Thursday, March 27, 2008

Roxby to require 'half the state's power'

what you probably WON'T be seeing, wind turbines at starfish hill on the fleurieu peninsual - link to my 'an activ[ist] life' set on flickr BHP Billiton has announced an astonishing projected requirement of electricity to power the expanded Roxby Downs mine - about half of the energy used by the entire state of South Australia!

Does anyone, outside the small arena of industry spruikers and anti-green zealots, still really believe that nuclear power is going to save us from the ravages of the global warming?

Roxby is easily the world's largest uranium mine, and to make it even bigger is going to require pushing unimaginable tonnages of CO2 into the atmosphere. Not to mention the establishment of a controversial desalination plant to cull water from the head of Spencer Gulf!

This demand is going to skew the economy of electricity production in South Australia for the remainder of the 21st Century. Where will energy investment now be focussed? The state government has set no requirement on BHP that it sources any of this massive increase from renewable sources. Our state leads Australia in the establishment of wind-farm projects. Adelaide is the only capital city participating in the current Solar Cities project. Left to our own devices who knows where we may have ended up as we made piecemeal progess to carbon-neutrality?

another dirty great power station?

But this huge surge in required production will predictably lead to a push to invest in another mega fossil-fuel power station - the state's third. Effectively squeezing out vital renewable technologies in the process.

Wind turbines and solar panels simply won't be able to provide such a huge volume of baseload power. While we have hot rocks aplenty this is still an unproven technology. This leaves only two options; firstly the state's gas fields in the far north-east as a dirty, but not perhaps filthy, fuel source to run the turbines. Or, scarily, we do just happen to have a lot of coal nearby! Dear old dirty, dirty coal freight-trained down from the demolition of a large swathe of the northern Flinders Ranges at Leigh Creek already powers the Playford power station at Port Augusta, current power provider to Roxby Downs.

So, in order to provide the allegedly 'clean, green' fuel that will power the future of the world we may be asked to build a giant coal-fired station! Or gas. Or both. This is before we even consider the carbon resources expended by the various massive machines required in the physical creation of what will be one of the world's largest holes in the ground.

Nuclear power is out, I might add. Not only is it politically unpalatable, as the previous federal government discovered to its cost, it's just too expensive and the stations take far too long to come on line.

And anyone suggesting that much-vaunted 'clean coal' technology may save the day is faced with admitting that this technology is also unproven, and may require a breathtaking 40% of the increased power demand again to run its own scrubbing operations.

an absurd addiction to the gigantic

The expansion of Roxby Downs is a great snapshot of the absurdity of our 'globalised' addiction to giantism. A gigantic economy with titanic power demands can only conceive of more super-scale solutions to the very problems that bloated excess and massive over-subscription to natural services has spawned in the first place. And all of the super-scale solutions happen to involved massive increases in carbon output that will allegedly facilitate a decrease one or two decades down the road. Despite growth forecasts making it highly unlikely the fossil fuels won't simply be burned anyway.

But do we even have one or two decades? Today I watched a video of a whole new chunk of Antarctic ice breaking off into the ocean and floating away, well ahead of any greenhouse schedule. I've just sweltered through the longest hot spell in my state's recorded history here in Adelaide - 15 days above 35°C (95°F), easily the hottest period ever recorded for an Australian capital. The nation's one major river system - the Murray/Darling - is in collapse, with drinkers, graziers and irrigators 'entitled' to more than double the actual amount of water that exists, and the lower lakes of my home state now likely to be dammed out of the freshwater system and then flooded with sea-water to allow resort residents to be able to step straight from their marinas and onto the decks of their cabin cruisers.

Forget the DotComs and the dodgily mortgaged US housing market - the globalised mega-market has been the greatest bubble in human history and is collapsing around us as we speak, at an economic cost that's yet to be determined, and a cost in natural capital that can only be compared to the impact of a comet strike. Mega-capitalism is functionally unable to conceive of any solution that does not perpetuate its own growth, and its media organs will never concede that such a possibility even exists. It's up to us to do that.

BHP to use half of state's electricity

Jeremy Roberts - Business, The Australian, March 27th 2008

BHP Billiton will need nearly half of South Australia's current electricity supply to power its vastly expanded Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine.

The mining company wrote to potential suppliers this month revealing that power demand for the mine was expected to top 690megawatts when it reaches full production in 10 years.

This 30 per cent increase on previous forecasts for the mine 600km northwest of Adelaide is equivalent to nearly 42 per cent of South Australia's total electricity consumption and nearly half of Adelaide's power supply.

An industry insider yesterday described as "staggering" BHP's new power needs, which exceed previous forecasts by 170mW.

It would require the building of new power stations in the state at a time when incentives for business to invest in traditional power generation are clouded by efforts to combat global warming.

The new BHP forecast comes a week after the Rudd Government's Garnaut report on greenhouse emissions recommended power generators not be compensated in a carbon trading scheme.

South Australia has been an importer of electricity for several years, and its power distribution system was stretched to capacity to meet demand during the record heatwave earlier this month.

BHP is the state's largest single power consumer, taking 120mW. The company will use the aditional 570mW to power on-site mineral processing to separate uranium, copper and gold, as well as for the expanded Roxby Downs township, a larger airport and the new open-cut mining operation.

The instability in the power generation sector adds to the challenges BHP faces in developing Olympic Dam.

A company spokeswoman yesterday described the request for 690mW of power as an estimate. "The expansion project remains in pre-feasibility and is yet to be approved," she said. But in correspondence to the state's power suppliers, dated March 5 and marked "commercial in confidence", BHP calls for expressions of interest to supply the power.

The correspondence was followed by in-person briefings on March 12, and asks suppliers to address three supply options: power generation at the Olympic Dam site, elsewhere in the state, or a combination of both.

The company says 60mW of the power would be used to run a desalination plant planned for the coast of the Upper Spencer Gulf, and to pump the water 320km north to Olympic Dam.

Providing the additional power within a 10-year timeframe will challenge South Australia's energy planners.

Gas-fired power stations normally take up to three years to build, industry sources said. Queensland's largest coal-fired power station, Kogan Creek in the western Darling Downs, which was opened last December, took four years to build.

Sourcing base-load renewable energy from "hot rocks" geothermal sources in the north of the state may become an option, but the technology has not yet been proved viable.

The South Australian Government has not imposed any mandatory requirements on BHP to source renewable energy.

South Australian Greens MP Mark Parnell said the lack of renewable energy sources for Olympic Dam would make the state a "greenhouse pariah".

"Our state risks being left with a huge carbon black hole as we become the greenhouse dump for one of the world's richest companies," Mr Parnell said.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Iain Evans pushes for mining ban - ABC news

on the flanks of mount painter - link to my Arkaroola Sanctuary - would U mine it? set on flickr New push for wilderness mining ban

ABC news South Australia online 25th March 2008

MP Iain Evans is pushing for a mining ban at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

A former environment minister in South Australia is urging a federal ban on mining in Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the Flinders Ranges, but is also making his own efforts to achieve a ban.

There was alleged environmental contamination of the area recently by mining company Marathon Resources during uranium exploration work.

MP Iain Evans wants a mining ban.

He says there is federal power to protect the area, but the Government has been inconsistent in its approach to wilderness areas.

"In Western Australia they've announced a major study into protecting the Kimberley region from overdevelopment through mining while at the same time, here in South Australia, the Rann Government are looking at mining the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and the Rudd Government remains silent," he said.

Private member's bill

Evans is drafting state legislation to end mining in the sanctuary, despite his party voting against similar legislation this month.

The Liberal Opposition joined the SA Government to defeat a Greens bill to end mining in all sanctuaries.

Mr Evans hopes his colleagues will support a private member's bill to ban mining at Arkaroola and says his party has not yet declared a position on mining there.

"They're waiting to see the final detail of my legislation so at this stage the party has not taken a firm view," he said.

"But they have certainly agreed that I should get the private member's bill drafted up so that can be further looked at.

"My view is that Arkaroola shouldn't be mined."

Friday, March 7, 2008

sanctuaries to remain unprotected

ridgetop tour vehicles on the flanks of mount painter opposite mount gee in the arkaroola wilderness sanctuary - link to the 'arkaroola - would U mine it?' set on flickr Mike Rann's Labor government, and the Liberal opposition, have joined forces to block a bill proposed by Greens MLC Mark Parnell in the state's upper house that would have placed an outright ban on mineral exploration and mining in the state's private sanctuaries

Govt rejects mining ban

ABC news online 6th March 2008

The South Australian Government and the Opposition have voted together to reject a Greens bid to stop mining in the state's sanctuaries.

Greens MP Mark Parnell says he will reintroduce the bill in another form, to stop mining specifically in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the northern Flinders Ranges.

A mining company was investigated last month over the way drilling samples were disposed of in the area.

Mr Parnell says the Government needs to support his amended bill.

"I'll come back with a specific bill just to prevent mining in Arkaroola," he said.

"It's the biggest sanctuary in SA, it's the most important and that's what we need to protect.

"Sanctuaries comprise only one tenth of one per cent of our state and if those areas aren't too precious to mine then where is?"

As Mark points out, sanctuaries are a tiny proportion of the area of the state - but it seems that nothing is too precious to be excluded from the reach of the all-powerful mining industry - not even these private reserves their owners have attempted to establish solely as conservation areas!

And it's also to be noted that despite recent rhetoric from the Liberal Party at both the state and federal level decrying the absurdity of Labor's having ever allowed mineral exploration in the state's premier sanctuary - Arkaroola - in the first place, when it comes to a test they appear to lack the courage to support the principle that some areas simply should not be mined.

One awaits their response to Mark's revised bill with interest.

I believe that former Liberal environment minister Iain Evans - the man who blocked mining in the Weetootla Gorge and had miners completely excluded from the Gammon Ranges National Park (the sanctuary's southern neighbour) - is also drafting his own bill to fully-protect Arkaroola. One hopes that this is a sign that his party will eventually stand behind its own rhetoric.