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pollution and energy poverty in the daintree

Rob Lapaer, author of this website, fed up with discrimination and living in energy poverty

My story of energy poverty

I have lived in Cape Tribulation since 1993, have run the Rainforest Hideaway B&B since 2000, and after 19 years I am well and truly fed up with:

1. paying for fuel, generators, batteries, equipment and repairs, I have had to leave my home to find work elsewhere in April 2012 to pay for all the equipment replacements
2. the inconvenience and stress that managing and repairing a standalone power system causes
3. being frequently without power when something malfunctions again
4 . the hypocrisy of government that pretends to be committed to a greener world, but cuts subsidies for renewable energy, and forces us to pollute the environment by burning generator fuel and discarding old batteries

To critics of this website and its cause I can say yes, I chose to live here in the knowledge that there was no grid electricity available then, but at the time it was not much of an issue as petrol was only about fifty cents a litre, I did not have a business to run, and it was widely believed at the time that infrastructure would follow once population numbers increased, in the same manner as everywhere else in Australia infrastructure gets adjusted and upgraded according to population growth.
Port Douglas, Cairns, Melboure and Sydney also had no electricity, water, phone or internet when people first started living there, but as the population grew the need for services was realized and installed.

Last year in 2011 I calculated my electricity costs.
I am very careful with my energy use and over the seven years the kwh meter had been there it had clocked up only 4500 kwh, at normal grid electricity price of 20 cents/kwh this amount of electricity would have only cost me $900.- over these seven years, if I lived in the city, or on Forest Creek road north of the Daintree river.
But I live in Cape Tribulation and when I add up fuel for the generator, repairs and maintenance on generator and other equipment, and the replacement and depreciation of various equipment, mainly generators and batteries, the annual electricity bill adds up to about $3500 a year, which is roughly $25000.- over the seven years when this would have cost $900.- in the city!!!!!!
That is about five dollars per kwh!!!
That is well over $3000.- per year that city people could spend on a nice holiday or car or life necessities that is now spent on a basic little bit of electricity.

Since my arrival in 1993 I have spent at least $55000 on my little bit of electricity;

Six generators

$ 10000

Installation of solar equipment after subsidies

$ 9000

Battery charger blown up

$ 1200

Buying the third battery bank April 2012

$ 4000

Fuel from 1993 to 2012 estimate over 19 years

$ 28000

Repairs, travel expenses to Cairns for drop off and pick up

$ 3000

Grand total

$ 55200

That is nearly $3000 per year, compare this to the $130.- I would be paying on a grid in the city for the kwh actually used.... Over the 19 years it adds up to a difference in costs of about $ 53400.-

And this is for a small place where I am willing to live very basic, without electric toaster, microwave, ceiling fans, aircon, hairdryer, clothesdryer, and all the other electric gadgets that people in the city take for granted.
And my B&B guests are surprised not to find a small bar fridge, TV or ceiling fan in their room which is standard anywhere else, even in Asia, how would I run them?
The above electricity calculations do not include hot water or cooking, they run on gas (not electric like most people in the city do) on which I spend an additional thousand dollars a year. So I could probably add at least another $13000 to my $55200 energy bill above....

I am writing this story from Townsville, the financial burden of having to buy new batteries and a new generator have forced me to leave home where the economy has dropped with the downturn in tourism, and I had to find work elsewhere to save up the thousands of dollars required to keep some lights and a fridge on in the house.

pollution from discarding old generators
May 2012, another two dead generators to be dumped, bad for the environment, and the purchase of a new generator not good for the household budget.


Is it any wonder that I am feeling incredibly frustrated with this situation where I am being screwed and driven close to bankruptcy by the government?
This is why I am frustrated:

1. One of the main instigators of the ban on grid power was Mike Berwick, at the time the mayor of the shire. While he was comfortably living on mains electricity from a cable across the Daintree river, he did everything in his power to stop the same basic service from reaching other people in the Daintree. It would have been an ethical thing to do if he would have disconnected his power cable to set a good example.

2. Nowadays subsidies for solar power equipment are only available for people on the grid, who do not actually need it, with no subsidy whatsoever available for Daintree residents who are not on the grid. How unfair, illogical and stupid is that?

If it is so important that we have to live without grid power to save the rainforest for the rest of the country to enjoy then how about give us some financial support for this, by subsidizing our expensive equipment and fuel?

3. Everywhere around Australia where a small community of Aboriginal or Torrest Strait Islanders live in the most remote areas the Australian government will always place a large generator and run cables to their houses, I am sure that if Cape Tribulation was populated by indigenous people that electricity would have been installed a long time ago. Look at this map of subsidized power stations in remote indigenous communities throughout Queensland.

4. When floods and cyclones hit Queensland in 2011 Treasurer Wayne Swan announced that anyone who lost power for 48 hours as a result of Cyclone Yasi would be eligible for federal emergency assistance payments of $1000.- per adult and $400.- per child!
For years the Daintree residents have suffered the inconvenience of living without mains power without anyone being able to calculate exactly how inconvenient this was, but after the big floods the federal government finally managed to calculate a dollar value for this.
Our government has acknowledged that it is NOT acceptable for Australians in the 21st century to go without mains power, and if it happens then they are entitled to financial compensation.

So this is what I wrote to Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister of Australia;

Dear PM, I have been reading with much frustration all the news that people whose only hardship was to not have mains electricity for 48 hours during recent disasters are now eligible for payments of $1000.- per person.
Are you aware that there are many people that live in the Daintree who have been suffering for years without mains power and have to run expensive polluting generators daily for their needs?
I see that Wayne Swan has now calculated a dollar value for the inconvenience of suffering lack of mains power.

So, if a period of 48 hours without mains electricity is that traumatic that it is worth a $1000.- in compensation, then I would also like to submit my claim.
I have lived in Cape Tribulation without electricity for 17.5 years x 365 days = 6387 days.
Divide this by 2 and you end up with 3194 periods of 48 hours that I have suffered without electricity and that are worth a $1000.- according to Wayne Swan, and he is the Treasurer of Australia, the top financial expert in the country, so this could not possible be wrong!
This would make me eligible for 3194 x $1000.- = $3,194,000.-

The above was posted on 14 February, on 8 May (nearly 3 months later) I received a politically correct, though totally unhelpful and meaningless letter of reply from a staffer that I should contact the Queensland Government.

I did apply for the $1000.- Yasi payment but this was rejected!
I appealed and again it was rejected!
Would you believe it, everyone on the dole whose only inconvenience was their beer getting a bit warm in the fridge was given a $1000 to blow at the pub or on a flat screen TV, while a one-man-business owner who lost bookings and income through the cyclone and has not had electricity supplied for 18 years gets nothing!
There is something seriously wrong with this country if that is government policy.....

5. Julia Gillard and Bob Brown have created the carbon tax, which they think will cut pollution and save the world.
Sure enough, if the whole world would pollute less then this would be a great thing, but if only Australia is going to pay taxes on pollution while the rest of the world carries on as usual then our country will be less competitive in a world market while the effect on the planet's health will not be possible measuring.

So I emailed a question to Julia Gillard;

Prime Minister, judging by the fact that you will introduce a carbon tax you seem to be very concerned about pollution.
So then please explain why residents of the Daintree are being denied grid power by legislation. Why are these laws not repealed and money spent on electricity infrastructure like in the rest of Australia?
Every business and household now runs their own polluting generator as solar power in a rainforest is impractical, any electricity grid would reduce pollution massively.

I never received a reply from her so it looks like she does not really care that much, and now the price of generator fuel will rise again thanks to her carbon tax. Will this tax reduce pollution? NO, we will still have to run our generators the same number of hours as before, we'll just pay more tax again.

6. Besides the financial burden the current situation also causes massive amounts of stress.
- I don't know how many hours and days I have spent over the years fixing electricity problems when equipment malfunctioned, calling electricians and mechanics in (not easy or cheap in a remote area), or driving to Cairns to drop equipment off for repairs and then another drive to pick it up again.
- worrying during absence if the caretakers are looking after batteries and generator or doing costly damage to them, which they often have.
- food going off in the fridge when power is lost again.
- unhappy B&B guests when the power drops out or they don't have the facilities that they expect, even in Asia which is considered poor and primitive you get a fan and fridge in your room and free Wifi.
- worrying about where to find the thousands of dollars for the repairs and maintenance during frequent malfunctions.
- the lack of electricity supply also means that banks are reluctant to lend for properties in the Daintree, making it hard for people to move in to this area, and this also keeps prices down, making it near impossible for people wishing to leave the Daintree for reasons of old age or work to buy a comparable property elsewhere in Australia.

People in the city just don't know how good they have it when all they have to do is pay a bill every three months and everything is taken care of for them.

Tax free status and starvation campaign

I think there is merit in income tax exemption for Daintree residents.

- United Nations have identified the issue of "energy poverty" which means the lack of access to reliable electricity impacts on people with reduced quality of life through social problems, economic hardships caused by the high costs of trying to organize other energy sources and THE LIMITATION ON ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES THAT CAN BE CARRIED ON.

- Also the local council has for years had another impediment to economic prosperity in place, they refused to build a bridge across the Daintree river and wanted to keep the ferry with a high usage cost to discourage too much traffic heading north.

So with two government initiated economic impediments, absence of electricity, and a bottle neck to stop traffic, how are people expected to make a living? It is such a struggle to make ends meet, let alone turn a profit, that it is simply not fair having to pay tax over that if you do succeed. If the government is not willing to provide any services to help business as they do everywhere else then why should they be entitled to a share of the profits if and when they are made against all odds?

Why don't you move?

The anti-grid-electricity people, of whom interestingly enough 99% live outside the area comfortably on mains power themselves, read the above and shortsightedly say; if you don't like it why don't you move?
The answer is HOW? Thanks to the combination of grid power denial and the Douglas Shire Council's controversial townplan that took development rights off private properties without much adequate compensation the Daintree has become the Bermuda Triangle of property investment with falling and stagnating property values while the rest of the country went through a boom, making it impossible to sell up and buy a comparable property elsewhere.
Banks are very reluctant to lend money for properties without essential services connected, making it difficult for anyone wanting to buy in here to get their finances organized.
So residents are trapped, they go broke paying for their limited electricity, but can't sell their place and move elsewhere, renting out is not a good option as many tenants will damage the fragile stand-alone power systems, and the tourists that drive up ask why everything is for sale with the multitudes of real estate agents for sale signs visually polluting the place.

Cairns Regional Council had the Daintree Green Study done in to the issue, but nothing has changed since then, none of the recommendations (such as a mini grid for Cape Tribulation) were followed up, as with the numerous studies the Douglas Shire used to commission that were composting away in filing cabinets.
In the Daintree Green Study you can read about the issues the lack of electricity creates in the Daintree, including financial hardships, relationship break-ups, economic impediments, dangerous situations of fuel transport and storage, etc.

There are those who say that the population is too low in numbers and density to be economically viable to build a grid. I would like to argue this point, why does it have to make a nett profit? We have a community of hardworking taxpaying people and businesses here representing one of Australia's most unique tourism icons.
Thanks to decades of persistent government economic sabotage policies of electricity denial, a ferry bottle neck to throttle business traffic, and subsidizing tourism on the southside of Cairns, the community is suffering and needs help.
Why could a grid only be installed if it will return a profit? Do electricity supplies in remote Aboriginal communities and Torres Strait return a nett profit? Does Medicare return a nett profit? Does the army return a nett profit?
People in the Daintree have put up with this for long enough to be eligible for some realistic compensation, and grid power would fulfill this, and it is long overdue.
Ergon runs 33 power stations in remote (mostly indigenous) communities around Queensland as shown on the map, the Daintree should be entitled to the same.

remote powet stations in queensland

Stupidity of solar power in a rainforest

If you read in the newspaper on 1 April that the government subsidized solar power in the rainforest you would probably have a good laugh at this April Foolsday joke, shake your head, and then get on reading the serious news. But it is not a joke.
I get frustrated when I hear tourists being told romantic crap about how the Daintree is the largest renewable energy community in Australia.
Why does solar power not work in the Daintree?

1. It is a rainforest, and three quarters of the year it either rains or it is cloudy, in 2010 Cape Tribulation received a rainfall of 8 metres! Yes, that is 8000 mm or 315 inches!!!! That is 10 times more rainfall than Melbourne or the UK which both have reputations for wet weather.
2. In a rainforest there are many tall trees, they create shade, and unless you clear all the trees on your block, which is illegal, then you will not get the full sun on the rare days that the sun does shine.
3. The installations are expensive to set up, the area has low incomes being dependent on seasonal tourism and the subsidies have been axed.
4. The stand alone systems require certain technical skills to manage them properly, and many householders do not have these, so the systems fall in to disrepair.
No effort in educating the population about managing these systems has ever been made by the government, they pay their share, the electrician comes and installs it, and then he leaves.
5. Even when you have an installation there will come a time every few years where you are up for amounts of $10 000,- or so to replace a battery bank or generator.
At a house in Cape Tribulation the whole battery bank exploded one day, lucky nobody was injured and the house did not burn down.
6. The standalone systems require big battery banks, which are expensive and everytime they get replaced there is another pile of lead acid batteries that end up being dumped. If all households and business were connected with a mini-grid and one big back-up generator for the rainy days this would be a much better outcome for both residents and the environment!
7. The solar systems are only just adequate for households who don't mind living with the restrictions of limited power, businesses that need to run fridges, freezers etc. have no choice but to run diesel generators 24 hours a day, even a modest size restaurant spends $1500 a week on diesel and the Cow Bay Hotel even $9000.- a month!
8. And even when you have a system set up, from time to time the generator will break down, and that means either two trips to the city, one to drop off, one to pick up the fixed generator, or get a mechanic to travel up to Cape Trib and charge you hundreds of dollars in travel time alone, or buy a new generator and get it installed. Either way your home is in darkness with no fridge, or your business is going to be closed for days and no compensation from the government of course.
Some residents have had to temporarily move out of their homes when they had no power to run fridges or lights, major inconveniences and financial disasters which do not belong in a western country in the 21st century.

Renewable Energy Re-defined

Renewable Energy is a popular buzzword that is all around us these days as attempts are made to make this world less polluting. But despite its romantic sounding name, what is the harsh and unfortunate reality of "Renewable Energy" to Daintree residents?

The real life aspect of renewable energy that the greenies and
the government don't want to see or hear about....
Lead acid batteries scattered around the Daintree rainforest

Every five to ten years you have to RENEW your batterybank, depending on its size you are up for $4500 to even $20 000 and you can add a pile of lead and acid to the battery pile in the photo above.
From time to time you have to RENEW your generator, costs anywhere from $1000 to $50000, and on a regular basis you have to RENEW the engine oil in your generator and discard of it.
You also need to frequently RENEW your petrol or diesel supply as you burn it in your generator.
Inverters need their capacitor bank RENEWED from time to time, cost $1000
All the equipment in your "Renewable Energy" system has to be RENEWED from time to time, inverters and battery chargers can blow up, and solar panels can be damaged in lightning strikes, and even without lightning still don't have an eternal life, the RENEWAL of any of these components once again can cost anywhere from $1000 to over $30 000
So you need to keep RENEWING your bank balance continuously, but how do you do that when you need electricity to run your business? It is an impossible situation.

And that is what the UN calls ENERGY POVERTY, having such high energy expenses that it has a major detrimental impact on your life!
Thanks very much Mike Berwick, Anna Bligh, Jason O'Brien, Julia Gillard and all other hypocrits that keep the Daintree people in third world medieval living conditions!

Some people get the impression that I am a pro-development redneck.
Let me assure you I am not.
But after years of living in Cape Tribulation I consider myself more of an expert on 'renewable energy' than the daydreaming renewable energy fans that ignore the reality of the situation, the crowd that lives in the city on mains power and have learned about renewable energy at the university while I have actually lived with 'renewable energy'.
It is undeniable that a grid will pollute less than individual generators, and if the government really wants to do something about saving the Daintree they should buy up rainforest now instead of spending money in Afghanistan, and stop people from bringing cats and (most importantly) dogs in to the area, they do the real damage by running wild hunting.