According to Professor Gavan McDonell, the national electricity grid stretches over 4,000 kilometres, connecting far North Queensland down through the eastern states to Tasmania and across to South Australia. However, there is one notable exclusion: the Daintree.
One can almost here the collective expression of environmental conditioning, “Yes, but the ‘pristine Daintree’ is far too precious to be spoilt by reticulation.”
So, by implication, if Australia regards the Daintree exclusion area as the most deserving of protection from environmental harm, why is it condemned to the most polluting form of electricity? Surely, if its environmental importance supersedes any other area in Australia, its electricity supply should be the cleanest in Australia?
Residents and businesses within area of excision have a rigorously regulated conservation land-use responsibility. They are also quarantined from development, particularly through World Heritage and Iconic Places legislation. Now that conservation targets and planning scheme objectives have formally been met, the custodial community would like to be supported in the development of an alternative energy policy that is not reliant upon the concurrent operation of hundreds of polluting, emitting engine generators.
To this end, a delegation travelled to Brisbane to meet with Minister for Energy, the Hon. Geoff Wilson MP, to appeal for environmental relief from the existing flawed policy. It called upon the Queensland Government to embrace a new partnership, that protects, to the greatest possible extent, the exceptional environmental and ecotourism values, including the people and communities, through renewable optimisation, innovation, development and provision of world’s best-practice electricity supply.
The Minister’s Office has recently issued the following media statement:
We’re not about to bulldoze through ancient rainforest to put in power lines north of the Daintree River.
We’re talking about world-famous, world heritage-listed rainforest and everyone would want it to stay that way.
The State Labor Government has spent millions of dollars in a land buy-back scheme for the Daintree that demonstrates our commitment to the preservation of this pristine region.
In 2001, residents were invited to apply for federal and state government grants for solar power and to store solar energy.
Householders may also be eligible for grants under the federal government’s regional renewable power generation program. The federal government will pay up to fifty per cent of the cost of any renewable energy project.
The program is essentially for households and businesses that aren’t connected to the grid.
Ergon Energy has experts based in Cairns and they provide technical advice and equipment to households and businesses that rely on remote area power supplies, including solar energy.
I would encourage householders in the Daintree to contact Ergon Energy in Cairns.
The media advice is contemptuous of the people of Queensland, who in 1998 funded a $450,000 EIAS that established that reticulation through directional boring could be achieved without any adverse effect on the natural environment. It is also contemptuous of the local community that travelled from the Daintree to Brisbane to explain their very serious concerns for the pollution that the Queensland Government’s existing electricity policy has forced into their income-earning rainforest.
Indeed, the description of bulldozing ancient World Heritage rainforests is deliberate and mischievous fear-mongering. World Heritage is protected from state government degradation under international law & the Commonwealth’s EPBC Act, in addition to its own state government legislation, including the NCA, IPA, Wet Tropics Management & Protection & Iconic Places Acts.
Land acquisition by the Queensland Government was an integral part of an agreement, defined in the Rainforest CRC’s Daintree Futures Study, which built upon the concurrent delivery of conservation, regulation of development and power.
Minister Wilson suggests Daintree landholders contact Ergon Energy in Cairns, which has been relieved of its distribution responsibility towards the Daintree area only, for technical advice. In point of fact, the FNQ Regional Electricity Council has recommended:
In light of the State Government’s ClimateSmart 2050 strategy to reduce emissions from fossil fuel and increase use of renewables, the REC would recommend that the Minister review whether solutions could be found under this or related policies.
Options might include: support increased use of renewable energy through revised subsidies for renewables or tariff arrangements, or through providing grid access to greener power through the large scale cleaner generation such as gas, wind or clean coal.
Given the particular environment, an the many facets of the problem, the REC also recommends that other departments with interests in sustainability and World Heritage environmental management also be asked to consider solutions to the concerns.