Lord Howe Island wanted renewables to lessen its reliance on imported fossil fuel, but the idea for a hybrid renewable system with wind, solar and storage has been killed by environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg. This is why he has made the wrong decision.
I’m the fifth generation to live on Lord Howe Island. I returned to live here at the end of 1999 after my time at school and working in Sydney and Port Macquarie.
Spending time on the mainland is essential for young islanders, you become aware of what life has to offer, both good and bad. It also makes you appreciate why the island is so special.
In recent years life on Lord Howe is very comfortable, it’s almost made us forget how isolated we are. Currently we have reasonable internet, regular flights to the coast and a regular fortnightly shipping service to Port Macquarie. Our small ship can tie up alongside our little jetty and off load in most weather conditions.
Gone are the days of depending on the large ship every six weeks which anchored off the island, then triple handling every item before delivery.
During my families time on Lord Howe (since the early 1850’s), islanders have experienced all types of hardships, from deaths due to simple infections, to the loss of men who volunteered for the wars.
Isolation on this picture perfect island does not exempt us from hardship and tragedy. Quite the opposite, our isolation is magnified during times of international conflict or change.
History shows that when there is change, unless you are prepared for it, you will suffer in some way. The first example for my ancestors was when the end of whaling came to the Western Pacific. During the peak of whaling in the mid 1800’s, there could be as many as 12 ships anchored off the island.
All needing supplies and trading with the locals, times were good, but when crude oil was discovered and extracted easily, the market for whale oil crashed. The visiting whaling ships suddenly stopped. For three years no boats visited the island…. Somehow the islanders managed to survive this period.
My great great grandfather brought the first island owned trading vessel and made occasional trips to the mainland to sell the things grown and produced here. They would return after buying supplies for the whole island, a round trip of over 1400 kilometres. The ‘Sylph’ was a 13 metre, 17 ton ketch…. In 1873 she was lost at sea on one of those trips to Sydney. All 8 crew were never seen again.
For my immediate family we were lucky, Nathan Thompson was not onboard for that fateful trip, but for our small island community it was a devastating loss.
Shipping to Lord Howe is essential. Without it we wouldn’t survive more than two months. Food would quickly run out, so would our regular supply of diesel. Without diesel, we have no electricity for the community. Now days the island uses over 500,000 litres of fuel annually.
Our ‘micro grid’ is powered by 3 x 300kW MTU Detroit Series 60 diesel generating units, plus a small amount of roof top solar. Even though rooftop solar is a good option on the mainland with its large grid, our micro grid can become unstable without restrictions and regulations.
People can ‘go it alone’ and leave the grid, but in a small island community the costs of running our generators will be left to those who cannot and they will end up paying more.
About 7 years ago a community group was formed. The Sustainable Energy Working Group SEWG (which I am a member of), we looked into the benefits that a renewable energy system would give the whole island community.
Our local Administration, the Lord Howe Island Board, contracted JACOBS to look at the best options for a reliable, affordable and sustainable energy supply….. With savings of nearly 70% in both diesel and money, the Hybrid Energy System with two mid-size wind turbines, a solar array and a battery for storage was deemed the best option.
After all the community consultations at markets, open days in our Public Hall, displays in our Museum, mail-out information sheets, news letters, Bird and noise studies (and mitigation solutions), photoshopped mockups of their visual impacts and evaluations by all the appropriate Government bodies, the Hybrid System was set to proceed.
Even materials for it’s infrastructure were being purchased and delivered to the island.
In early June 2017 the Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, out of the blue, cancelled the project. He said, “it would have clearly unacceptable impacts”…. All the people involved in the project were shocked.
Years of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars had been wasted…….Six months has passed and we are still waiting for a detailed reason why the Minister made his decision….consequently, the ARENA funding for the Hybrid Energy Project was withdrawn.
For now, a future relying on burning diesel is the reality we must face. Climate change and the hardships it will bring to our island is something the future generations of islanders will have to face and start planning for.
Sustainable clean energy for a World Heritage site like Lord Howe should be mandatory. We should be setting an example to the whole world, not being held back by a Ministers political ideology or personal opinion.
The Environment is shared by everybody on this planet. No political party should be allowed to make decisions that makes it worse. Our children’s future here and everywhere in the world are left in the hands of politicians that are influenced by corporate corruption.
Governments around the world should be made by law, to adopt any resolution the UN agrees on to cut green house gas emissions, or face large fines and sanctions.
Here on the island, weather related delays to our air service are already affecting tourism…… As global warming increases, weather extremes in the Tasman Sea are only going to get worse.
These weather events will make travelling to Lord Howe by plane or boat harder to schedule and put further pressure on some businesses. Rising sea levels are also going to be a major threat to our low lying Airstrip and other infrastructure near our foreshore by the end of this century.
The environment here on the island is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. From the rare mist forests on top of our mountains, right down to our unique cooler water corals found nowhere else in the world, extinction is a real threat…… These are the ‘impacts’ that our Environment Minister should be finding ‘unacceptable’ and acting on.
His cancelling of our Hybrid System has also hindered our push for smaller, cheaper Electric Vehicles for the island roads.
Having a speed limit of just 25 kph and an ever increasing number of cars, it was planned to use the excess energy our wind turbines would have made, both day and night, to charge the electric vehicles. This would have added to our energy storage and reduced our carbon emissions even further.
Some countries and cities are already pledging to ban petrol and diesel cars in the near future…..where does that leave us on Lord Howe when Australia follows suit?
Planning for this now and being ready for the phasing out of fossil fuels is essential.
Just like whale oil, crude oil will be eventually phased out. Maybe not as quick, but never the less, before long it will have had it’s day. We would be stupid not to be ready for the impacts of this.
We need to put in place right now, the best Renewable Energy System we can afford to give us clean, reliable and affordable electricity for the demands in the future.
The renewable energy revolution is already taking place in other remote locations around Australia. Even though Coral Bay is on the other side of of our country, we share some similarities with this small Western Australian town.
Some of these are… We’re both in remote locations. Both economies depend on tourism. Both have pristine environments and are both on the World Heritage List.
Also in common, is that we both have groups and committees that help advise, guide and represent our communities. The Coral Bay Progress Association (CBPA) is one of those Groups.
After the Lord Howe Island Hybrid Energy System (which included two mid size wind turbines), was cancelled by the current Minister for the Environment, Josh Frydenberg, I contacted the CBPA to ask them what ‘impacts’ their wind turbines have made to their community.
The Coral Bay wind farm was opened on the 19/8/2007. (Four years before Coral Bay was inscribed onto the World Heritage list). They have three wind turbines, which are the same design/model turbines (mid-size) that were proposed for Lord Howe.
Two things which should be considered when reading the following letter…. Visually, Coral Bay is relatively flat compared to Lord Howe, therefore the turbines stand out. Also, we have thick vegetation and breaking waves surrounding our island…. Therefore a lot more background noise when the wind blows….overall….less impact.