“How do you think the unique fauna of the Daintree rainforest will fare against anthropogenic global warming?”
The inquiry was put to me last night at the conclusion of a nocturnal wildlife spotting tour and such questions are becoming more frequent.
I answered that I understood that the greatest losses suffered by the inhabitants of the ancient forests of Gondwana were brought about by global cooling and drying via circumpolar currents derived from the break-up of the super-continents; particularly the separation of Australia from Antarctica. A warmer, wetter climate should favour an expansion of tropical rainforest habitat.
Earlier in the day I was dealing with another concern that had previously compelled government intervention to purportedly protect the important ecological values of the Daintree from the adverse impacts of non-renewable electricity generation. On the 7th May 2000, the Queensland Government adopted an amended electricity policy for the area north of the Daintree River:
The extension of mains electricity supply was opposed and, as an alternative, the use of stand-alone power systems was to be supported. (Right of appeal: Not applicable).
The Daintree Futures Study 2000, states (p 99): Underlying this policy … is the belief that renewable energy generation is desirable in the Daintree as a demonstration of commitment to sustainable energy development and sensitivity to the special values of the area.
It had become apparent that our household reliance upon engine generators had increased significantly over the previous six months and solar contribution had declined through the impact of a lightning strike. I had dreaded this inevitability; large, prominent metallic structures strategically positioned to optimize unobstructed access to sunlight (and lightning). Tell-tale burns were revealed on the newer, more powerful 738 watt string of the four-string array.
The Daintree Futures Study 2000, states (p 99): Businesses in the Daintree Cape Tribulation area are currently not eligible for any subsidy programs for RAPS systems. This is despite a statement by the Minister for Mines and Energy in October, 1999 that, “A commercial rebate scheme is also to be introduced”. The lack of a subsidy has likely hampered economic development, as businesses have had to fund substantial capital to establish their generation plant, and higher operating and maintenance costs. The variable cost to generate power privately via diesel generators will be in the order of 25-35 cents/kWh compared to grid subsidised power costs of 10 cents/kWh. Businesses such as hotels and accommodation facilities will have annual power demand of between 50 000kWh and 1GWh per annum (any reasonable size business would have a power demand of 50 000kWh per annum or greater). The additional annual cost, adjusted for company tax, of self-generation versus grid will be in the range of $5 000 to $167 000.
The Queensland Remote Area Power Supplies (RAPS) Trials 1999 (Walden & Behrendorff), summarized data in the fastidiously maintained Daintree Cape Tribulation sites at 82-3% reliant upon engine generation.
Indeed, over the past seven years, not only have fuel prices skyrocketed, but residents and business-owners within the Daintree Cape Tribulation community have carried the cost of supply, maintenance and replacement of components, at as much as twenty-times the total cost per kilowatt-hour of other Queensland consumers.
It is incongruous, to say the least, that the excision from the distribution area was for the stated purpose of conforming with the government’s environmental policies, when its consequences include hundreds of concurrently running engine generators with their noise, fuel and oil spills. For a community with a regulated conservation management responsibility, generators simply do not make the grade.