LETTER | The cost of a Daintree microgrid is far too high


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Dear Editor,

I’m relieved to see the ALP has clarified their position on the Warren Entsch proposal for grid power North of the Daintree.

By all means, investigate improved energy sources for the Daintree Coast but the proposal for a grid of any kind makes no sense in this small, widely spread community, dispersed over 40 kilometres of coastline through an environmental treasure.

Microgrids work over short distances where customers are close together – one might work at Cape Tribulation, for example, where most premises could be connected within a kilometre or two

But, to directional bore from the Daintree River to Cape Tribulation, down all the side roads and to all houses which are widely spread and often a long way from the road, through heavy forest, is a massive infrastructure undertaking for the estimated 318 customers, even if they all wanted to connect to the grid.

Most have never been asked if they want to connect – the pro-power lobby has been a small, secret society by invitation only for whom Warren Entsch is the darling.

We know a lot, probably most, will not want to connect because they already have their own solar/battery systems with generator backups that work perfectly well and do not want to connect to the grid and start paying electricity bills.

The Sunverge report on which this proposal is based, estimates the cost at $65 million – and this does not include connections to the property or the cost of wiring houses to mains standards.

Lets assume, generously, half the people want to connect. That would be $430,000 per property plus the cost of connection. For a fraction of that price you could supply everyone with a state of the art, solar powered system. Or buy them out at double their value.

Does government propose to subsidise this? I gather the state (and obviously the private sector) only supplies grid power on a cost recovery basis. The electricity generators and distributors, public and private, run as a business, not a charity.

People with plenty of panels rarely use their generators, even in cloudy weather. There is no evidence for the claim that millions of litres of diesel is burned, though some businesses with high-energy use (aircon and fridges) and rely only on diesel certainly use heaps but that is because they have never installed any solar panels. Why should the taxpayer have to prop them up? They don’t anywhere else.

Separating water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen takes a lot of energy regardless of whether it comes from the sun, a diesel generator, coal or gas. About half the energy is lost in the process whereas solar to batteries (as most residents and many business currently have) is 95 per cent efficient, meaning they are double the efficiency of storing the energy as H2.

And in whose interest is it to subsidise development on the Daintree Coast? This is not a suburb of Mossman or Port Douglas, it is a place of extraordinary environmental, scientific, scenic, cultural and economic value that should never have been subdivided. It is recognised as one of the world’s most precious ecosystems, the world’s most ancient forests.

So, even if it were cost effective and most people wanted it, it is a travesty to promote development in a place that badly needs investment in its conservation and presentation.

And, if you don’t care about the environment, it is one of Australia’s tourism icons, a foundation of our local economy and we know tourists want pristine environments, not suburbia

By all means investigate better energy but don’t offer a false gravy train no government will ever pay for.

See the attached a letter from some of the world’s most prominent scientists and institutions written 14 years ago:

- Mike Berwick, Diwan

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