Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wind can be fitted up for almost anything

Who better to ingratiate himself with Donald Trump? Joe Hockey is our man in Washington. Remember his thoughts about wind turbines, back in 2014 when he was Tony Abbott's treasurer?

"If I can be a little indulgent," he asked an extremely eager radio host. "I drive to Canberra to go to parliament and so on, I drive myself, and I must say I find those wind turbines around Lake George to be utterly offensive. I think they are just a blight on the landscape."

Trump thinks they're utterly offensive too.

"I don't know if you've ever been to Palm Springs, California; it looks like a junkyard," he told a US radio host a few days before the election.

"They have all these different companies and each one is made by a different group from, all from China and from Germany, by the way, not from here, and you look at all these windmills, half of them are broken, they're rusting and rotting. It looks like a poor man's version of Disneyland; it's the worst thing you've ever seen."

And worse still, wind power "kills all the birds".

"I don't know if you know that … thousands of birds are lying on the ground. And the eagle. You know, they put you in jail if you kill an eagle. And yet these windmills kill them by the hundreds."

And wind power sent South Australia into a blackout on the night of the big storms on September 28. You must have heard that. We've been told often enough.

Within minutes of the blackout, Twitter was alive with comments such as: "Bring back coal to SA! – this is bloody unacceptable to have a whole state sitting around in the dark. Aren't we a developed country?"

That one came from @rubensohn_gemma, a Sydney resident from Double Bay whose credo was "work hard to shop hard" and who, coincidentally, had signed up to Twitter as the storms hit. She wrote only about renewable energy on Twitter, as did dozens of new users who signed up that night, all of whom had a few other things in common: they used stock photos rather than real photos for headshots, they followed a Bangladeshi data entry specialist who earns a living "forum posting, content writing" and they followed the Twitter account of the eastern region of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia.

After Buzzfeed News asked the chamber about the accounts, all of them vanished. The chamber said suggestions that it was linked to their creation were "completely false".

Other Twitter accounts were real. Chris Uhlmann is the ABC's political editor. He suggested that night that the wind turbines had stopped turning because the wind was blowing too fast, a tweet that seems to have been since deleted.

The investigation by the Australian Energy Market Operator found that was not why the power went out. What did happen was that three of the four transmission lines bringing electricity into Adelaide from the north were cut after the pylons holding them up were blown over by the wind. Most of what was being generated by wind couldn't get through. Several of the generators shut down to protect themselves.

Energy specialist Hugh Saddler of Pitt&Sherry thinks that if the old coal-fired stations at Port Augusta had still been operating they too would have shut down for the same reason.

Without anything like as much electricity as it needed, Adelaide put a sudden strain on the connector from Victoria and it too shut down to protect itself.

AEMO says that all up only 20 megawatts of wind generation was lost because of excessive wind, barely enough to make a dent in the 883 megawatts of wind power being supplied at the time or the 1826 megawatts of power being supplied in total.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull fed the hysteria by calling the blackout "a real wake-up call" for reliance on renewables. After at first refusing to blame renewables, his Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, fell into line, saying there was a need to re-examine the stability and reliability of the grid, with South Australia and other states hurtling towards ever-higher targets for the use of renewables.

Now he is saying it about Victoria, whose oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power station closes down in March because the French owners want to concentrate on renewables.

Hazelwood accounts for 20 per cent of Victoria's output. But it's hard to see how replacing that 20 per cent, predominantly with the output of underutilised NSW black coal-fired power stations, will make much difference. It'll push up wholesale prices because black coal is more expensive than highly polluting brown coal, but retail prices bear little relation to wholesale prices.

Pitt&Sherry point out that so far this century NSW and Victorian wholesale prices have climbed not at all, while in real terms retail prices have almost doubled. And by adding to supply, the growing number of wind turbines will at times take the edge off peak prices, meaning there might be little difference.

But don't expect to hear that from our leaders. Wind is offensive. It can be fitted up for almost anything.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald