Alice solar future needs facts and figures


p2348 Lyndon FrearsonCOMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
A leading engineering consultant “providing technical services and advice in power systems engineering and remote area project management to clients throughout Australia and the Asia Pacific” expressed intense irritation last night about a journalist raising questions of facts and figures for the “quickest, most efficient and cost effective pathway towards a renewable energy future”.
Facts and figures? Gosh, what next?
The consultant, one of the panel at a public meeting on solar power last night, who didn’t appreciate being “put on the spot” was Lyndon Frearson, managing director of CAT Projects, a branch of the long established Centre of Appropriate Technology in Alice Springs, funded at partly from the public purse.
The meeting was called by RePower Alice Springs which it says is “facilitating broader community discussion on pathways to achieving a solar energy transition for the town”.
The main issue was the hotly debated $75m power station the NT Government which is “locking Alice residents into a previous era of dirty fossil fuel energy supplies,” as Jimmy Cocking has put it. He is the director of the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) and a leading light in RePower Alice Springs.
The journalist was me.
The Alice Springs News Online broke the story of the new power station on February 2. We have since devoted thousands of words to the issue, reports researched by us, and excellent contributions in our comment section from readers. Google all this on our site.
RePower Alice Springs has urged the government that instead of 10 gas powered engines it should buy only six and spend the rest on solar. Passions ran high but the problem that soon emerged was a lack of – well – facts and figures. This is where Mr Frearson was meant to come in. But he didn’t.
The News was seeking to balance government claims (sample: electricity costs will go up 400% if we go 100% solar – Adam Giles) with comprehensive cost figures and a detailed implementation plan for a gradual transition to a renewable generation system as proposed by the solar lobby in town.
Clearly it has to be a tailored solution: On the one hand we have lots of sunlight. On the other we are not on the national grid. And so on. There is no room for warm feeling in the tummy stuff which, regrettably, is being dished up in large measure, including last night. Hard questions were clearly off the agenda.
Mr Cocking, with whom I had had several conversations about the $75m power station, emailed me on April 22: “These technical engineering questions would be best answered by someone like Lyndon Frearson.”
On April 26 I sent an email with detailed questions to Mr Frearson. I received no reply from him to that email, nor to follow-up emails on June 1 and July 19.
To an email on June 7 Mr Frearson replied: “Thanks Erwin. Am in NZ at Pacific Energy Conference. Will speak soon.” We didn’t – not until last night.
Since April 26 I have made repeated requests to Bruce Walker who heads up the CAT Group. No joy either.
Mr Frearson’s angry response to me last night raises some troubling questions. He talked about building a team around him, delivering knowledge to people in Australia and 13 other countries, building trust – all honourable objectives, to be sure.
But what did he mean by saying his duty is also to “keep the lights on in our office … keep people employed”?
CAT gets NT government money – public money – through grants and contracts, as I understand it. Is this an issue here of not biting that hand that feeds CAT? Would it have been a bad look to challenge the spending of $75m of taxpayers’ money in this way?  Are the people who pay for CAT through their taxes getting value for their money from CAT Projects? Does the partly publicly funded CAT have a responsibility to the public or to the government?
What we do know is that the election is now just 11 days away after a campaign in which the government has bent over backwards to cling to political power. In the absence of a credible alternative, RePower Alice Springs, which would have benefitted greatly from the solid information the News was seeking from Mr Frearson, failed to influence the course of history. 10 gas engines it is.
And the News had to get information about a city turning solar not from an Alice Springs local, but from the Curtin University in Perth.


  1. On the subject of electricity: Is street lighting infrastructure on council roads and public areas owned by ASTC or PAWC?
    On September 30, 2015 the NT News reported: “Councils are now being told they’ve got to maintain, replace and upgrade street lighting.”
    This would appear to be a major shift of responsibility to Territory councils.
    Apparently ASTC budgeted $469,000 in 2014-15 for street lighting.
    Have or will councils (rate payers) be compensated for this shift in financial responsibility?
    Do councils have the technical expertise in this type of electrical infrastructure or its maintenance?
    How is the exact cost of street lighting costed?
    Shouldn’t this subject be an election issue or is it a done deal?
    Bob Taylor, Braitling.

  2. Lyndon Frearson has been very generous in answering technical questions put to him by the RePower Alice Springs group, while also maintaining an apolitical position and being extremely professional (as is called for in his line of work).
    Any reasonable person could accept this, and that he is a very busy person, who has a variety of work commitments that he needs to fulfil before having time to spend many hours researching and answering questions posed by the Alice Springs News.
    Heaven forbid he may even have a family life! RePower Alice Springs is comprised entirely of citizens who give up their time voluntarily to put renewable energy back on the agenda.
    As one of RePower’s volunteers (not a spokesperson), I’m pleased a focus is on calling upon the NT Government to develop a well researched, transparent and inclusive strategy on our energy future – one that includes solar, and establishes targets in line with community values and aspirations.
    RePower has already made an impact, and with community support it will continue to grow achieve greater results in the future!
    Ps: Congratulations to Alice Springs News Online for an excellent photo! I think that’s California in the background, but could this be Central Australia with solar thermal in the future?

  3. With the gas turbines one wonders who is feathering their own nests? Why not ask people with solar power what they think and why the council has solar power on their buildings. One only thinks something is dodgy here.

  4. Fast forward 10 years: South Australia will have nuCLEAR energy as they long ago closed their brown coal production and were buying the same thing from Victoria at a much higher cost than they could produce it for themselves.
    Around about the same time the NT will have had nuCLEAR power for a couple of years as well, because solar power hasn’t been perfected and has turned out, not to be free but very, very expensive.
    Both states had found that wind turbines were not green but used a lot of energy to produce and never paid for themselves. Not enough energy could be stored following rainy or cloudy weather conditions and so another energy source, brown coal, had be fill the gap.
    The clean, cheap gas industry was killed off by a powerful and devious nuCLEAR lobby that, with the help of the watermelon Greens and the anti-working people’s Labor Party, thoroughly conned voters.
    Why? Because people simply never understood the difference between the type of fracking in the NT, that does not cause water contamination and the method used in the eastern states which does cause problems.
    And last, but not least, because pensioners, low and middle income earners, businesses, work places and just everyone else pulled their hair out and said words like FRACK!! every time they received a power bill which was so expensive that it compromised their standard of living and prevented trips to Bali.
    While the concern about fracking in the other states is real and needs to be addressed, it is a red herring (and a great opportunity for the nuke industry to advance at the expensive of OUR cheap gas industry) in the NT to take voters minds off other issues – and hasn’t it done well?


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