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Lies, damn lies and windfarms  

abc.net.au

When ABC South East recently published two stories on future windfarm developments being threatened by a lack of government assistance and the possible presence of the endangered orange bellied parrot, we received many criticisms of windfarms in our guestbook. We took the complaints to two people in middle of this heated debate.

Tim le Roy is the spokesmen for Coastal Guardians Victoria. The group is based in the Victorian region of Gippsland, an area where windfarms have not been welcomed by the community.

Mark Diesendorf is the senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales’ Institute of Environmental Studies. He teaches and consults in the renewable energy field, and was previously employed in the field by the CSIRO.

Windfarms kill birds

Tim le Roy has “no doubt about that”. Raptors, he says, are being killed in Victoria on a weekly basis. In Tasmania, wedge-tailed eagles have been known to fall victim to the turbines. “Whether they’re killing a lot of birds is another question…The wind industry will argue that cars and cats kill more birds, but I’ve never seen a cat eating a wedge-tailed eagle. It’s the other way round usually.”

But Mark Diesendorf believes there are only two problem windfarms in the whole world. One is in California, the other in Spain and both are centred in major flight paths. “Obviously you don’t put windfarms in national parks or in wetlands where they could be a hazard to birds. As long as the windfarm is sited appropriately, it’s not going to be a hazard to birds.”

Solar power is better investment than wind power

Mark Diesendorf is a fan of solar power but says it may be 10 to 15 years before it is affordable enough to make a big contribution to our energy needs. “On the other hand, wind power is a commercial technology, it is the cheapest of the new renewable sources of energy, and it is already making a huge contribution in some countries. In Denmark, windpower is already supplying 20 per cent of electricity.”

Tim le Roy, too, is a fan of solar energy – after all, you can store the power in a household hot water system and cut 35 per cent off your energy bill. But you cannot store the power generated by wind (nor coal or most other sources). Not only that, but solar is an industry with strong Australian connections. With wind, he says, “the money goes straight to a Danish or German turbine manufacturer and goes offshore.”

Windfarms have no effect on coal burning power plants

“That’s a load of nonsense,” says Mark Diesendorf, who modelled the relationship between wind and coal power while at the CSIRO. “We showed how they can replace coal fired power stations.” He has no time for the argument that windfarms are intermittent. “Although a single wind turbine is intermittent, if you have a lot of wind turbines spread out over a number of windfarms which are separated geographically, their total output varies fairly smoothly.”

Tim le Roy quotes a Victorian government report to point out coal burning plants take hours to respond to an input of energy from windfarms, and he says it is the “environmentally friendly” energy producers like hydro and gas that can be more easily switched on and off to respond to wind power generation. “The savings (of brown coal) are minuscule.”

The power windfarms generate cannot be stored

“That’s just a given fact of science,” says Tim le Roy. Windpower is no different to other forms of energy – it has to be used the second it is created, and there is not yet a means of storing the energy. So why is this a problem for wind and not for hydro or coal? Because these you can generate on demand, but with wind you are at the mercy of nature. “Wind is a quite useless product,” he says.

But Mark Diesendorf believes wind merely adds another layer of variability to the power set-up. “The whole electricity system is a balancing act between supply and demand…Wind power just adds an additional source of variablilty (but the system) is designed to handle variability without storage.”

Power should be cheaper for those who live near windfarms

Mark Diesendorf sees this as an objection to the pricing system, not to windpower. He warns that on this logic you might also pay more for electricity if you live in the country. After all, it costs more to get it here.

But Tim le Roy knows why it isn’t cheaper for near-by residents – windpower is as much as two times more expensive to generate as other forms of power. “Why it would be cheaper because you live closer, I have no idea.”

Developers of windfarms have little interest in the environment and are just out to get tax breaks and government money

Tim le Roy says he has met very few developers with strong environmental credentials, and he believes many of them are simply exploiting the “green mantra”. He also wonders why windfarms have been allowed to go up in environmentally sensitive and landmark sites.

But it’s an argument that makes Mark Diesendorf laugh. He calls it a hypocritical “complaint about the capitalist system”. “They seem to think that windfarm developers shouldn’t try to make a profit even though they themselves and the rest of the economy that they’re embedded in does try and make a profit.” He says that in Ararat, Victoria, the Challicum Hills windfarms has actually helped the local economy – by increased land values and increased money being invested in the local economy.

Windfarms are just a fad

“You couldn’t find a worse way of trying to address climate change than with wind,” says Tim le Roy. “They create a very visible symbol for city-based politicians. They look good. They do virtually nothing. We had the developer of the Bald Hills facility stand up at a public meeting and say that you could build a line of turbines from Venus Bay (Victoria) to Perth, a distance of some 3,000 kilometres, and it wouldn’t make one bit of difference to global warming.”

For Mark Diesendorf though, not only is concern about global climate change not a fad, but windpower is one of the best way of addressing it. “Reducing energy wastage and expanding renewable sources of energy – wind, solar hot water and bio-energy, because these are the cheapest forms – these are the best things that can be done. This is a response to a very serious global problem.”

Windfarms are unpopular around the world, particularly in France

The governments in Germany and Spain may have “embraced windpower on an exceptional scale”, but not so the people, according to Tim le Roy. Windfarms, according to surveys in these countries, ranked as the least popular renewable energy source.

Mark Diesendorf also has a fistful of surveys. What do they show? “Those that are initially opposed to windfarms have been surveyed some years after the windfarms were built in their areas and many of them have come around and said that initially they had been mislead.”

Windfarms are a blight on the landscape and communities don’t want them

Both Tim le Roy and Mark Diesendorf share some ground on this point – they both believe beauty is in eye of the beholder.

But Mark Diesendorf worries that the “noisy minority” who “think they are ugly” then go and “lie and mislead the community claiming falsely that windfarms have enormous (negative) environmental impacts and that windfarms cannot replace coal-fired power stations”.

Tim le Roy says in Gippsland the windfarms can be seen from 35 kilometres away because they have been placed on hilltops. “You have these swirling machines that are up to 125 metres tall. If they are put in the wrong place, they are very noticeable and they have a massive impact.” He wants communities to be vigilant to such developments and believes a country this size should not “subsidise” windfarm developers by giving them access to landmark spots like the Fleurieu Peninsula and Cape Bridgewater, where developments are proposed.

Windfarms are noisy

Quite as a library? Don’t tell that to the people of Toora. Tim le Roy says that the company behind the windfarm in that tiny Gippsland town have paid out six figure sums to people affected by the thumping of the blades as they spin in the wind. And he says it is a problem common in Victoria, with complaints also being made on the west coast, in Coddrington and in Wonthaggi.

But Mark Diesendorf believes the problems at Toora were a one off. “The reality is, when windfarms are licensed, they are licensed to produce only a very limited level of noise at the nearest residence. If they exceed that limit, then it’s possible to either shut down the offending wind turbines or get them fixed. Noise is a very rare problem nowdays from windfarms.”

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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