DSSG challenge political funding for Daintree microgrid


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Mike Berwick of the Douglas Shire Sustainability Group. Image: Newsport.

The Douglas Shire Sustainability Group (DSSG) has challenged the federal government’s promise to provide funding to evaluate a “green, renewable grid” for the Daintree Coast from a budget item of $50million for investigating micro grids. The ALP has agreed to match the funding.

DSSG Committee member, Daintree resident and former Mayor, Mike Berwick, said in a statement a closer look reveals this is expensive, untested technology that is neither green nor renewable.

Berwick said the cost is huge – an estimated $65million for the current 300 property connections and potentially to service 900 properties, according to the Sunverge Report commissioned by the Australian Government.

He said the technology behind the latest idea – generating hydrogen with surplus solar energy to store it like a battery – is fundamentally flawed for this application.

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But Berwick’s comments have come under attack from Russell O’Doherty, president of the Daintree Renewable Energy Inc.

“This statement is made out of total ignorance of the facts.

“Berwick has absolutely no concept of the technology that we propose to use.

“Firstly, does DSSG/Mike Berwick honestly believe the Australian Renewable Energy Agency would support and finance this project if it was not totally renewable?

“For him to suggest that our proposal is neither green nor renewable is absolutely laughable,” said O’Doherty.

Daintree resident, Chris Beckwith, said the state government has prevented Ergon from extending or being involved in ownership of a grid north of the river.

“Subsequently, a Global Energy Corporation will be sorted to invest in the micro grid and infrastructure.

“It is the corporation’s decision on how their P&L and R&D costs add up in the light of the positive international publicity they will receive.

“What does it matter if it costs $65m, as this cost will not be borne by the Community,” said Beckwith.

DSSG’s statement added that using hydrogen for onsite storage is about half the efficiency of batteries and there is not the surplus power in this wet cloudy environment to generate the H2 – it would need to be augmented by fossil-fuelled generation.

“Transporting and storing H2 made elsewhere is technically challenging and very expensive. Most H2 is made using fossil fuel.

“Of the 300 current potential customers, most already have stand-alone solar/battery/generator back-up systems that work well for them. They do not want to connect to a grid and start paying bills at a time when solar panels and battery prices are dropping rapidly while grid power prices are increasing,” it said.

But O’Doherty said the UK based company ITM has developed this cutting edge hydrogen cell technology and has been used in the UK and in Europe over the past few years.

“It appears that DSSG and Berwick have gone into panic mode because they thought their deception would fool people.”

O’Doherty advised that he had expressions of interest for a micro grid from 66 businesses and 218 property owners; all gained within a one-month period.

“There were many more property owners that contacted us after the cut-off date.

You only have to look at the online power poll held by Newsport: Total Votes 477: 406 yes; 71 against. A conclusive result for the yes vote.”

Beckwith, meanwhile, questioned how the DSSG could speak for more than 300 land owners when they had never engaged or surveyed them.

The DSSG statement said the state, which is responsible for reticulating electricity, has indicated it would only install power on a cost recovery basis, as is policy across the state. There is no chance locals will want to pay that kind of money - $250,000 per property; it is clearly ridiculous.

“Most people are happy with their solar/battery/generator back up system, and do not want to connect when grid prices are increasing while solar panels and batteries are going down in price rapidly and their performance is improving

“Most of us prefer the idea of generating our own, largely renewable, electrical energy sources, rarely use our generators backup generators and use normal range of household electrical appliances. There is no evidence that most residents would ‘take-up’ grid connection.

“Even if it went to the gate free of charge, most would not want to pay a substantial connection fee with houses that are widely spread, and a long way from the road.

“The conservation sector has always been opposed to government subsidized infrastructure that is essentially a subsidy for development when nothing is spent on urgent conservation needs.”

“What gives Berwick the right to form a promotional lobby group (DSSG) as a veiled form of influence over the Mayor and councillors, to go up against a community issue which was recently surveyed resulting in 85% support for a micro-grid power system?” said Beckwith.

O’Doherty again challenged Berwick to debate this issue.

“If Berwick wants to debate the issue based on facts, not ‘bullshit’, let’s have the debate, but not online, face-to-face.”

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