power transmitter would be 70 metres high and use the same frequencies as lightning.
In his April 9 newsletter, Mr Howard claims the biggest problem he has been facing ‘has been the ability to legally raise funds, since the legal imposts on fundraising are unbelievable.’
‘If we had funds we could properly demonstrate the inventions.’
Ric agrees and told The Echo he has been approaching investors and universities, and one of the main issues is that investors want to see it independently built before any money is committed. But the cost of an operational model could run as high as $4 million, he says.‘I’ve spoken to a Queensland university, and so far we have some household name guys who say we need to do it in stages.’
The first stage, he says, is a 1km and then a 10km distance test, which requires a million volts. ‘That will be up to six figures for that. The commercial model will be seven figures.
The earth is very conductive, says Ric, and the invention just needs to prove in an ‘independent third party test environment’ that there is little power loss between transmitter and receiver. And that it’s safe.
Electrical engineer and renewable energy enthusiast Sapoty Brook told The Echo, ‘I personally don’t know of any reason why the concept should be considered implausible.
‘Considering the benefits of success it would be good to see a serious field test done. I think it should also be mentioned that Gamma’s main point of departure from Tesla [technology] is to make a capacitive connection to earth rather than a conductive connection.
‘This possibly has potential to create more resonance and better power transmission.’
Gamma’s online video claims the technology could supplant wires and poles, which can cause fires and be hazardous in natural disasters.
Ric added possible future applications could include transferring electricity from geothermal power stations in central Australia, where erecting poles and wires is currently cost prohibitive.
For more, see the video at http://bit.ly/Zd5vfE.
It’s been revealed that a micro-hydroelectric turbine manufacturing company has been driven to bankruptcy by the state government and the Clean Energy Council (CEC).
Furthermore it’s claimed the technology, which can run 24/7 on a source of running water and requires no batteries or inverters, has been largely ignored by politicians from both parties over many years.
Five jobs were axed last Monday at the Dorrigo based plant, which was to turn fifteen years old in April.
Pelena Energy director Peter Lynch told The Echo that after trying to obtain a production licence in Australia proved too difficult, he resorted to exporting to developing countries overseas.
‘Over the past 15 years,’ he says, ‘we have been forced to focus on high risk countries like PNG, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu for sales because there has been an active – almost campaign approach – by various Australian state and federal agencies to exclude our technology from the renewable en- ergy mix in Australia.
‘The crunch point has come primarily due to the inability to finish a job in Vanuatu. We shipped a turbine package but it got stuck on a wharf due to a dispute between our client, the Vanuatu Department of Energy and the provincial government agency responsible for the wharves.’
He says the final straw was when another job offer fell through from the Pacific island’s government over a week ago. ‘It’s a great shame that what we do has been proven to work, and is wanted, especially in the Pacific.’
Mr Lynch claims his stainless steel turbines outlast many others available, and include universal sized parts.
The success we’ve had with these systems is unmatched be- cause they’re all still working, whereas almost all other hydro systems have failed.
‘The systems continue to generate clean, renewable electricity for communities, schools, and health clinics [overseas].
‘This has resulted in significant development benefits for the communities such as electric lighting which allows children to undertake homework after dark and people to generate income through the use of their own electricity generating system. We’re solving one of the world’s biggest problems: energy independence, yet I have had no support.’
How it was killed off
Mr Lynch lays much of the blame on the Clean Energy Council (CEC), who facilitate accreditation for hydroelectric installations on behalf of the government. ‘Pelena is, and has been, abused by the CEC from a number of fronts.’
He says the main issue is that ‘only those with photovoltaic (solar) accreditation can get micro-hydro accreditation.’
‘Hydro experts are excluded from accreditation, and only PV accreditation can be maintained through regular PV ap- proved installs. Basically, the hydro experts are excluded from accreditation.’
A spokesperson from the The Clean Energy Council confirmed the claims with The Echo. ‘The Clean Energy Council is in the process of introducing a stand-alone accreditation for micro-hydro and this should be ready to roll out within the next couple of months,’ he said.
Notwithstanding, further claims by Mr Lynch suggest hydro’s potentials are being strangled further by CEC’s red tape.
‘A 100kw (kilowatt) PV solar system can be installed and connected to the electricity ‘grid’ without any issue in NSW,’ he says.
‘In fact, it has been promoted and significantly subsidised by state and federal governments.
‘However, a micro-hydro (generating electricity 24/7) cannot be installed to the grid, nor any of the electricity used for any income generating purpose, unless a full EIA (environmental impact statement) has been carried out and approved – likely costing in excess of $120,000.’
Additionally he says, ‘A hydro which generates more than an average output per year of 2.8kw, or is larger than 6.4kw must be registered as a “power station” and subject to the same reporting requirements as all other power stations, like coal fired power stations. Solar PV systems under 100kw do not.’
Little to no political support from Nats
Mr Lynch says support from his local state and federal MPs – both of whom are National party members – has been underwhelming.
‘I have been totally unsuccessful with successive [coalition and Labor] governments over the years,’ he told The Echo.
State MP for Oxley, which covers Dorrigo, is Nationals leader and deputy premier An- drew Stoner, who is also min- ister for trade and investment.
He advised The Echo through his media spokesperson, ‘The closure of any business and loss of jobs is disappointing particularly in regional NSW.’
‘NSW Trade & Investment has provided advice, introductions and other business facilitation services to Pelena Energy over several years via our export advisers and business development managers on the north coast. The department also provided a grant to assist the company to develop a strategic marketing plan and website.
‘Pelena Energy contacted Trade & Investment on March 22 in relation to its current difficulties. It is understood that the decision to close the operation is purely a commercial decision.’
In reply, Mr Lynch says, ‘We received $2,549, which was less than half the total cost of
developing the website at that time. No assistance has been provided to Pelena Energy in any way before or since this date in 2004, despite numerous applications and meetings.’
Hydro not entirely ignored by govt
But hydro hasn’t been completely ignored by the O’Farrell/Stoner government.
In 2011, the same year they were elected, Business Spectator reported that $300,000 was awarded to NSW hydro company Waratah Power, for ‘funding to pursue research in small-scale run-of-river hydro schemes in NSW’.
As of 2013, Waratah Power’s website is light on detail regard- ing its projects or achievements. Its chairman Graham Hart is also a former ‘career banker.’
Mr Lynch queries why his company was excluded from the funding. ‘Mr Stoner was noticeably embarrassed about this grant funding when I met with him in Dorrigo last year.
‘Prior to Mr Stoner’s election to government, he was literally punching the air in Dorrigo on one electorate visitation stating “Dorrigo – micro-hydro capital of Australia!” The enthusiasm for supporting an innovative company in his electorate has significantly, and demonstrably, waned.’
MP Hartsuyker: no political weight
As for federal Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker, who repre- sents the Division of Cowper, his spokesperson told The Echo there is ‘no recent record of contact’ from Pelena Energy or Peter Lynch.
‘We made representations around four or five or years ago,’ he said. Mr Hartsuyker was una- vailable for further comment as he was travelling by plane.
In return, Mr Lynch says Mr Hartsuyker has ‘made the statement a number of times that he has “made representation” in Canberra on our behalf.’
‘This has, without exception,
resulted in no support or posi- tive outcome. Our experience with Mr Hartsuyker has been one of the most disappointing aspects of relocating to rural NSW as he demonstrably has no political weight with either the Nationals or in Canberra.’
Meanwhile energy market advocate Mark Byrne from the Total Environment Centre told The Echo that state and local environment planning instru- ments are prohibiting projects such as these from succeeding.
‘Specifically the Environmen- tal Planning And Assessment Act 1979 needs to be amended to reflect hydro technology.’
Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of the disconnect with how hydro – a technology that has been around at least a century – has been marginalised.
‘Last year Tony Abbott came to Dorrigo,’ says Mr Lynch.
‘I was with the chamber of commerce so I got to introduce myself and my invention.
‘When I told him of the is- sues I was facing getting it off the ground, a glaze came over his eyes. It was a significant point where I realised that the people talking to people like him are not showing them what is possible. The solutions are here and now.’
When asked by The Echo why he doesn’t sell his units on eBay for example, he said, ‘Each attempt has been thwart- ed by successive barriers in legislation to get them installed on a large scale in NSW, or thwart- ed by an apparent government incentive program only to have micro-hydro “specifically excluded” at the last minute in favour of PV solar technologies and, to a lesser extent, wind.’
Mr Lynch made the point that after media coverage on his technologies, he inevitably gets a barrage of calls for orders.
Due to planning legislation and CEC guidelines however, he is unable to sell the units in Australia. For more visit www. pelena.com.au while the web- site is still online.