While an international eco-terrorist group has threatened Victoria’s power industry, the green lobby, as well as privatisation and so-called competition policies, have put at risk power, water and other state services. Patrick J. Byrne reports.
The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) has delivered a threatening letter to the head of a major Victorian power plant, Graeme York. The letter from this eco-terrorist group says: “As the Chief Executive Officer of Hazelwood power station, you are responsible for the dirtiest power station in Australia and the most polluting in the industrialised world …
“We hold you personally accountable for this assault against our Earth. We do not take lightly to the perpetual destruction of our land-base for the selfish and short-term objective of fattening your bank account.” (Herald Sun, Melbourne, June 15, 2009).
A number of ELF members are in prison for terrorist attacks causing US$150 million in destruction across 17 countries.
The letter comes after other protests against the Hazelwood Power Station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. Last month, 14 Greenpeace activists chained themselves to a dredger supplying brown coal to the power station.
John Brumby’s state Labor Government is putting pressure on green groups to “dob in” the local ELF activists responsible for the threat.
Victorians are already facing major problems arising from long-term infrastructure neglect. Despite an expanding population and rising demand for electricity, no new base-generating capacity is planned for Victoria. Maintenance is years behind on existing generators, which were privatised under the former Kennett Liberal Government.
There has been no incentive for the private sector to build new base-load power stations, and the state won’t build them. The private sector will only add on gas-fired, peak-load capacity generators.
The green lobby, reinforced by the Greens Party’s allocation of voting preferences in state elections, has ensured that Victoria’s electricity-generating capacity has stagnated. Consequently, if any major generators did fail, the state would face a crippling power shortage.
Simultaneously, Victoria’s ongoing drought, exacerbated by the green lobby’s blocking of new dams for decades, could see Melbourne face a chronic water shortage within a few years.
This is despite a Herald Sun formal poll at the time of the last state election showing 75 per cent of Labor voters and 78 per cent of Liberal/Nationals voters wanting new dams. (Herald Sun, October 25, 2006).
Incredibly, Victorian’s Water Minister, Tim Holding has argued that there is no point in building new dams because, in a drought, there is no water to fill them. This misses the point. Dams are built to store water in wet times for use in drought times.
As an emergency measure, the Government is building a pipeline to divert water from northern Victoria’s irrigation districts to Melbourne. The problem is that this region is on the same weather pattern as Melbourne’s major reservoirs, and both will go dry at the same time. There is likely to be no water to go down the pipeline to Melbourne when it’s needed.
The government is also planning to build a large desalination plant in partnership with the private sector. However, desalination plants require huge amounts of electricity. Where will the power come from, given there is little excess capacity available in the base-load generation plants, thanks to years of neglect? The green lobby is dead opposed to any new coal-fired plants.
Currently, private-sector infrastructure funds are drying up due to the global financial crisis. Potential investors are likely to see the desalination plant as too high a risk, given the state of the Victorian power industry.
Furthermore, when the drought breaks and Melbourne’s water storages fill over several years, there may be little demand for desalinated water. Even, if the government offers private investors a long-term supply contract, voters are likely to weary of paying for high-cost desalinated water year after year, while much cheaper water sits in the city’s storages.
There are better options for supplying water to Victoria’s big urban centres.
To overcome the short-term crisis, storm water could be treated, rather than letting it flow out to sea. More storm water can be collected from Melbourne houses and treated for human consumption than Melbourne currently uses annually. This can be economically achieved if water is harvested and treated on a regional module basis, rather than as single, city-wide engineering project.
In the longer term, diversions or new dams on the Gellibrand River south-west of Geelong and the Mitchell River in the far east of the state could provide significant new urban water supplies. The weather pattern in these areas tends to be wet when Melbourne’s current storages are dry.
The problem isn’t lack of resources; it’s lack of political vision and opposition from the green lobby.
– Patrick J. Byrne is national vice-president of the National Civic Council.