Sunday, June 14, 2015

So Abbott doesn't like power stations. Who does?

So Abbott doesn't like power stations. Who does?

Everything about the electricity industry is ugly, and dangerous; from the mega stations that spew out smoke and ash in the Hunter and La Trobe Valleys to the high voltage cables and substations that spark fires and ominously hum, to the poles and wires that interfere with trees on their way to our homes.

But windmills, near farms?

It takes a special kind of hysteria to get worked up over windmills. Or a special sense of entitlement. Here's Abbott on Thursday: "When I have been up close to these wind farms there's no doubt not only are they visually awful but they make a lot of noise."

Noise, appalling looks and danger are what those of us who live in cities have long gotten used to. Some of us live near railway lines, some under flight paths, some near substations. It's the price we pay for progress, the entry ticket for a seat in the 21st century.

But Abbott, and his mate Hockey, are delicate petals.

Here's Hockey, a few months back: "We get some beautiful landscapes in Australia and frankly putting up those towers is just, to me, quite appalling".

"I drive from Sydney to Canberra on Sundays to go to parliament and I just look at those wind farms around Lake George and I am just appalled at the beautiful landscape that has been ruined."

Ruined. By windmills. The treasurer adds that he would be "equally appalled" if the authorities put coal-fired power stations there, but I've never heard him or Abbott speak out against coal-fired power stations. And I've never heard his party back an inquiry into coal in the same way as it has backed 10 inquiries into wind in the past 5 years.

The latest, in the Australian Senate, has heard harrowing tales. Bill and Sandy Rogerson live at Glenthompson near the Grampians in Victoria. They live with "constant humming and vibration". Bill wakes up suddenly at night with palpitations and feels his "heart is going to jump out of his chest". One of their sheepdogs can't lift its head if it is housed in the woodshed near the turbines. When it does get up it "runs around madly like its brain is scrambled".

Their lambing rate has fallen. Some of their lambs are born "with flexural leg deformities similar to that found in foals raised near wind farms in Portugal".

From windmills. It's all there in their submission to the inquiry, along with 460 other submissions.

Never mind that the Association of Australian Acoustic Consultants told the inquiry there was no evidence people were affected by the so-called infrasound around windmills, unless they know it's there. "In every study conducted to date, that has been the case," it said.

Never mind that after years of study the National Health and Medical Research Council concluded there was "no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects". Never mind that afterwards someone persuaded it to spend another $2.5 million of its budget on yet more studies.

Never mind that there are other forms of power generation that actually do damage health about which we do nothing.

Jacinta Morahan is a doctor. She lives at Anglesea on Victoria's Great Ocean Road. She wrote to the inquiry about the Alcoa open cut mine and coal-fired power station next door, detailing the amount of sulphur dioxide and carcinogenic particulates pumped into the lungs of residents and visitors. Her point was that wind farms aren't in the same league.

And as they open, coal plants will close.

On the very morning Abbott was telling broadcaster Alan Jones that windmills are "visually awful" the owner of South Australia's only two coal-fired power plants announced plans to close up shop. They can't compete with the cheaper power provided by wind. One of them hasn't been turned on for a year. Until last weekend there were concerns about how South Australia would cope without any coal-fired plants. They are much better than wind at the fine tuning the electricity system needs to ensure supply meets demand.

By coincidence there was a fire at the one operating Port Augusta plant on the Queen's birthday weekend and the state managed just fine with no local coal plants whatsoever. It has had its dress rehearsal.

Other coal plants are likely to close in NSW. Wind plants mightn't be perfect, and they mightn't be beautiful, but they are far less offensive than what they'll replace.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald