Whisky Trip: Day #1

It’s a grey day as we pull out of Leeds Station heading for Aberdeen. It had started with an early alarm clock and taxi to the station where I clearly chose the wrong coffee vendor; it was large, very hot and tasteless. I like traveling by rail; it seems so much more civilised than flying, especially when there are interesting places along the way. The Virgin train was quite new, clean, comfortable and almost empty when I boarded. I logged onto the wifi and spent some time checking emails, we arrived in York in no time at all, and the train started to fill up, as it did at each stop along the way. We headed due north through the farmlands of north Yorkshire, passing through Thirsk and Darlington. From the train one gets a great view of the City of Durham, with its cathedral and castle. I wished I could have alighted there to take more time to get to know the place, but I had an appointment in Aberdeen I could not miss.

The towns and cities along the east coast are steeped in in history and rugged beauty. A fleeting glimpse of Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North sculpture near Gateshead heralded our arrival into Newcastle. As we crossed the Tyne I had a great view of its famous bridges, and the iconic Sage Cultural Centre. The Tyne Bridge opened in 1928 and bears a great resemblance to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, whilst the more recent Millennium Bridge became famous for revolutionising swing bridge design. Onward and upward we hugged the Northumbrian coast to Berwick on Tweed and the boarder, then into Dunbar. In no time arrived in Edinburgh Waverly. The stewards and the accents changed from Yorkshire and Geordie to Scottish. After crossing the Firth of Fourth iconic rail bridge we headed back towards the east coast. As we arrive in Dundee we cross the river Tay on another steel bridge from the industrial revolution. We are now in oil-rig territory all the way to Aberdeen. Each town is doing its best to attract oil and gas dollars.

The Caledonian Hotel was a short walk from the train station, so I went in and left my luggage and headed out onto Union Street to familiarise myself with the City. The buildings are granite, hence Aberdeen’s nickname as the grey city, the weather also plays its part in that name. I wandered into the Tolbooth Museum which is a small multilevel space housed in the city’s first prison. Exhibits showed the brutal conditions people were kept in. Generally incarceration was not used as a punishment that was usually commensurate with the crime. Removal of the tongue for slander, a hand for theft etc. The exceptions to this were political prisoners, especially the Jacobite revolutionaries who were crammed in large numbers into small cells, and Quackers. One woman imprisoned for several years for simply lobbying to have her husband released. The other types of prisoners were members of the ruling classes who got into debt. They could go about their business by day but had to reside in the prison at night.

The very grand University has a statue of Robert the Bruce at the front, and many old buildings still remain.  As I passed a wedding party were entering the courtyard for photographs.

The formal commencement of the Whisky Trip was to meet in the Grill Bar on Union Street that evening. It may seem a contradiction, but the Grill Bar serves no food, so we dined at an Indian restaurant first and then commenced the Tour with a dram of Speyburn 10 YO at the Grill.  This is a lighter style Speyside malt, with evidence of being finished in sherry casks.  A taste of bigger things to come.

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Melbourne Councils Initiate Climate Action

Local Government is again leading the way in Climate Action.

Three Councils in metropolitan Melbourne have declared a Climate Emergency; Darebin, Moreland and Yarra City Councils. Darebin and Moreland have also come out against the Adani coal mine in the Galilee Basin and divested from Westpac as the only major Australian bank still considering funding the coal mine project.

In declaring a Climate Emergency these Councils have put Climate Change at the centre of each and every decision they make, and will choose the option that reduces their carbon emissions over any alternative. They fully understand the power of leadership in framing the national debate. For me that worked because yesterday I folded one Westpac account and set in train the closure of another.

Darebin is no stranger to the climate action. I first became aware of Darebin when they introduced a solar power scheme whereby the Council bulk bought rooftop solar and entered into an expression of interest with the community for its installation. They chose people who were unable to afford the up front cost themselves. The loan for the system was then amortised into a differential rate for the property, so it was the home that had the loan, not the owner. That way if someone moved on the differential rate stayed with the property. After 10 years the net cost to Council was zero, low-income households had significantly reduced power bills the city as a whole had a reduced carbon emission. Win-win-win.

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Manning’s Folly

The new Quest Apartments on the corner of Pakenham and Short Streets have been subject to more than their fair share of criticism from some quarters, primarily on the height of the finished building.  The facts are that the original application proposed significant demolition of much of the original 1929 warehouse, leaving little but the facade; done primarily to keep within the Planning Scheme as-of-right height limits.  After discussions with the City’s heritage department the applicant returned with a proposal that maintained the important heritage structure through adaptive reuse.  This was a far superior heritage outcome, and resulted in a higher building.  We cannot sacrifice good heritage outcomes on the alter of height.

The interesting artwork on the building was funded from the %-for-Art scheme; and is a direct reference to Manning Folly which preceded the Lysaght Warehouse on the site.  Manning was a keen astronomer and had a rooftop observatory.  Check out glass supplier Cooling Brothers blog for an interesting piece on the history with pics.

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Fremantle marked the end of Youth Week with a big event at EYP and the Ferris Wheel.  Attended by Minister for youth, Hon. Peter Tinley, Director General of Local Government and Communities Jennifer Matthews, Mayor Pettitt and Fremantle Councillors Fitzhardinge, Pemberton and myself.

The organisers had included a ferris wheel ride, with one political person sharing a gondola with some youth who had questions to ask.  It was a great way to have a one-on-one, or in this case one-on three conversation.

The results were recorded in either a pop-up lounge, or inside an old Valiant.

There was of course music, skate comps a silent disco and games.  The EYP was humming, great work Pascal, the Fremantle YAC and the team you created a great vibe.

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Health Check for Fremantle Hospital

Tuesday evening saw an almost capacity crowd in council’s reception room to listen to, and question Paul Forden, Exec Director of Fiona Stanley & Fremantle Hospitals. Paul has not been in the role long, recently arriving from the UK. His focus is unapologetically on offering the community the best quality medical care delivered with professionalism and understanding. Fiona Stanley is a center of excellence in emergency care and Fremantle will focus on aged care and adult mental health. Elective services, Plastics, ENT and Gynecology will come shortly. Fremantle will also act as an overflow hospital for Fiona Stanley and Rockingham.

Many of the questions understandably related to the loss of an emergency department at Fremantle Hospital. Paul made it clear that there was no capacity to provide top class emergency care at the two hospitals and Fiona Stanley is the place for that service. Whilst it is understandable that it is best to have one destination for ambulance admissions, the community made a strong case for a facility to treat ‘walking wounded’. That is people who do not require an ambulance, but still require some form of emergency care. Local member Simone McGurk, advised the new state government is considering a series of urgent care clinics, and that Fremantle Hospital is considered a prime location if that can be arranged.

Other questions related to the Knowle. This is one of the state’s most significant heritage buildings, yet gets little attention being hidden in the Fremantle hospital complex. The State Heritage list says:

The Knowle was an important building when first erected both for the Convict Establishment and for Fremantle. It established in stone the hierarchy of the prison bureaucracy, placing the Comptroller General firmly at the head of the others in the system. The houses along The Terrace and the modest warder’s cottages confirmed the complete hierarchy. The Knowle also exhibited, in conjunction with the other prison buildings, the power of the British Empire (excerpt from State assessment documentation 2000).

Built in 1851 for Fremantle prison Comptroller Henderson the Knowle is intrinsically linked to the convict establishment, including the World Heritage listed Fremantle Prison. It gained further heritage value as Fremantle’s first hospital. You should be able to understand the shudder that went through me to hear Paul’s colleague Joel Gurr admit the Knowle had been a bit neglected, but he was sure they could give the outside a ‘lick of paint.’ Whilst I acknowledge their expertise on patient care their understanding of heritage restoration is sadly lacking.

Perhaps the Knowle is a worthy recipient for some of the State’s rolling heritage funding from the sale of the Warders Cottages?

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Power Plays


Recently the energy debate in Australia has embraced two concepts that, up until now were pushed onto the fringes by politicians and media alike.  In one week our PM is talking about battery storage and pumped hydro, with media dutifully reporting on them.  This is a refreshing change from the previously polarised positions of pro-coal and anti-coal.  It goes some way to explain the wicked problem power supply has become in Eastern Australia and maybe some way to examining solutions.
To some degree this debate started last September when large parts of South Australia were blacked out.  The primary cause related to a number of transmission lines being brought down by severe storms.  Further debate is fueled by concerns over the announced closure of Hazelwood Power Station next week.  Experts in the field are predicting power shortages and consequent price rises, because the price of electricity is intrinsically linked to the supply and demand ratio.  Hazelwood is majority owned by French company Engie, and they decide, if and when it will close, a decision made primarily on economic grounds.  While I for one will not be shedding a tear for the closure of Australia’s major greenhouse gas emitting power plant, I do however have concerns about a French boardroom having such power of veto when it comes to Australia’s energy security and the lives of virtually everyone in the Latrobe Valley.  Thirdly, the availability and price of gas has become an issue, this is mired in claims and counter claims.  When burnt in a modern, efficient plant to generate steam to drive turbines to generate electricity, gas emits about half the CO2 that coal would in an equal new plant, hence gas producers claim that gas is a good transition fuel to reduce CO2 emissions.  However the potentially very high fugitive emissions and environmental impacts of gas extraction can render gas as no better than coal.  The greenhouse gas emissions are fueled by losses to the atmosphere during extraction and huge energy demands in processing and chilling the gas to minus 160 degrees to liquefy it for transport.  By 2020 Western Australia’s CO2 emissions are set to double as a result of Wheatstone and Gorgon gas production and export.  Furthermore the export of virtually all of Queensland’s gas production has led to cries of panic to support unconventional gas such as fracking.  In Western Australia we have an agreement for some of the gas from the North West Shelf to be available for domestic use.  In 2016 Chevron and Alinta signed a deal to guarantee 20 petajoules (1015 Joules) per year from 2020.  The plant is anticipated to supply 73 petajoules annually.  As such the argument for fracking in WA simply falls down.  What I’ve tried to demonstrate is the complexity of the issues and the very large corporate interests with subsequently large budgets to secure the best deal for their businesses.
Having demonstrated the interlinking issues driven by vested interests, I will return to the emerging debate on batteries and pumped hydro.  Each of these technologies can play a vital role in Australia’s energy future, particularly in regards to issues of peak demand and grid smoothing.
At the domestic level batteries can smooth demand, especially when combined with renewable energy generation.  Simply they utilise power when there is surplus and deliver power when there is a shortage, resulting in a household significantly reducing their influence on the grid, and power bills.  The monitoring regime at Josh’s House gives good data on this.  The WGV development took this information and up-scaled for a whole housing development also being monitored for performance.  CUSP, LandCorp and the City of Fremantle are now working on a larger area grid system named Greater WGV.  It is hoped this will allow homeowners and businesses in a brownfield development to enjoy the benefits of larger scale battery storage, further smoothing their impact on the grid.  At this level it can be seen as cloud storage for renewable energy.  Single homeowners can store their excess energy and call on it when their demand is higher.  This would also allow apartment dwellers for instance, who don’t have options for renewable energy generation, to connect to that cloud for access to renewable energy generated in their precinct.  What I have just described is a long overdue move towards a smart-grid.  The battery proposals from Tesla and Western Australia’s Carnegie/EMC go a whole step further by installing very large-scale battery system(s).  At the moment it is not clear how these would be integrated into the grid.  In Western Australia rooftop PV generates more power than any single fossil fuel power station.  It is reasonable to expect home battery systems to replicate that share in the short to medium term, with larger battery supply being located in transformer yards to smooth peak demand and stabilise the system.
Australian’s have not heard much about pumped hydro, but internationally it is proved technology.  Places like Scotland with large numbers of hydro schemes make very good use of it.  The Snowy Mountains Scheme is a large hydro plant, where basically water is trapped at a dam and run through turbines into a holding lake where it is distributed to the river system.  The proposal would be to pump water from the lower lake back into the dam storage so that same water can be used over and over again to generate electricity.  The water is pumped when the grid has excess power and discharged through the turbines when the grid is short of power.  In the south west of Western Australia there are many dams of varying sizes originally built for water storage.  Unfortunately the drying climate has rendered them incapable of fulfilling their original role, through simple lack of capacity and salination.  However, water is discharged from them to maintain river flows, and a simple turbine at the outfall could be used to generate power, if that outflow was regulated they could help in times of high power demand.
As I pointed out earlier there are a lot of vested interests in the power market and one of those relates to spot pricing.  As demand reaches grid capacity the spot pricing escalates to the point that generators make the lions share of their profits on the few days the power systems are at breaking point.  Smoothing the supply-demand profile with battery, pumped hydro or other technologies will be strongly resisted by those who profit from high spot pricing.
The last point I would like to make is that of demand management.  We seem to be focused on supply management, especially when demand gets close to supply capacity.  Another way of smoothing power systems is through demand management.  There are many appliances that simply could utilise power at times of excess supply and switch off in times of high demand.  I use SmartPower at home, whereby Synergy charge me about double to use power during high demand, which is offset by half price power at night.  By simple demand management I can take advantage of this and save money.  If a home has a pool or bore the savings become even more compelling.  Likewise businesses with high power demands can tailor their usage to take advantage of varying tariffs.  Again, a Smart Grid can send signals to appliances to achieve grid smoothing.  Of course, electric cars add a while new dimension to battery storage, grid smoothing and power management.
It’s great to hear our leaders talking about batteries and pumped hydro, but first and foremost they need to reduce the influence of vested interests in shaping Government policy.

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AA Debt

The State Election looms this weekend, and I expect everyone is sick of being told who to vote for, so I won’t.  However, I’d like to focus on a crucial State issue that’s had little media – Our State debt.

There are several ways to quantify government debt, the industry uses, and considers NFPS as the best indicator.1   By end of year our State’s debt is predicted to be $36.6 billion, increasing to over $40 billion in Forward Estimates – driven by repeated Annual Deficit Budgets. WA’s downgrading from AAA to AA in 2013 compounded the State debt problem through higher interest rate payments.

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