Monday, August 03, 2020

Government warned on Chinese state involvement in Australian power grid

This is rather paranoid.  A transformer does just one simple thing:  Change the voltage of an electrical current.  There is no scope for China to subtly change that in some way.  It either supplies the correct voltage or is does not.  And if it does not you will soon know it.

It is true that electricity supply lines can transmit messages.  They do that all the time. But a transformer that added a gadget  to receive and transmit messages from China should be detectable.  Putting through a pulse to burn out such a gadget before installation should also be possible

And the bottom line is that the Chinese firm would lose all its sales if it were to get up to tricks

The federal government is being urged to conduct a review of Chinese state involvement in Australia’s electricity grid and consider the removal of some equipment amid fears of remote sabotage.

Influential South Australian senator Rex Patrick is behind the push as Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows China has overtaken Vietnam as the main supplier of transformers for the Australian electricity network in recent years.

Transformers are crucial parts of the grid that convert alternating current from one voltage to another, powering households and energy-intensive factories.

In 2018-19, Chinese companies supplied 29 of the 70 transformers imported by Australia. Of these, 16 were for use in Victoria. The Andrews government signed a memorandum of understanding with China in 2018 to participate in its controversial Belt and Road initiative.

The rise in China-sourced transformers has occurred since Beijing’s State Grid Corporation bought stakes in electrical transmission network companies SP Ausnet and ElectraNet, as well Melbourne-based retailer Jemena, in 2013.

Prior to those deals, in 2011-12, China supplied just eight of the 135 transformers imported into Australia. Vietnam supplied 33.

The increasing reliance on Chinese-built transformers has raised fears about the vulnerability of Australia’s electricity grid to foreign interference.

In May, US President Donald Trump issued an executive order to place tight restrictions on the use of foreign-sourced equipment in the electricity grid because of rising fears about the possibility of remote attacks and sabotage.

While Mr Trump’s executive order referred only to “foreign adversaries” targeting the US power system “with potentially catastrophic effects”, it was widely interpreted to be aimed at China and Russia.

Mr Trump’s order stated “the unrestricted foreign supply of bulk-power system electric equipment constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States”.

US authorities last year seized a large Chinese-built transformer en-route to a substation in Colorado and transported it to a government laboratory for inspection. The Chinese company that built this transformer also provides them for the Australian network.

Western security agencies fear foreign-built transformers could have malicious electrical components surreptitiously installed that could potentially allow another country to interrupt power supply on a whim.

Cyber-security expert Paul Dabrowa said it was possible for a foreign government to badly damage Australia’s electricity grid within two minutes. “It could take months to repair the damage … there’s open-source material about experiments that have proven this is possible,” he said.

Senator Patrick said the recent moves in the US to limit the potential for foreign influence in its electricity grid should encourage Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to use his powers under the Critical Infrastructure Act to reduce the risk to Australia.

“At the same time, the Australian government needs to bring forward its proposed changes to Australia’s foreign investment laws and commit to require the divestment from Australia’s power grid of all involvement by companies owned, controlled or significantly influenced by the Chinese government,” he said. “Given the change in Hong Kong’s status, such a policy should extend to companies registered in Hong Kong.”

Senator Patrick said particular attention should be paid to the State Grid Corporation representatives on the boards and in the executive ranks of its Australian electricity companies. Jemena’s executive team features a former deputy mayor of a Chinese city. To hold such an official position requires membership of the Chinese Communist Party.

In 2016, then treasurer Scott Morrison blocked a bid by the State Grid Corporation and Hong Kong’s Cheung Kong Infrastructure from buying a 99-year lease on a 50.4 per cent stake in NSW electricity distributor AusGrid. Mr Morrison said at the time that the decision was in the national interest and was backed by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Victorian electricity distributors Powercor and Citipower are majority-owned by Hong Kong-based CK Infrastructure. Although CK Infrastructure is privately owned, its chairman, Victor Li, is a member of the 13th Chinese Peoples’ Political Consultative Committee.

The Home Affairs Department said it had increased funding and introduced laws in 2018 in recognition of the risk of foreign influence in the national electricity grid.

Jemena said it operated in accordance to stringent rules under Australia’s “extremely robust” foreign investment regulatory regime. Its shareholders had no direct control over the day-to-day operations of the business and its directors adhered to “strict governance procedures”, it said.

Powercor said its executives were all Australian citizens and no one on its board was a Chinese Communist Party member.

Both Jemena and Powercor said customer details were kept in Australia.


Australia backs plan for world’s biggest solar farm to power Singapore

The world's longest extension cord!  This idea has been kicking around for years but both the cost and possible politically motivated attacks on the thing make it just a dream

The Australian government has assigned major project status to a proposed A$22bn plan to build the world’s biggest solar farm in Australia’s Northern Territory (NT) and send the electricity through a 3,700-km-long undersea cable to Singapore where, promoters say, it will meet 20% of Singapore’s demand for power.
The 12,000-hectare solar farm, to be located near the town of Elliott in NT’s Barkley Region, will be visible from space, says Sun Cable, the start-up company formed to develop the scheme.

Electricity will be stored in a 30GWh battery – the world’s biggest, according to Sun Cable – allowing transmission at night.

From Elliott, the electricity will be sent by cable 750km to the coast at Darwin to begin its submarine journey to Singapore.

Sun Cable, which secured its first round of investor funding in November, believes the operation, called Australian-ASEAN Power Link (AAPL), can be up and running in 2027.

A final investment decision has yet to be made, and the scheme still needs various approvals.

However, in May this year Sun Cable awarded a contract to the company Guardian Geomatics to survey the ocean floor along the proposed cable route.

The company said the AAPL would link to Indonesia in the future, as well.

Sun Cable chief executive David Griffin told Australian broadcaster ABC that the project is feasible thanks to the emergence of high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) cable technology, which transmits electricity efficiently over long distances.

The government announced the award of major project status on Thursday, 29 July.

“This project draws on Australia’s world-class solar technology and our high-tech manufacturing capability to export renewable energy on an unprecedented scale,” said Karen Andrews, Australia’s Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.

She said the project would create 1,500 jobs during construction, and 350 ongoing jobs.

If it goes ahead, a new solar panel factory would be built in Darwin, with the panels made there coming to Elliott by the existing railway.

David Griffin called the government’s recognition a “significant milestone” for the AAPL.

It grants companies the support of Australia’s Major Projects Facilitation Agency, including a single entry point for federal approvals and help with state and territory approvals.

“This project is helping to grow a new industry, utilising intercontinental HVDC submarine transmission systems, to supply renewable electricity to major load centres in the Indo-Pacific and support the region’s low-emissions goals,” Griffin said.


Apocalypse soon?

Joe Hildebrand

Right now we are lucky enough to still live in a generally orderly world but it would be foolish to assume that this will always be so.

It is not as though the signs aren’t there. Only a couple of years back the world was losing its mind over a potential nuclear war between the US and North Korea. Now we look back at those almost irradiated days with a dewy-eyed nostalgia.

In the past few months alone the USA, the once imperfect and impervious anchor for global stability, has been bisected twice over.

First it was between health and the economy – the axes of which are far more intertwined than the hard left or hard right are capable of seeing.

And then superimposed across this, like a giant pizza-cutter, was the racial divide that has tormented America’s history and psyche for so long and is now more jagged than ever.

Indeed, the US resembles more a giant bowl of gumbo, complex writhing masses of social and economic problems that have simmered over centuries. America is a dish that cannot be unmade.

But that is not how either the hard left or hard right see it, and that is why we may soon all be beyond Thunderdome and beyond salvation.

Crisis heightens the senses and sharpens our prejudices. In public debate almost every aspect of life in the US and Australia is now channelled through an increasingly partisan and extreme ideological lens.

A minor but telling example is the response to a couple of comments I posted within an hour on social media during the week.

The first noted that contact-tracing had been far more successful in NSW than in Victoria.

The second noted that aged care is a federal government responsibility.

Both statements were entirely factual and incontestable – indeed they ought to have been almost painfully banal. And yet each of these basic facts, easily verifiable and beyond dispute, were flatly denied by activists on either extremes with diehard conviction – even as each applauded the other with cheers.

This is obviously just a salient microcosm. All over the world in once advanced liberal democracies truth has been replaced by ideology, even in critical matters of life and death.

Already in America wearing a mask is for many not so much a matter of personal protection than a declaration of personal conviction. Those on the left both don and champion masks in the name of solidarity while those on the right eschew and condemn them in the name of freedom.

Meanwhile so-called peaceful protesters demand justice by setting fire to courthouses and so-called fascists and anti-fascists both take to the streets with guns. Make of that what you will.

In many areas the land of the free has descended into all-out anarchy and yet innumerable influential elites deny such urban wastelands are even real because they’re too busy tweeting about how important it is to stay home. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect tinderbox at the base of the ivory tower.

As it happens, the other day I was listening to a man whose German grandfather had kept a diary during the Third Reich recording the various atrocities and lies the Nazis had committed and begged his grandson to make it public at all costs.

Soon, the man observed, there will be no human on Earth who can recall those times. There will be no living memory of how easily the world can slip into the insanity of mass ideology that defies the power of reason, a world in which the deluded belief systems of fascism and communism led to wartime slaughter and genocidal death camps.

There was a sense at the end of last century that we had transcended these base ideologies and that rational centre left/right liberal democracy was the inevitable norm. Yet much of the partisan commentary that passes for political debate today could have been delivered via a warplane leaflet drop on the eastern front.

In short, we are confronting a universal and entirely apolitical threat which may yet be as deadly in the response it provokes from us as it is in itself. It is a threat that demands the most measured, rational and intelligent response and yet it confronts us in an era where hard facts have been atomised by angry opinions. The things we have learned are now outweighed by the things we have forgotten.

And the land of the blind can never see the apocalypse coming.


Victorian coronavirus schooling rules for year 11 and 12 VCE students 'inflexible', unions say

Whining teachers again

The Victorian Government's requirement for all year 11 and 12 students to attend school in person is causing anxiety for school principals and making staff concerned for their safety, unions representing the education sector say.

Prep to year 10 students in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire have been learning from home since July 20.

Currently Victoria's VCE and VCAL students, as well as special school students, are required to attend school in person.

But the Australian Education Union (AEU) and the Independent Education Union (IEU) say the policy is inflexible and "failing our school communities".

There are 72 schools across Victoria which are currently closed due to coronavirus: 61 government schools, nine Catholic schools and two independent schools.

Nineteen early childhood services are closed.

The unions want the State Government to give school principals more flexibility and the power to implement home learning programs for their students when required.

AEU Victorian branch president Meredith Peace said many union members were concerned about their safety and the safety of their students.

"It is leaving our principals with the responsibility to manage incredibly difficult circumstances for their schools, without having the capacity to make important decisions," she said.

The Victorian Government's rationale for keeping year 11 and 12 students on campus was to avoid VCE students falling out of step with their counterparts outside of the locked-down areas.

But Ms Peace said many parents were keeping their children home because of health concerns anyway, particularly in special schools.

"So we already have significant inequity, because those students who are at home are not receiving a formal learning program — our kids with disabilities, in special schools, are receiving no learning program," she said.

Departmental guidelines were getting in the way of principals doing "the right thing", the general secretary of IEU Vic-Tas Debra James said.

"Too many people are required to be on campus when they could easily be working from home, and principals who are trying to minimise the number of staff or students in the senior secondary area are getting pushback," she said.

Ms Peace said some secondary schools had tried to implement flexible arrangements for their VCE students, such as keeping year 11s at home for part of the week.

But she said the Department of Education and Training told those schools to reverse those decisions, and other proposals put forward by the union had been rejected.

"We cannot have a circumstance where principals are trying to manage the growing anxiety and stress among their staff and students and parents, and yet they are not trusted to make very sensible decisions about how to manage their staff on site."

Ms James pointed to a senior secondary school in Melbourne's western suburbs which had recorded positive cases among students and staff and where a partner of a staff member was in ICU.

"This is serious stuff … we believe there is a different way, a better way, and this should be seriously looked at," she said.

The union leaders also said delays in contact tracing were causing a high level of "stress and anxiety" for schools.

"We've heard stories about people sweating over email all weekend, wondering if they should be preparing remote learning classes for their kids or whether they should be preparing to be on site, face to face," Ms Peace said.

"We can't sustain those kinds of workloads, we can't sustain that stress for our school communities."

Education Minister James Merlino said the settings in place at schools in Victoria were based on the Chief Health Officer's advice.

"Schools already have the flexibility at the local level for staff to work remotely and to provide learning support for students on extended absences," he said.

"Having VCE and VCAL students and those with a disability onsite ensures that those most impacted by remote learning still have access to face-to-face learning."


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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