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.]


Join the discussion 18 Comments

    • Don Aitkin says:


      A few of them, yes. But what I dread is what I’ve seen in the USA, like this set at Palm Springs:

      • David says:

        Yes I agree

        • Peter Kemmis says:

          That the same thing might appear beautiful or ugly to us is quite curious. Years ago I was teaching English at a technical school. I commented one day to the teacher of panel beating, about how noisy all that hammering was. Those were the days when you didn’t just replace a damaged fender or door or bonnet with a new one – you beat the dent back into shape, and filled where necessary with fibreglass, before respraying.

          “Ah” he said, “but just think, every one of those blows is worth a cent to your business.”

          So if I look at the industrial visions over which Don and John and even David appear to recoil, I think “ah, but every revolution is producing electricity, for free!”

          Oh, wait on. I’ll have to build them first. That means owners and communities and government authorities to negotiate with, tracks to get to their sites, materials, labour, licences and royalties, transmission lines to take the power to the main grid – OK, I’ve got all that. Yep, but I can get lots of subsidies, so I’ll be in front. Maintenance? Yes, my cost model covers that. No, I don’t know what happens when the contract runs out. Then pull them down? Why would you? Anyway, not my worry, mate.

          What do you mean, intermittent supply? Of course the wind doesn’t blow all the time. Uneven load? So, fire up the gas or coal backup plants! What do you mean, inefficient operation resulting in more CO2 into the atmosphere? Geez you make it hard. I’m just here trying to do the right thing about the environment, and all you do is talk about inconvenient truths.

          Now come on, you can’t be serious? The overall CO2 reduction is that tiny? What are you smoking?

      • John Morland says:

        Or this one..

  • John Morland says:

    I disagree wind farms look beautiful. The Lake George wind farm looks lie a luny green industrial junkyard. The three recent times I have driven to/from Sydney, those wind turbine have stood erect, still, utterly useless.

    Driving back to Canberra near sunset, the Lake George windmills, simlar to the HG Wells bactera infected Martian war machines and having destroyed property values anywhere within their sight, stand looking like a stalled alien invasion lit up by a glorious sunset. The grass covering the desecrated hills glows a golden orange (similar to the Martian “red weed”). As sunset ends and the oncoming twilight heralds another majestic view of our milky way galaxy and brilliant nearby stars, it rekindles my optimism that this windmill madness will also have had its day.

    I entirely agree with Joe Hockey’s view.

  • PeterE says:

    The first windmill I saw – from a distance – I thought rather pleasing but when I was underneath it I was dismayed by its size. Since then, seeing these monsters crowded together, I am appalled by them. You have made the case entirely convincingly that they are of little practical use. Certainly, not a cent of taxpayers’ money should be used to subsidise them. NSW is entirely right that if the ACT wishes to use them they should be built in the ACT, preferably along the top of Red Hill, Mount Majura and Black Mountain where citizens can feel comforted by the visible saving of the planet taking place before their eyes. I hope that someone in the ACT Opposition is taking an interest in this topic and will saw off this useless policy branch.

    • John Morland says:

      The loony left latte drinking greenies love windmills because they can’t see the landscape desecration, property value destruction and medical and psychological problems caused by these monstrosities under their Victoria/Aurora Coffee umbrellas in their local street mall.

      Doesn’t affect them. Andthey have temerity to criticize those country folk who have to face this ugliness day in day out for no gain whatsoever.

  • Mike O'Ceirin says:

    That is the Capital Wind Farm, last Saturday it performed like this (see image) more info at http://windfarmperformance.info/?date=2014-05-03 Mostly as in the graph it is nowhere near full capacity. A significant construction cost is that a 140 MW transmission line was built to the WF and then away from it, yet it seldom runs at that capacity. Capital WF is owned in the UK (major share holders) and the wind turbines are Indian. Australia by subsidy and driving electricity prices up makes a significant loss. The RET is 10% of your electricity bill. This does not include the transmission extra cost or subsidy paid through our tax. The final issue is that because it is intermittent fossil fuel power must back it up. Since the electricity grid is not a battery 140 MW of fossil fuel power is on line all the time to support it all the time. That is there is very little if any reduction of emissions. Surely solar is exactly the same if not worse.

  • John Bromhead says:

    I recently saw the Spanish film “Life is easy with your eyes shut” set in 1966 and I thought it must have been difficult to find locations there that didn’t have the horizon covered with these wretched wind turbines.
    I’m not against twenty-first century forms of energy, even if they are intermittent, as modern wind turbines are. What I dislike is that they have been introduced too soon, when large subsidies have been required and when they are replacing fossil fuelled generators that still have years, sometimes decades of useful life.
    The Spaniard’s. Their economy is stuffed.

  • DaveW says:

    I dimly remember the first wind farm I saw in the Tehachipi Pass in southern California. The turbines looked rather progressive in a science ficitiony way. This was before Global Warming, so they must have been looking for alternatives to Arabian oil. Now, of course, the Tehachipi Pass and other areas of California look more like a year after the Day of the Trifids (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_of_the_Triffids).

    Other than the blight to the landscape, mass murder of bats and raptors, and the onerous burden to the taxpayers and rate payers, I have nothing against wind farms. If they were profitable enough to be financed without government subsidies and could reduce the amount of environmental damage they cause (and weren’t in my backyard), then I wouldn’t mind them at all.

  • Tezza says:

    Great post, Don.

    I see reactions elsewhere to Joe’s comment along the lines that open-cut coal mines and coal-fired power stations are as ugly, or worse. I agree, but they are compact and embody economies of scale.

    Wind farms have been built first on all the most “efficient” sites, so the green’s appetite for additional “renewable” energy will only lead to worse visual outcomes in future – increasing visual and transmission costs for declining and more intermittent power generation. (Same goes for solar power.)

    I share other reader’s experience that the first few turbines look groovy; the next hundred, strung across a whole skyline, not so much!


  • Gus says:

    Yes, windmills look kinda pretty. I like watching them on my way to Champaign, IL. There’s plenty of them there. Huge wind farms. But this also makes them a traffic hazard. Also, they kill birds. They really do. Indiscriminately. Including endangered species.
    Most importantly though, they produce little energy of poor quality, it’s all intermittent, at a very high cost. They’re not worth the bother.

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