Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Arguments against wind energy don't match reality

Wind power certainly has its detractors, but they rarely let facts get in the way of their criticisms. There have been a spate in the media in recent weeks, pushing the line that renewable energy costs too much, doesn’t work, destabilises the energy grid and so on.

Miranda Devine wrote a long rant which has been reprinted in several Murdoch tabloids, entitled “Turbine Hype is a costly myth“. She has been ably and concisely answered by the Clean Energy Council’s Kane Thornton.

Randall Bell of the Landscape Guardians made the case more bluntly in the Geelong Advertiser earlier, on September 20.

He mentions “three European studies” that claim every job in renewable energy (of all kinds) causes “nearly three” job losses elsewhere.

There have been several such studies by right-wing think tanks in Europe, some with links to fossil fuel companies like Exxon. But the political bias of the authors, and poor research methodology, have substantially discredited those studies. Think Progress reports here.

Reviewing one of these studies in August 2009, the US government National Renewable Energy Laboratory wrote that “the primary conclusion made by the authors – policy support of renewable energy results in net jobs losses – is not supported by their work.” (click here for the NREL’s report in PDF format).

A 2003 Australian study found wind farms have about 40% Australian content and create 2-3 times as many local jobs per kWh generated as coal power.

Still in Australia, South Australia in the 2010/2011 year generated 20% of its power from electricity. According a draft report released by the Australian Energy Market Operator AEMO (which is not an ideologically motivated think tank), gas and coal generators have not increased their share, while SA’s imports of Victorian electricity have decreased.

Most of SA’s new generation capacity is from wind. They have not built the same amount of gas capacity to back up the variable output of the wind farms. Simple grid management (which manages a highly variable electricity demand every day) can easily integrate their level of wind energy.

Not surprisingly, South Australia is also reducing its carbon emissions as a result. The AEMO report says “The trend shows a decline in emissions over the last few years due to the increased wind generation.”

If you’re a climate change denier like Bell, you may not care. But here’s the best bit. Wind energy is actually helping to keep energy costs down. Not because it’s the cheapest form of energy – it isn’t – but because it’s keeping peak prices down by supplying a big slab of power at a cost much lower than peak levels.

Most of our electricity price rises are due to rising peak demand (driven by aircon), and the need to upgrade the network to cope, not renewables. That’s the conclusion of the Australian Energy Market Commission – also not a biased think tank.

Bell makes some ridiculous factual errors. He says turbines stop operating over 30°C. Over 40° would be more accurate, and it’s a very hot day when it’s over 40° at 70-80m up, the typical tower height in Australia. And there you go again. Bell says the towers are “150-metre-plus high”. Even including the blade length above the tower, most here are about 130-140m tall.

If it were just a matter of a few shoddy arguments in an article, I wouldn’t care. But wind energy has now been practically banned from new development in Victoria. The only justification seems to be the campaign waged by Bell and his colleagues.

Where’s the justice, as wind farms are banned within 2km of a house (5km from regional towns), yet Anglesea residents live within 1km of a coal mine and power station?

Geelong company Austeng has been in the news with a new turbine design they are trialling. The new wind laws will make it hard to put their turbine up anywhere in the state. What’s threatening jobs in that case?

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