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Perspectives / What is the best option for Daintree power ?

This overview is the first in a series researched by the DouglasNews.Network editorial team addressing electricity options for residents and businesses on the Daintree Coast. We will break down the issues surrounding the longstanding and controversial debate.
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DOUGLASNETWORK.NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM


⟼ This overview is the first in a series addressing electricity options for residents and businesses on the Daintree Coast.
⟼ We will break down the issues surrounding the longstanding and controversial debate
.


Funded by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, there is one published study examining all electricity options north of the Daintree.

Conducted by KPMG with support from civil engineers GHD (1), the study examines seven options, including variations of the proposed grid.

While the analysis does have deficiencies, it concludes that the upgrade and installation of stand-alone systems is:

✔︎ a fraction of the economic cost of the alternatives,
✔︎ has lower environmental and cultural heritage impact, and
✔︎ is more reliable than a grid covering the entire area.

MISUSE OF TAXPAYERS MONEY

There is no rationale for justifying government expenditure of $200 million on an electrical grid to 660 properties scattered through 40 kilometres of rugged World Heritage coastline. Quite simply, our government would never recover such a high cost from users. Capital and maintenance will need subsidising in perpetuity.

JEWEL IN THE CROWN

Professor Steve Turton, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Geography at CQ University describes the Daintree Coast as the jewel in the crown of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
The entire Wet Tropics World Heritage Area is the “second most critical and irreplaceable” World Heritage site on the planet (2).

Daintree Coast is not an extension of suburbia. It is home to the world’s most ancient rainforests (3).
Investment in infrastructure must support, rather than undermine, those values.

The Daintree Coast is also the Shire’s own most valuable asset attracting an estimated 400,000 visitors a year. Douglas Shire is the custodian of both the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Additional pressure from the construction of a bridge, a coastal thoroughfare to Cooktown, and implementing grid power will change the Daintree Coast forever. ‘Presentation’ is one of the four key attributes of World Heritage listing. This will be irrevocably damaged by urbanisation. It will attract negative, global attention to the Shire. It will effectively demolish our hard-won reputation for internationally-leading ecotourism.

WHAT DO RESIDENTS THINK?

Too often overlooked, is the fact that many, if not most, residents do not want to ‘hook up’ to the grid. Residents report a preference that government funding be used to upgrade stand-alone hybrid systems. While no comprehensive official survey of resident sentiment has been conducted, a resident-driven census administered by Toon Ciliarta has received nearly 100 responses. The impact of COVID-19 temporarily suspended the census. Of 100 responses, 98 preferred that stand-alone solar systems remain.

GLOBAL TRENDS

The cost of stand-alone systems falls well below that of establishing and maintaining a grid in remote areas. Modern stand-alone systems are reliable, with constant power output.

They comprise:

✔︎ solar panels
✔︎ battery bank
✔︎ inverter to make 240 volts,
✔︎ back-up generator for emergency use

A state-of-the-art household system costs approximately $60,000 with batteries lasting 10 – 20 years and panels 25 years. The system rarely, if ever, requires generator back-up. There are households with $20 000 to $30,000 systems that also never use a generator.

If each household with a current stand-alone system upgraded to a $60 000 setup, the cost would be one fifth ($40 million) that of the estimated $200 million grid. While new systems will add to development pressure, their impact is much lesser than alternatives. Potentially, a microgrid might have application in a cluster of bigger users where there is little opportunity for more development, such as in Cape Tribulation.
Globally, stand-alone systems are now the prevailing trend in sparsely settled, non-urban areas.

WISE USE OF FUNDS

From the taxpayer’s perspective, that kind of money would be better used to buy out the remainder of the properties in the conservation zones and pay the large landowners to restore the rainforest. The purchase of the properties would be a tremendous investment in the management, protection, and restoration of one of the world’s most treasured assets. An investment of this scale would attract global praise, not condemnation, be excellent for our economy, and hurt no one. Publicly funded infrastructure, like grid power and road upgrades that will damage the natural values, make no sense. 

THE QUESTION OF DIESEL OUTPUT AND SUNSHINE-FUELLED POWER

We dispute the argument that diesel generators are burning four million litres (frequently cited, as per Sunverge Report) and that their emissions are damaging the rainforest. The only survey currently available, Daintree Green Power Options Study’ from September 2009 is quoted. According to the study, big users consume a total of 1.3 million litres per year. Most residents are only using small petrol generators. As mentioned, many residents find that solar meets all needs, using generators only as a back-up.

TRAFFIC & EMISSIONS

We estimate vehicles within the area use around twice this amount. Bridge development and road improvement will increase that input. There is no evidence of diesel or petrol fumes damaging forest directly. Their emissions do, however, contribute to global warming. That is a story for another day. The entire planet needs to minimise or offset emissions to avoid a climate emergency. Stand-alone systems offer the best opportunity to reduce fossil fuel use and to present the Daintree Coast community as an international model for low carbon living.

THE HYDROGEN BUBBLE

If the economic burden and negative environmental impact are not enough reason to put the ‘full grid’ option in the ‘crazy idea’ basket, consider the hydrogen thought bubble. There is nothing in writing concerning a proposal for a hydrogen grid servicing the Daintree Coast. As it stands, the concept is unlikely ever to be fit-for-purpose.

Making hydrogen with solar power for storage and converting it back to electricity will only ever be about 40% efficient. By comparison, batteries are approximately 90% efficient. Pumped hydro-electricity (pumping water uphill and capturing the energy when it comes back down) is 70% – 80% efficient (4). The storage of large quantities of liquid hydrogen can also function as grid energy storage but the round-trip efficiency is only 40% compared to a battery at 90% (5).

The concept of the microgrid is not viable. The urgency to recognise this is greater now that governments need every cent to restart a post-COVID economy, and to repay the debt we have incurred.

⟼ All public investment in the Daintree Coast should offer a net conservation benefit, not continued urbanisation and damage to environmental integrity and presentation.


REFERENCES

(1) Daintree Electricity Supply Study (DESS)
https://www.dnrme.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/1456926/daintree-electricity-supply-study-presentation.pdf
(2) Science (15/11/2013) looked at the biological uniqueness and irreplaceability of different ecosystems across the planet. It examined over 173,000 different protected areas and ranked the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area as the sixth most critical and irreplaceable. Of World Heritage Areas, it was the second most critical and irreplaceable
(3) https://www.discoverthedaintree.com/daintree-rainforest-6/
(4) https://energystorage.org/why-energy-storage/technologies/hydrogen-energy-storage/
(5) https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=hydrogen+electricity+storage+efficiency&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

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