Sunday, July 20, 2008

Murray-Darling Water Flow And Solar Energy

An Open Letter to:
The Rt Hon Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister of Australia
Senator, the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change and Water

In April 2000, Germany passed the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) to boost the planned switch to renewable energy sources. Producers of renewable energy are paid for each kWh (kilowatt-hour) of solar power, or wind energy, generated and fed into the grid. Companies embrace it because there are economic advantages for them, and the payments are not tied to a budget, but funded from a fraction of a cent rise in the costs.

It is now 2008, and Australia and the world face significant threats from climate change and the effects of global warming. Australia also faces catastrophic long-term effects of drought on rivers, farms, and communities in the Murray Darling Basin.

Australia has the greatest amount of usable solar energy of any country in the world. Kevin Rudd’s Federal Labor Government has some related problems it needs to address:
One of its very first actions was to sign the Kyoto Protocol, committing it to reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases by Australians, and by commercial enterprises operating in Australia.

It has just released a “Green Paper” on reducing carbon pollution. A Green Paper is used for discussion, and later adjustment, as Government finalizes its policy. The proposal includes huge subsidies for the biggest carbon polluters, including owners of coal-fired power stations, contrary to the recommendations of the Garnaut Report.

It has had ongoing discussions about how to put more water into the Murray-Darling Basin river systems. This area has significant long-term drought effects, little water flow, and much land is becoming marginal for farming. There are high-water-use irrigation crops, including rice and cotton being grown in dry inland Australia.

The Federal Government ought to consider the following:
  • Maintaining, or extending, incentives for individuals to add solar panels to their homes.
    Adding a “payment” for electricity fed into the grid by companies and individuals, such payment to be funded by a fraction of a cent rise in the cost of electricity, and therefore borne by all users. Companies can offset the increased costs by installing their own solar or wind generators and connecting them to the grid.
  • Implementing, even legislating, changes to Australia’s farming industries in dry, inland Australia. Farmers should be encouraged to cease growing low-yield, high-water-using crops to implement “solar farms”. Cotton and rice farms spring to mind. In the 1990’s Australia restructured the sugar industry, effectively removing inefficient producers. One of the advantages of solar farms is that they generate electricity when it is most needed – in the daytime. Such a scheme would also help to secure water, and employment (infrastructure) for towns and cities along the rivers systems. Such a scheme also means that fewer farming families would need to leave unproductive land that is increasing their levels of debt.

A reduction in water demand from inefficient farms in the Murray-Darling Basin, and development of large-scale "solar farms" could result in increased water flow, and a reduction in greenhouse gases as increasing amounts of electricity are generated. It will be a costly exercise, and will require commitment, explanation and vision from a government that genuinely wants to improve Australia, provide alternate sources of farm income for those in marginal areas, wants to reduce the carbon pollution generated by Australians, and which wants to make best use of Australia's abundant solar energy potential.

The states, the National farmers Federation, and the Liberal & National Parties, must not be allowed to be obstructionist.