Our Treasurer unburdened himself on radio at the end of last week about his irritation with ‘clean’ this and ‘clean’ that, and let off this salvo about wind turbines: I drive to Canberra to go to Parliament and I must say I find those wind turbines around Lake George to be utterly offensive… I think they are a blight on the landscape.
Yesterday I was driving back to Canberra and saw the turbines across Lake George, and thought that, illuminated as they were in the late afternoon sun, they looked rather beautiful — a large dynamic art-work. Of course, how people react to images is very much a personal thing, and there is no arguing about taste, as the Romans were fond of saying to each other (in Latin, of course, though the well-educated ones probably spoke Greek).
But Joe probably didn’t mean that they were offensive to the eye, but rather that they were offensive to a person of reason and understanding. It is indeed hard to see any economic benefit in them at all. They are there because we the taxpayers provide the financial support that subsidises their construction and use, whether we like it or not. Indeed, the ACT Government is presently commissioning 200 more megawatt hours from turbines in New South Wales, to a mixture of distress all round. (Some think all the ACT power should come from turbines, while some in NSW think that if that’s what the ACT wants it should build the turbines in its own backyard. Some of us in Canberra see our paying higher electricity prices for no improvement in quality of life at all. And so on.)
Mr Hockey’s remarks caused a small storm on Twitterdom, and what I saw there represented the understandable anguish of those who think that without wind turbines we are doomed. Yet it has to be said, again and again, that wind turbines are the least sensible of all the alternate forms of energy generation. The reasons are manifold. The capital costs of setting up a large ‘industrial’ wind turbine system seem to run at about three times the cost of establishing a new gas turbine system.
Then, the wind turbine system is naturally irregular. The wind doesn’t blow all the time, and when it does blow it waxes and wanes in strength. Even in windy areas there is either no wind or too much wind for about 10-15 per cent of the time. And this irregular supply of energy is to be added to the grid, which likes to run on an even and predictable basis, for all sorts of good reasons. Because wind energy is unpredictable, the grid operator has to have back-up power at his or her disposal, cutting the back-up in and out as the wind energy varies.
This is not simply inefficient, it is expensive — and it can lead to an even higher output of carbon dioxide and other gases than would be the case were there no wind energy at all. Then there is the fatuity of the usual figures brought out in support — that these turbines will heat and light 45,000 houses, or some figure like that. The proper capacity figure is around 25 per cent of these extravagant numbers — which might be accurate if all turbines worked all the time at their optimal rate. Of course, they don’t.
I’ll leave out of consideration whether or not the turbine blades kill endangered species of birds, and whether or not they cause hearing and other medical problems for those who live near then, and I’ll leave outside altogether the envy of those who didn’t manage to secure some on their land and the anger of those who have to see them every day anyway, and object to what they see as the ‘desecration’ of the natural landscape. It is surprising that the National Trust and other environmental groups have not asked some hard questions about the turbines — but I’ll leave that aside too.
The madness of it all is that ultimately these things are being built, and more are planned, because of the AGW scare. It must be plain to at least some MPs somewhere that if carbon dioxide is the control knob of the planet’s climate it cannot now be as powerful a control as it was argued to be two decades ago. Yes, the last two decades have been warmer than the previous two decades, but the rate of warming has vanished to nothing. On some measures, indeed, we are now in a period of cooling. Why do we build wind turbines that cost megabucks to build and provide erratic and highly expensive power that we simply do not need?
Though I admired the Lake George turbines from afar yesterday, I wouldn’t want to live near them, and I sympathise with those who have to and don’t want to. I sympathise with those who are fighting local campaigns to prevent new ones being located near them. And I agree wholeheartedly with Joe Hockey in his desire to rid legislation of virtuous titles like ‘Clean Energy’ and ‘Carbon Pollution’ that offend my sense of good administration. Good luck![I have read a lot of material about wind turbines, and devoted a couple of earlier posts to it (like here). For those who wonder where all the data come from, an informed sceptical view can be found here, while an enthusiastic view can be found here.]