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Category Archives: new and expanding industries

June 11, 2009 – 3:45PM

More than 17,000 jobs could be created in the geothermal energy industry by 2050, a new report says.

The geothermal industry, which involves extracting heat stored in the earth to generate power, is growing in Australia with almost 400 tenements for projects and around $1.5 billion in projects underway.

WWF and the Australian Geothermal Energy Association (AGEA) on Thursday released a report, Power to Change: Australia’s Geothermal Future.

Paul Toni from WWF says the report is the first in a series looking into the potential of geothermal energy.

“The energy stored in hot rocks near the earth’s surface in Australia is a thousand-fold what we use each and every year,” Mr Toni said.

“We must reshape our economy and our energy sector if we are serious about tackling climate change.

“Capable of running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, geothermal energy is one of the vital clean energy resources needed to make this transformation.”

He said the Cooper Basin, which overlaps the borders of Queensland, NSW and South Australia, holds enormous potential for geothermal electricity.

AGEA chief executive Susan Jeanes says Australia has the chance to be a world leader in geothermal technology.

“This industry provides opportunities for workers to move from industries like coal, oil and gas, into clean energy jobs as much of the technology and expertise is transferable,” Ms Jeanes said.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The National Party is voting against the creation of thousands of new jobs for regional Australia in its decision to vote down the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

“It reveals a complete lack of understanding about the investment, industries and jobs that will flow from putting this vital piece of legislation in place,” said ACTU President Sharan Burrow.

Regional Australia will be the major beneficiary of a raft of new public and private initiatives.

Two hundred renewable energy projects generating at least 26,000 jobs are already in the pipeline, according to the latest research by energy sector consultants McLennan Magasanik Associates.

This includes solar projects in Mildura, Broken Hill and remote Queensland, geo-thermal trials in South Australia and wind turbine installations across a number of states.

“The CPRS is a critical piece of machinery that will ensure business confidence, drive research and direct millions of dollars of new investment into these projects and jobs, as Australia makes the transition to a low carbon economy,” said Ms Burrow.

“The figures show a potential national investment worth $32 billion. The Nationals’ unsubstantiated claim that the CPRS will destroy jobs flies in the face of reality.

“In Queensland alone, the report released last week by the Minerals Council of Australia shows that jobs will grow in the resources sector by 120% over the next 20 years. Gas will be a big jobs base for Queensland.

“The CPRS will also provide the means to retain and grow jobs in traditional industries, such as steel and aluminum, that are providing products for clean technologies.”

Ms Burrow said the Nationals’ obstinate and ill-informed opposition to the CPRS not only holds up job creation and Australian investment in renewable energy but fails to take responsibility for international leadership for a strong agreement in our own interest at Copenhagen later this year.

“The devastating impact of climate change is illustrated by the increasingly erratic weather patterns affecting large parts of rural and regional Australia in recent times.

“If Australia is prevented by the Coalition parties by acting quickly and constructively to combat climate change, the cost of their inaction and delay will come down hard on Australia’s farming community, as the environment deteriorates further.

“Seventy-seven per cent of Australians say the Coalition should pass the CPRS. It is time for the Nationals to listen.”

May 26, 2009 – 7:49AM

Business leaders vowed to help world governments set a price on carbon, establishing a market that governments can use to cut greenhouse gases.

“I think we can craft some pretty clear direction,” said Tony Hayward, the chief executive officer of BP PLC.

That approach requires governments to join a new UN-administered treaty for regulating greenhouse gases that proponents hope to hammer out by December.

It would set limits on carbon dioxide and then issue permits to companies that divvy up how much of the overall pollution each of them can emit. Any unused portions can be traded to other companies.

Hayward said most executives he had spoken with agree the world “is going to establish a carbon price” – making carbon emissions a global commodity, with a universally accepted price, probably through so-called “cap-and-trade” by governments and the marketplace.

The other option is a direct carbon tax, favoured by some at the meeting.

The predictions came at a global business summit where corporate leaders are focusing on how to help politicians negotiate a new global climate treaty to succeed the Kyoto treaty that expires in 2012.

Hoping to create a global carbon market, the organisers of a world business summit on climate change said 2 million new jobs would be created in the US alone if it increased its reliance on cleaner sources of energy.

The Copenhagen Climate Council study said the US would gain that many jobs, if its electricity use grew by just half of 1 per cent a year and a quarter of its electricity came from wind energy and other renewable sources.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the CEOs of major international corporations that similar investments could produce a million new jobs in European Union countries.

“Change also brings big economic opportunities,” he said.

In 2007, EU leaders pledged that by 2020 the European Union would cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other major warming gases by at least 20 per cent from 1990 levels, and increase its reliance on renewable energy sources to one-fifth of all its energy used.

“Achieving a 20 per cent share for renewables, for example, could mean more than a million jobs in this industry by 2020,” Barroso said. Such a plan must be joined, he said, by “a satisfactory international climate agreement in which other developed and developing countries contribute their fair share to the limiting global emissions.”

Barroso said the EU intends to limit the cost of its package to about half of 1 per cent of its GDP.

“Some people, however, have questioned whether this is the right direction for Europe during the economic crisis,” he said, but the answer is that “the costs of climate change will be much higher if we don’t make adjustments now.”

He said the hoped for December agreement in Copenhagen on a UN-administered treaty will be “a major milestone on the path to a global carbon market which would increase business opportunities, particularly for European industry, and help to bring average carbon costs further down.”

Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett, the artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company, appealed to CEOs not to let politicians fail at Copenhagen in December because of questions about who will pay the costs.

She urged them to think like her 7-year-old son Dash, who wanted to know why a dragon in a J.R.R. Tolkien story would risk setting himself on fire by jealously sitting atop a hoard of coins.

“Copenhagen must stop our butts from burning,” said Blanchett, who starred in the film version of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Also Monday, at a climate meeting in Paris, German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel said the talks got off to a bad start.

“The industrialised nations don’t have a common position, and the developing countries are not ready for their own reduction commitments,” he told reporters. “If we don’t agree, India and China will not respond.”

He said the United States isn’t going far enough, fast enough, since Germany wants medium-term US commitments for emissions cuts by 2025-2030, instead of 2050.

Just how far governments are willing to go is the key question at talks in Paris this week among top environment officials from the United States, China and 15 other high-polluting nations.

But at least one thing can be agreed on.

“No one contests the urgency of the problem,” French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said. “No one contests the probably irreversible character of the problem.”

The environment chiefs from nations representing 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions also are discussing how to raise $100 billion ($A127.8 billion) a year to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

© 2009 AP

Josh Gordon and Michelle Grattan
May 23, 2009

The Rudd Government’s emissions trading scheme could trigger an investment surge worth more than $6 billion a year, according to secret economic modelling revealed as Parliament gears up to determine the fate of controversial climate change laws.

An internal report by the National Australia Bank obtained by The Sunday Age suggests the emissions trading debate has focused on short-term costs and ignored new investment opportunities.

“The average year-on-year investment created by the (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) could be up to 60 per cent greater than that committed for infrastructure in this year’s budget,” the report says.

It says there has been “little consideration of the investment stimulus” that would be created as the economy becomes less greenhouse intensive.

The report comes as a national poll conducted on behalf of the Climate Institute has found more than three out of four Australians believe the Liberal Party should support the Government’s emissions trading scheme legislation.

The sharply divided Coalition will go the party room within the next week to consider the legislation before the House of Representatives debates it next week. The legislation will go to the Senate next month.

The Coalition, which is considering a bipartisan position on targets for the world climate conference in Copenhagen in December, wants the legislation delayed until after that conference.

But an Auspoll survey of 1120 people has found 77 per cent believe the Liberals should back the legislation now. Only 23 per cent think they should oppose it.

The online poll taken from May 15 to 19 found women were more likely than men to say the Liberals should support it (83-71 per cent), and younger people more likely than those older (82 per cent of 18-29 year olds compared with 71 per cent of those 50 and over).

Greens sources said yesterday that while they were opposed to the legislation they were “not inclined” to vote for delay. So the Opposition would probably need the votes of Family First senator Steve Fielding and independent Nick Xenophon if it wanted to defer the legislation until after the December conference.

But Senator Xenophon told The Sunday Age yesterday: “My strong inclination is that we need to deal with this legislation, in terms of the architecture and design of the scheme, before Copenhagen.”

Certainly the NAB report will give the Government added traction to argue for the legislation to be passed. The modelling work traces the impact of the three possible emissions reduction targets announced by Government. It assumes that the price of emissions will rise from $20 a tonne of carbon dioxide to $100 a tonne as the Government cuts the number of permits. It also assumes that 30 per cent of Australia’s investment efforts to cut emissions will leak to foreign countries.

Under the least onerous scenario — a cut of 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020 — investment would soar by $5.8 billion a year by 2020 and by $10.8 billion by 2050, or an average of $6.2 billion a year.

A 25 per cent cut will become Government policy if there is a strong agreement at Copenhagen.

The Age

May boost industry
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CHINA’S second largest car manufacturer is keen to strike deals with its struggling Australian counterparts, a move that may breathe life into the Rudd Government’s $6 billion restructure of the industry.

The entreaty by Dongfeng Motor Corp, one of China’s big three state-owned car makers, follows its rival Cherry establishing a research centre in Australia, and Australian companies Futuris and Bosch subsidiary PBR using China to manufacture parts.

The brightest spot in China’s exploding automotive manufacturing sector is the green car, with the country leading the world in sales and development of electric vehicles, The Australian reports.

This is understood to be a key area of interest in Australia for Dongfeng, which dovetails nicely with the green big-car component of Canberra’s $6 billion bailout of the sector last year.

Senior Dongfeng executives plan to join a delegation from the company’s home city of Wuhan to Australia in July. The delegation, headed by the Wuhan Communist Party secretary, wants to develop new trade relationships between the 11-million strong city in central China and Australian businesses.

“Dongfeng are very keen to develop strategic partnerships with our auto industry for component supply,” Trade Minister Simon Crean said after a visit to Wuhan last week.

“What we have to encourage – because they are the big growth in autos – is our strength in the auto sector.”

In the past quarter China passed the US in the sales of regular cars for the first time. In April passenger sales rose 37.4 per cent from a year earlier to a record high, according to figures released last Friday.

“They (Dongfeng) are doing a whole lot of joint ventures,” Mr Crean said. “They want to develop their own brands. What we offer therefore is the competitive edge with design and innovation and component supply to help them to achieve that objective.”

Dongfeng already has joint-venture arrangements with Nissan, Renault and Kia. But the Chinese manufacturer’s desire to build its own brands and establish its own supply chains provides an opportunity for Australia, people close to last week’s talks say.

“The Australian auto sector basically since the Button car plan has understood the importance of innovation globally,” Mr Crean said. “Why couldn’t it be engaging with the global behemoth in autos?”

Still, a record number of China’s 61 listed car and parts makers are now posting losses.

As the small cars making up most of the volume in the market add little to manufacturers’ bottom lines, they are looking offshore for growth, while most large Western car makers conduct fire sales to ward off collapse.

Read more at The Australian.,27753,25466393-462,00.html?referrer=email&source=eDM_newspulse

Kate Hannon
May 10, 2009 – 6:59PM
Labor’s Left faction will push the Rudd government to develop renewable energy sources as a way of creating “green” jobs.

It will also press for further changes to industrial relations laws at the next Australian Labor Party (ALP) national conference, to be held in Sydney at the end of July.

It will be the first national party conference in more than two years, and the first since Labor returned to government federally in 2007.

The party’s National Left faction met in Canberra on Saturday and Sunday to discuss a range of policy areas, including the fallout of the global financial crisis.

A National Left convenor, NSW Senator Doug Cameron, said the meeting endorsed the government’s revamped climate change policy announced on Monday by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The government decided to delay by 12 months the start of its carbon pollution reduction scheme to July 1, 2011, and extended its reduction targets from five per cent to 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, depending on the outcome of the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.

But Senator Cameron said the Left believed more should be done to develop renewable energy and carbon capture and storage as a way to create green jobs.

“There’s employment available in a whole range of areas: tidal power, wind power, geothermal, solar and we believe there must be an even more focused approach,” Senator Cameron told AAP.

“We’re not arguing for closing the coal industry by any stretch of the imagination.”

The meeting also discussed a number of issues to do with the new Fair Work industrial relations system, most of which will begin operating on January 1, 2010.

As expected, the Left expressed its unhappiness with the continued existence until 2010 of the industry watchdog the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and the plan to transfer much of its powers to the new industrial body Fair Work Australia.

Senator Cameron said there was also concern about the new good faith bargaining rules, due to begin on July 1 along with new unfair dismissal rules.

“The range of changes introduced by the government are a good start but there may be other areas we will want to look at in terms of bargaining,” he said.

These included concerns that if an employer breaches an agreement the only means to deal with it is conciliation.

“There was quite a range of views that workers should be entitled, if there’s a clear breach of a contract, they should be able to take industrial action to force the employer to ensure the contract is fulfilled,” Senator Cameron said.

While Labor abolished Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and will bring enterprise level bargaining back as the mainstay of industrial relations, many unions felt the legislation did not go far enough.

© 2009 AAP

Origin buys up Wind PowerClancy Yeates
May 7, 2009 – 9:00AM
The carbon pollution reduction scheme may have hit a brick wall, but this is unlikely to stop a stampede of investment into wind farms.

Origin Energy is the latest company seeking to cash in on the government mandate to increase renewable energy by nearly tripling its potential wind development portfolio through the purchase of Melbourne’s Wind Power Ltd yesterday.

Origin said the deal which will take its wind development portfolio to 2000 megawatts was signed in preparation for the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target that will require 20% of all power to come from renewable sources by 2020.

The price of the acquisition was not deemed material, but the deal is significant because it could support a wave of investment into wind, as the race to build new farms heats up.

Origin’s deal comes after AGL Energy last month spent $341 million – on construction of the 132 megawatt Hallett – 4 wind farm in South Australia. Under similar construction costs, developing all of Origin’s wind portfolio could cost more than $5 billion.

Wind energy is tipped to be a big winner from the renewable energy target, which is expected to stimulate about $27 billion in investment in the next decade.

The managing director of Origin, Grant King, said the move was part of the company’s plans to meet its obligations and meet growing customer demand for green power.

However the deal – estimated to be worth in the tens of millions by analysts is also an attempt to address Origin’s relatively low emphasis on wind compared to AGL.

“It gives them options, because they’ve clearly got a major liability under the renewable energy target the government has come up with,” an analyst at RBS, Jason Mabee, said.

Wind Power’s prize asset is the 484 MW Stockyard Hill wind farm near Ballarat. Analysts said the site’s capacity factor of 40% was on par with AGL’s Hallett farms in South Australia.


Three-quarters of Australian workers believe their current skills will be out of date within five years, according to a recent survey.

The survey of almost 100,000 people in 34 countries, including more than 13,000 in Australia, shows that even in an economic recession, training and skills development are still important.

The Kelly Global Workforce Index finds that almost one-half of the respondents believe the training currently provided by their employers will not meet their future career needs.

Competitive advantage

Kelly Services managing director James Bowmer said that in an increasingly competitive global economy, investing in training for vital employees can become a key competitive advantage for firms.

‘Training may not seem a priority in the present economic climate, but organisations which devote the resources will be more likely to see higher productivity and profitability in the future,’ Bowmer said.

Changing labour market

The survey highlights the significance that employees across the generational age groups place on training and skills development to sustain them in a rapidly changing labour market.

Among the key findings of the survey:
Baby boomers (aged 48–65) are most worried about the level of training, with 59% saying it is not sufficient to upgrade skills and advance their career.
83% of Gen X (aged 30–47) say that within the next five years, their skills will need to be upgraded to keep pace with changes in the workplace.
73% of Gen Y (aged 18–29) see the provision of training as a joint responsibility between the employer and employee.

On-the-job training is the preferred form of training nominated by employees.

Human resource professionals come under scrutiny, with almost one-half of all respondents saying their HR department has not helped them to achieve their employment goals.

Across generations, women generally are more concerned than men about their skill set and have a higher expectation of their employers’ HR departments in managing their careers.

Among respondents, almost three-quarters (74%) say that training should be a joint responsibility between an employer and employee.

On-the-job training preferred

The preference among those surveyed is for on-the-job training (48%), followed by professional development courses (31%), self-initiated learning (11%) and formal university or college qualifications (10%).

Bowmer said the findings reveal the depth of concern across the population at the capacity of the current skills base to meet new workforce challenges.

‘The current economic environment has made people very aware of their skills and whether they will be sufficient to survive the recession and beyond, into a period of economic recovery,’ Bowmer said.

‘It is only very recently that we faced skills shortages across many industries, and unless skills and training are enhanced, that situation may occur in the future.’

‘Increased competition for jobs combined with technological change makes it vital that employees are assisted to become even more productive, through the best training possible.’

1/05/2009 4:33:00 PM

BHP has today revealed the environmental effects of its giant Olympic Dam project. Hendrik Gout wrote this article ahead of the media lock-up at which the 4000-page document was released.

Incomparable and unimaginable are not synonymous, but Olympic Dam is both. It will be the world’s biggest hole-in-the-ground, the largest copper and uranium quarry on the planet, the highest artificial mountain range on Earth and the richest mine since King Solomon.

All this just a few hours drive from Adelaide. South Australia is about to become the Colossus of Copper, the Midas of Gold. There’s just one niggling problem: the environment.

At three o’clock on Friday afternoon, BHP Billiton flicked a switch and the World Wide Web will instantly host the most massive environmental impact statement Australia has ever seen. Three-years in the making, more than 4000 pages long (110 pages to list just the guidelines), and according to Mines Minister Paul Holloway “the largest document ever prepared in this state”.

That EIS will lay out what BHP reckons are the environmental effects of expanding its Olympic Dam copper, uranium and gold mine near Roxby Downs, in the state’s far north.

By some estimates the resource is worth a trillion dollars and able to produce some 25,000 tonnes of uranium, half a million ounces of gold and one million tonnes of copper a year.

The company will ultimately dig a hole 7.5 kilometres long, five kilometres wide and more than a kilometre deep.

Stacked up, the 44 billion tonnes or so of overburden would effectively create a new mountain range. Depending on its shape, it might be 20 kilometres wide in each direction and almost as high as Mt Lofty’s 720 metres.

If so, the new artificial mountain might create its own micro-climate.

The EIS will have to address hundreds of other issues as well. Journalists will have little time to do more than scan the document when it becomes available at noon – they’ll have to read over 1000 pages an hour during the media lock-up – before their television deadlines tonight.

BHP has said it will not comment on the EIS after the weekend even though reporters can’t possibly read all the documents in the time available.

The report was initially going to be available for public comment for just 40 working days, which Mr Holloway said was more than enough time. Public pressure, led by Greens MP Mark Parnell and Liberal MLC Christine Schaefer, forced the Government to extend that to 14 weeks.

“Even with a 14 week public comment period, the community will still struggle to read and respond to the largest document ever printed in this state,” Mr Parnell said.

So what will the long-awaited report say? It looks at expanding the mine to 750,000 tonnes of copper product a year, three-quarters of its possible ultimate size.


Firstly, the EIS will have to address the mine’s water requirements. The existing Olympic Dam mine, a comparatively tiny underground operation, already uses 35 million litres of water a day. It drags this from the Great Artesian Basin: prehistoric underground water which fell as rain on the western side of the Great Dividing Range up to a million years ago. It has since percolated underground, flowing a mere one to three metres a year.

The company pays the state nothing to access this public resource under a special 1982 Act of Parliament which over-rides every other piece of legislation (including safeguards in mining Acts, development Acts and environment protection Acts) passed by Parliament before or even since.

The company is actually licensed to take up to 42 million litres of water a day from the Great Artesian Basin, but even this will not be enough to quench the new mine’s thirst.

Today’s EIS will canvass building a giant desalination plant on the coast of the fragile Upper Spencer Gulf. That plant will produce about 200 million litres a day, 80 of which might be bought by the State Government to supply towns around the Eyre Peninsula. The State Government has committed $125 million and the Commonwealth $120.

This means nearly a quarter of a million dollars of state and federal funds are going into the desalination plant, so both governments have serious EIS issues and responsibilities to address. It means federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett may have the power of veto over the desal plant.

The Gulf fishing industry and environmentalists will closely examine the document to see what it makes of the tens of thousands of litres of super-saline water the plant will release.

“This is the worst possible place to build an internationally-sized desalination plant,” Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner David Noonan said this week. “The Gulf is shallow, low-flushing. It’s the breeding ground of the giant cuttlefish which is extremely sensitive to changes in salinity. The plant should be built on the ocean, not the gulf.”

Adelaide University marine biologist associate professor Bronwyn Gilanders says the sea around Whyalla is actually the world’s largest cuttlefish breeding zone, and that the plant could wipe them out.

“Squids and Cuttlefish are generally short-lived. So they live a year; they breed only once. So if you damage the eggs or affect their reproductive ability then potentially that will have devastating consequences on the population.”

The Independent Weekly has reason to believe that BHP’s EIS will dismiss the threat, and that its research will claim increased salt levels will not affect local sea life.

“Point Lowly is the last place on the SA coast you would put a desal plant,” says Mr Noonan, “and there are alternatives. We could build a reverse osmosis plant at Elliston on Eyre Peninsula’s west coast. Elliston has the ocean flushing that Pt Lowly lacks and enormous potential for year-round wind energy. Taxpayers are paying 20 per cent of the desalination plant’s capital cost and we should also have a big say on where it goes. It’s not good enough to leave it up to BHP.”

BHP wants to build at Port Bonython near Whyalla purely because it’s cheaper than on the ocean coast. The Independent Weekly expects the EIS to say that it will pipe desalinated water about 350 kilometres to the mine. At a cost of about $1.2 million per kilometre, such a pipeline will cost the company more than $400 million and it may want to take the shortest possible route irrespective of environmental concerns along the way. The EIS will talk about the pipeline as well as the plant, and conclude that environmental problems or risks are negligible or manageable.


Desalination plants require vast amounts of energy. The Independent Weekly expects the still-secret EIS to say it will need about 75 megawatts to run the plant, and a further 25 megawatts to pump the water from Port Bonython to Olympic Dam.

The EIS is likely to recommend a gas-fired generator to power the desal plant, but the actual mine’s energy requirements are far larger than that. At full production, the mine will use one-third of South Australia’s current electricity requirements. This will affect SA’s energy future for the mine’s 100-year life.

Where will it get the power? BHP is almost certain to say it wants a gas-fired power station at Olympic Dam and buy an increased load off the grid.

Government greenhouse targets set out in the State Strategic Plan want carbon dioxide emissions capped to 108 per cent of the 1990 levels by the year 2012. Premier Mike Rann has also given a commitment to limit CO2 emissions to 60 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. But the mine’s expansion could increase SA’s total CO2 emissions by more than 10 per cent.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has now signed the Kyoto accord which sets similar goals, and that means Peter Garrett may have an influence on energy as well as water.

And then there’s the diesel. The expanded mine will a million litres of diesel a day, or two billion litres, just to reach the ore. The Federal Government is paying BHP a diesel fuel rebate of 18.5 cents a litre, a taxpayer subsidy to the world’s largest mining company.


Open-cut mining is essentially a simple operation: dig it up and offer it for sale. But rather than ship raw earth around the world, mining companies generally process the rock to some degree by concentrating ore on site. Despite early promises, BHP will not go a step further and build a smelter here. Smelting produces mineral in its almost-pure form as well as thousands of direct and indirect jobs.

BHP initially indicated the concentrate would be smelted here and not in China. The Premier believed such assurances. “What we’re negotiating with BHP Billiton for is to make sure that as many jobs are done here in SA, that the work is done here rather than processed offshore,” he said in 2007.

“We’ve been negotiating with BHP Billiton and, despite what I read in one newspaper recently, the negotiations have been proceeding amicably.”

But the newspaper was right. In October 2008 the company finally announced that it had abandoned smelter plans. BHP uranium and Olympic Dam development boss Graeme Hunt said the company had given “very careful consideration” to processing options, and had decided to sell its product as concentrate rather than as refined metal.

“On-site smelting has a high capital cost and increases project execution risk, particularly in the isolated area in which Olympic Dam is established,” he said despite the Premier’s fury over the job losses.

But while the Premier said the Government would strongly oppose the company doing most of the processing overseas in 2007, by 2008 Treasurer Kevin Foley knew he was licked. “We want as much value added as possible to take place at the mine site but that is to be negotiated. One has to be realistic and constructive in negotiations,” Mr Foley acknowledged.

That decision has enormous repercussions. The EIS might say that if it exports 1.6 million tonnes of copper concentrate, that will make 400,000 tonnes of pure copper in China – and a few thousand tonnes of recoverable uranium. A country like China can extract that uranium and use it for nuclear power, and while Mr Rann opposes such a power station here he’s a strong advocate for it elsewhere.

On a visit to China in 2008, the Premier said his confidence had been buoyed by its potential as a uranium market. “Every single meeting I went to was about uranium,” he said. “We have got 50 per cent of the world’s uranium in SA. We are in pole position.”

He may have suddenly been bumped to the back of the grid. The Independent Weekly understands that the Federal Government is planning much tougher safeguards relating to uranium sales to China, even if it’s gift-wrapped in copper concentrate. BHP does not yet have export permits for that uranium. In May next year nuclear non-proliferation nations, Australia included, will meet in New York. Australia may want a new international treaty to make sure Olympic Dam uranium does not end up in Chinese bombs.


Concentrated ore contains much higher percentages of gold, uranium and copper than what’s dug out of the ground. The stuff left behind after this process, called tailings, still contains vast quantities of radio-active material. The EIS will go to great length to say this isn’t a problem.

But problem it may be. Tailings have about 80 per cent of the radio-activity of the original ore. They contain radium and other decay products. Tailings are dust. They blow in the wind. There is wind in central Australia. An honest EIS might suggest that tailings have the potential, not to put to fine a point on it, to pollute.

A long way north of Olympic Dam is the Ranger uranium mine in NT’s Kakadu National Park. That mine will close in 2021. Federal Government environmental guidelines specify that the Ranger tailings be re-buried and rendered inactive for 10,000 years.

Peter Garret’s office, which will take longer than 14 weeks to assess this EIS, may demand the same level of safety at Olympic Dam.

If you walk around Olympic Dam now, you’ll see a mountain of tailings from the existing mine. It’s piled 30 metres high – the same height as a six-storey building – over four square kilometres. The new expanded mine could produce more dust than the average home vacuum cleaner has to handle – 70 million tonnes of tailings every year.


The EIS is a statement of environmental impact, but it will also address royalties – the money the company pays the state to mine the ore. According to calculations done by SA Unions, mining royalties in this state are less than half those in other mining states, with only 3.5 per cent here compared with 7.5 per cent in WA for bauxite and iron ore, and seven to 10 per cent in Queensland.

So what’s the next step? BHP will hold a series of Eyre Peninsula and local town meetings from late this month, explaining its proposal and why it says the environmental risks are miniscule. Meanwhile scientists, economists, environmentalists, fishing groups and pastoralists will speed-read the document and make a response. BHP is then obliged to consider those responses and deliver its own verdict on the submissions. That’s when the fun starts.

When the final EIS, the supplement, is complete and released it will be assessed by state and federal governments. The Independent Weekly believes that this process will not be complete before the next state election due in March 2010. That means SA will go to the polls not knowing the government’s response to “the biggest document ever produced in this state” or the biggest mining project this country has ever seen.

Nor will we know how governments are going to deal with environmental issues which touch on global questions such as Australia’s part in the nuclear cycle, national demands such as energy requirements, and local threats such as a briny Spencer Gulf.

So here’s a prediction. Tomorrow’s EIS will say the project can go ahead on environmental grounds. The company will start moving to begin expansion and hope for a global economic recovery to coincide with increased production. BHP will pass the break-even point on its multi-billion investment within the first two decades, and after that it’s money in the bank all the way down to the year 2100.

But first, there’ll be new legislation presented in State Parliament to legalise the process. It will be a new form of the 1982 Roxby Downs Indenture Ratification Act. It will, once again, over-ride every other Act of Parliament passed up to now and into the future. The first that South Australians see of that legislation will be after the state election.

And BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam will have an economic and environmental impact that is synonymous with mining on this scale: incomparable and unimaginable.

Broadcast: 03/05/2009

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ALAN KOHLER, PRESENTER: This week Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the premiers signed off on a new green energy agenda which will reshape the nation’s power consumption and increase the uptake of renewable technology and resources.

But as Kathy Swan reports the plan to stimulate investment in clean power and energy efficiency will come at a cost for all consumers and generators.

KATHY SWAN, REPORTER: If a carbon trading scheme can be seen as the stick approach to reducing carbon emissions – then the refashioned renewable energy target agreed to by federal, state and territory government’s this week is something of a carrot at least for investment in new technologies.

DAVID LEITCH, UBS UTILITIES ANALYST: It’s estimated that somewhere between $20 billion and $30 billion of new investment will be required and that’s going to produce a lot of jobs, a lot of skills.

PETER SZENTAL, SZENCORP MANAGING DIRECTOR: I’m glad to see that they’ve supported the renewable energy target but from the energy efficiency side it really doesn’t give us very much. \

KATHY SWAN: By 2020, the aim is to have 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity coming from renewable energy sources like wind and solar as well as tidal and geothermal or hot rock powered generators.

But it’ll be more expensive…

GRACE CHAN, JP MORGAN UTILITIES ANALYST: Electricity costs will go up as a result of the 20 per cent target – renewable energy as an electricity form is a lot more expensive than the conventional sources of energy that we’ve been using up until now.

DAVID LEITCH: Coal fired electricity at the generator before it leaves the station costs about $40 a megawatt hour – renewable electricity probably costs as much as $100 to $150 a megawatt hour from wind – more like $100.

KATHY SWAN: David Leitch, utilities analyst at UBS, says investment in renewables needs some encouragement.

DAVID LEITCH: That’s why the Government has introduced the REC penalty price and lifted it from $40 to $65 after tax to give producers an incentive to invest in renewable electricity.

GRACE CHAN: Utility companies have a renewable energy target or threshold that they need to meet and either they meet that through their own internal generations – so they have their own wind farms or their own other renewable sources of energy – or they have to go out into the market and buy those certificates to meet that requirement.

PAUL SIMSHAUSER, AGL CHIEF ECONOMIST: The renewable energy target it manifests itself in the creation of certificates which you can on-sell and obviously that’s a very good economic driver for investments in those particular technologies

KATHY SWAN: AGL’s Paul Simshauser says the passage of the renewable energy target scheme’s legislation passage through the House and Senate will be closely watched.

PAUL SIMSHAUSER: If the legislation is passed as is envisaged and with the extension from the current date out to 2030 that will certainly give investors in that space a lot more confidence – right now, that won’t hurt. Obviously there’s a lot of uncertainty in both the debt and equity capital markets – I think one of the few shining parts of industry has been the renewables area.
GRACE CHAN: There’s obviously quite a positive impact for AGL, they’ve got an existing portfolio of wind farms that’ll go towards meeting that renewable energy target – they will though have to continue building new wind farms or other forms of renewable energy in order to meet the 20 per cent target.

KATHY SWAN: Utilities analyst at JP Morgan, Grace Chan, says others have an even bigger challenge ahead.

GRACE CHAN: Origin have taken a slightly different strategy in their approach to renewable energy so they are probably actually going to have to do a lot more catch up work I would have thought in terms of trying to meet that 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020.

DAVID LEITCH: Origin has no investment in coal fired generation at the moment and AGL has an investment in one coal fired generator – TRUenergy has quite a significant investment in coal fired generation but most of the coal fired generation these days is owned either by international parties or by the New South Wales and Queensland government – on Origin and AGL’s part they will have an obligation to buy a lot of REC’s but they’ll also have a great opportunity to invest in them.

KATHY SWAN: The RET scheme is to be phased out after 2030 and is meant to be an adjunct to the much maligned carbon pollution reduction scheme – or CPRS – which has stalled in the Senate.

PETER SZENTAL: The carbon pollution reduction scheme has been very much weakened. The target is not nearly in line with the science and so we have to look at the next range which is complementary measures – renewable energy target on one hand and on the other hand an energy efficiency target.

KATHY SWAN: Twenty-six years ago Peter Sszental started Szencorp, a green retro-fit company that makes non-residential buildings energy efficient.

PETER SZENTAL: Typically you can halve the energy use in buildings and do it within a 20 per cent return on your money or five year payback. And 20 per cent is a lot more than I’m getting from the bank at the moment I’ve got to say.
KATHY SWAN: The other key plank of the Council of Australian Government’s energy agenda is cutting power use by increasing energy efficiency in homes and commercial buildings.

ANNA BLIGH, QUEENSLAND PREMIER (30 APRIL): To begin the process of implementing more energy efficient building codes so that we can start to see much more efficient use of energy.

PETER SZENTAL: There is no energy efficiency target and there’s no comprehensive suite of energy efficiency policies.

KEVIN RUDD, PRIME MINISTER (30 APRIL): This is really tough stuff – it’s really hard stuff, let’s not pretend that it’s not.

KATHY SWAN: The carbon pollution reduction scheme remains the Government’s biggest hurdle when it comes to its climate change policies.

KEVIN RUDD: Our job is to try and punch this through – it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be hard and we’ll continue to work with stakeholders on the way through – the alternative is to do nothing – for 12 years, for 12 years our predecessors did nothing.

GRANT KING, ORIGIN ENERGY MANAGING DIRECTOR (30 APRIL): The decision to go forward that scheme needs to be made soon.

KATHY SWAN: Amid the ongoing political debate over the government’s proposed emissions trading scheme, Origin managing director Grant King is urging senators to pass the bill and end uncertainty in the industry.

GRANT KING: That cost of uncertainty is real, it will emerge over the next few years in higher prices and in our view it’s getting to the point where those costs in fact potentially will exceed, if not certainly will exceed, the cost of the scheme itself.

KATHY SWAN: The fate and shape of the carbon pollution reduction scheme is back in the hands of senators in the upcoming budget session of parliament.