CFI – a XANADU

If you follow that Shangdu as the summer capital of Kublai Khan’s empire, then you would be forgiven for thinking the CFI is our XANADU and an enigmatic bright feature on the surface. Thereby, we have a problem because it is being profiled as exactly that and actively marketed by government as a series of experiments to showcase. Practitioners are asking: What about us in the ‘real’ world, can we believe something that looks good on the surface is enough? Some say yes, many no.

This conversation started because projects are to be funded that address recognised program gaps of the Carbon Farming Futures activities. This round: The Extension and Outreach Phase two submissions were due Wednesday June 12 5pm. Information is be found on Extension and Outreach daff.gov.au.

Some disquiet continues and numerous amounts of feedback do focus on the issue of the bankable when needing to finance, and other is the number of reference groups that were set up to work through the matters and the concern some of the critical consultation groups are difficult to contact or not able to be mobilized. A prime example being: The Biochar Reference Group. After some searching key people advocating the approach found part of the problem was people moving on to further their personal interests. The difficulty is that the group has funding to develop the soil carbon methodology necessary to be approved by the DOIC to produce ACCU’s (carbon credit units), and although soil carbon methodologies now has an active ‘reference group’ to attempt to push it along, the two subgroups (Mixed farming, and Rangelands) do not, or have not formally communicated what each are up to in their work levels. Compounding this the CFI is looking less of a ‘farming’ initiative in terms of reward systems, and as of the time of writing the government has not produced an example of a good news story on a true ‘farming’ credit. It is difficult to sell virtues without success stories and Gant chart the project support from the farming community without it.

A closer look at the cost of participating is also most interesting, and it is easy to see another genuine hurdle is related to the methodologies development. There is considerable variation in calculating the cost of participating, and some use this as an excuse that farmers are simply not ready to seek approval of their methods, some say it is simply too expensive to get approval. Some even say there is a genuine disinterest for government to get on with ‘innovation’ attempts.

In terms of cost we need to consider that published 8 April 2013 by Co2Land.org: ” It costs up to $1M to develop a methodology acceptable under CFI. Once accepted the transaction cost to create the ACCU’s is said to be about $70,000. Although it is not a definite cost, it can be less but a reasonable guide and it requires you to look carefully at the potential yield of each project and whether you can smear the transaction cost across the entire project to determine the minimum size for it to be a worthwhile program”.  Then Country Carbon ( www.CountryCarbon.com.au ) said the numbers posted by CO2land of transaction cost of $70k for ACCUs are ridiculous. They made no attempt to say what is a typical transaction cost other than a comment, and the spokesperson (identified as NC) said “I have no idea where they sourced those”. Curiously NC goes on to say: “The Clean Energy Regulator register shows only a few projects from farmers and only 1 I believe has done a transaction. 
I doubt very much that every methodology needs $1 million for development as well. Too many variables to generalize”.

Co2Land org agrees that too many variables are involved, and then notes two other people advocating for the CFI saying: “None of the methodologies applicable to general farming, that we have examined so far, appear to have net positive financial benefits. Some can lead to substantial unknown liabilities in the future or limit land use in overly prescriptive ways. 

If I am wrong in this please correct me, and show me where it does work and I will be happy to spread the good news”. 

And, “I am a farmer (even if less active than I would like) and all the ones I know are not only not ready to adopt but are only following the program with peripheral interest until such times that they are satisfied something of genuine benefit to their own operation has become apparent. Many I have talked to see it as another under handed greenie grab for the land, some of the prescriptions on approved methodologies certainly seem lifted from this camp. 

Methodology development using all our substantial ‘in house’ skills and resources we estimate to still cost in excess of $100,000 with no guarantee of success “(source identified as PK). Then source LK – not related, said “Many unresolved issues remain, however moving ahead is better than waiting for the ‘perfect’ answer in my view. Just wish for political consistency at this end – the fact that State Coalitions have stripped climate change policies bare is of most concern to me.”

In all this there does seem to be agreement that for farmers, environmental planting does not pay a sufficient return to justify the investment on carbon alone. NC also said “It is also considered that the RMT tool (modeling tool) is deliberately using carbon sequestration estimates well below average because no direct sampling is required for audit”. Possibly this is an oversight, maybe not? In this approach they have taken an ultra conservative approach and the indications are these carbon estimates are so low it is not economical to do it – participate in the initiative that is!  So it remains only one of those methodologies remain with few takers. Even the CSIRO was showing how low these estimates are for the RMT. Reported is the government has taken a decision to use the lowest rates possible for landholders carbon sequestration from tree planting. A good source of this view is https://twitter.com/CountryCarbon/status/332655918254792706/photo/1 

They go on to say: ”In simple language the govt will only recognize extremely low carbon sequestration rates regardless of what happens on the land. It is not even the mid-point average. So that farmers would earn very few carbon offsets. Therefore they say, why bother? 

Most of the extension and outreach to date talks about tree planting or piggeries. (Piggeries are a different question). Most projects approved are all about landfill projects and they are town councils.” They also say: “It actually has less to do with government cut backs or Coalition vs Labor politics and more to do with implementation”. More than one providing input say it may be just a simple matter as readjusting the RMT tool.

CO2Land org intends to continue this thread of knowledge and asks: Unless you be fortunate enough to have a government program that is more generous behind you. 
Should we lobby government harder to be more encouraging for innovation in CFI?

Notwithstanding, CO2Land org wish everyone the best with their endeavours in the initiative. Applauded is the intention is well founded, the legislations well intended, and the potential well received – but something is missing! Maybe it is a case of it is too difficult to include farming in CFI and the outreach context for farmers is that the potential liabilities that could be incurred by landholders using some already approved methodologies are not properly explained and/or are dismissed as of a trivial nature. The great harm in this possibility is that the program reputation will be tainted – irrespective of its intention of fairness. Even recent Government decisions on department restructuring (especially the Department of the long name – too long to repeat) and budget constraints required by departments and the continued efficiency dividends to Treasury are not helpful to the pledge. What is hoped for by farming advocates and practitioners is a more direct show of continuous steps to perfection for the farming community and eliminating any direction that might be seen as a series of steps to dismantle or derail such a worthwhile cause from its name sake – the Carbon Farming Initiative.

Sun, Wind and Fire – renewable positioning in a policy trilemma

Sun, wind and Fire is not a story of the Gods – except you could draw a conclusion there is a battle for policy supremacy as a renewable energy source. There is a very rapid growth in renewable energy deployment in recent times, driven by rapidly increasing costs of fossil fuel stocks, and the movement to a low carbon energy system and improvements in the renewable technologies and materials. Are there problems? Yes, the elephants in the room are obvious but largely ignored. Some examples: Solar requires rare earth materials for the products, as does voltage batteries storage systems, and wind needs magnets produced in such a way that land contamination is a major drawback. Ironically, fire can be a battery of capacity and availability and utilise only common earth materials and most importantly make use of waste – and there is more – even revert waste to original elements and products.  Of course the bigger elephant for Solar and Wind is when it comes time for decommissioning. Why is this so, the analogy could be asbestos and who is paying for the removal programs – you.   Few if any governments want that issue known as it would require a future funds program as an assurance when only the positives of the now conditions are ‘sold’ as policy.

If you did not know, renewable energy technologies differ greatly from one another, and a range of issues has arisen that are common to most. This could be taken back to the problem that these tend to be dealt with on a renewable energy industry level forum basis rather than accepting that the problems are technology by technology issues in their battles for policy gods acceptance. Rarely, do you see the fora of the renewable industry admitting to issues to include large deployment growth rates, intermittency with respect to electricity production requirements, distributed rather than centralised deployment and scheduling of loads, the relatively immature supply chains & support networks, the quality issues of the production points, the land use changes for the provision and production of the materials needed, and the need to update regulatory frameworks & institutional inertia outside of our current frameworks.

On that later point, A report prepared for the Consumer Action Law Centre by Allan Asher, Foundation for Effective Markets & Governance November 2012 on http://femag.anu.edu..org.au/ , reads as: “The title of the report—”A policy trilemma: creating an affordable, secure and sustainable energy market”. “Identifies the central challenge facing the energy market—the need for it to deliver affordable, secure and sustainable energy services. The report draws on international developments, particularly from Europe and the United Kingdom, where there has been acknowledgment that, in energy markets, the goals of efficiency and competition have not necessarily ‘trickled down’ to satisfy the needs of consumers in these three key areas. Throughout, the report makes a number of recommendations to inform a policy and regulatory framework that has a more rigorous focus on the interests of consumers. Following publication of this report, Consumer Action will engage politicians, policy makers, regulators, and representatives of industry and consumers on reform measures that will best serve the long-term interests of consumers”.

Co2Land org notes that the messages of the ‘trilemma’ is the view of innovation needs to be incorporated into the ‘system’ where technical and commercial innovation encouragement through: Incentives, responsibility passed on to third parties for their delivery, and building on low carbon funding models. The point is also made that a capacity mechanism or system be incorporated for incentives through both generation and demand management as one of the key elements of the energy market reform (EMR) package.

Fire, has extraordinary abilities to be all that is needed, and as it only requires either common materials or waste to be reformed and it has the capacity to act as a bridging technology it is increasingly likely policy will need to take stock of the realities of the ‘sustainable’ attributes. In terms of the energy market fire products can be assembled as a “package” that compliments a range of utilities and could be deemed part of strategic infrastructure. With advances in ‘smart grid’ systems this is more likely as before the requirement of a high level of automation and remote management on the system was a detractor. Now it is a positive.

This idea is particularly attractive for biomass plants, as the advances and the idea would be to differentiate biomass plants from normal generators and that they can be regarded as “load following batteries” as integral parts of the grid infrastructure, rather than a separate input to it.

Why not call your local member of parliament or future hopeful to discuss innovative restructuring. Think of the idea of how a fixed return on biomass power plants is a true renewable and how other network upgrades can be addressed to accentuate ‘sustainable’, and the capacity requirements of balancing the system infrastructure.

CFI – untangling the confusion.

While discussing how you go about untangling the confusion around land carbon science and climate change mitigation policy. The CFI group noticed that the Nature Publishing Group has published that wide held beliefs are “scientifically flawed”. It then became necessary to wonder about agenda and again you had to ask was it to further confuse and did it serve any real purpose in publishing the article other than it being a academic assessment – it appears another clue is the time difference from the receipt of the article to publishing was around 7 months.

To quote the abstract of this subscription service found under:

http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v3/n6/full/nclimate1804.html

Depletion of ecosystem carbon stocks is a significant source of atmospheric CO2 and reducing land-based emissions and maintaining land carbon stocks contributes to climate change mitigation. We summarize current understanding about human perturbation of the global carbon cycle, examine three scientific issues and consider implications for the interpretation of international climate change policy decisions, concluding that considering carbon storage on land as a means to ‘offset’ CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels (an idea with wide currency) is scientifically flawed. The capacity of terrestrial ecosystems to store carbon is finite and the current sequestration potential primarily reflects depletion due to past land use. Avoiding emissions from land carbon stocks and refilling depleted stocks reduces atmospheric CO2 concentration, but the maximum amount of this reduction is equivalent to only a small fraction of potential fossil fuel emissions.

CO2Land org prefers an apolitical stance on what matters. However, it could not be helped that the views above may undermine our Australian values for the Carbon Farming Initiative. It may also be pertinent to put to the public that there is an immediate need to offset carbon from fossil fuels, that no measure in its self should be judged into eternity.  What this need does show is the measures should only be judged on its effects on the term a methodology may be useful. That is, does it matter, in terms of carbon offset, that it makes a difference for 10, 25 or up to 100 years. or eternity. That if you want to make a difference, and monetary gains are more a matter for survival levels as opposed to money venture gains it matters only that there is bi partisan political support for the concepts and actions.

The reference to “scientifically flawed” in the quoted article maybe a headline grabber but as the difference possible through land carbon policy is quantifiable. It is a genuine action and debate will only result in no action – and that is the tragic consequence.  We know science supports that view of the potential tragic consequence.