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Energy plan hits turbulence  

The Howard Government’s policy shift on clean energy has been undermined, with a federal minister launching a blistering attack on wind farms despite the renewable energy industry declaring wind power is vital if the Coalition is to meet its 2020 climate change target.

Just one day after John Howard committed the Government to new clean energy targets, Tourism Minister Fran Bailey insisted wind power was largely unsuitable for Australia, saying there was no evidence it was a feasible alternative energy source.

And despite the Government saying its new strategy would cost $7.5 billion, senior Howard ministers had warned three years ago that a more modest doubling of mandatory renewable energy targets would cost the economy $23billion, when they were arguing against an increase to the original scheme.

And as Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty warned that climate change – not terrorism – would be the security issue of the century because of its potential to cause death and destruction on an unprecedented scale, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer urged the UN to use the climate change outcomes of the Sydney APEC summit as the template for a proposed new international agreement on combating greenhouse gas emissions.

The energy industry said wind power would dominate the Government’s new clean energy target of 30,000 gigawatt hours by 2020, as most other technologies that meet the threshold of 200kg of greenhouse gas per megawatt hour, such as clean coal or solar, were either not ready or were too expensive to install at a large scale in the next decade.

Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the new targets would be achievable in conjunction with a proposed carbon trading scheme.

“This is not the only influence on renewable energy. We have an emission-trading scheme, which will be putting a price on carbon, and of course making the economics of renewable energy better, and encouraging renewable energy,” he said yesterday.

“Our new clean energy target … is aimed for 2020, and it will then work in together with the emissions trading scheme and see us having a very substantial but most importantly a very achievable share of our electricity market being clean energy by 2020.”

But Ms Bailey, who vowed to campaign against a proposed wind farm in Victoria’s spa region, northwest of Melbourne, said wind had not been subject to adequate cost-benefit analysis, industry claims of job creation were a “furphy”, and government policy should instead focus on developing solar power.

She said the areas in Australia where wind farms would be appropriate were limited.

“My own view, and this is my personal view, is I have always thought that wind technology as an alternate technology was far more suited to the northern hemisphere than the southern hemisphere,” she said.

“What we (should be) doing is placing an emphasis on solar energy and making sure we spend as much as we can on developing solar energy. I think that should be a priority.”

Ms Bailey said the noise level from wind turbines was “incredibly high”. “There are many stories coming out of the northern hemisphere now about some of these wind turbines built several years ago starting to deteriorate … and you’re stuck with this monstrosity of infrastructure.

“To even contemplate building these in beautiful natural environments – they are just a blot on the landscape.”

Asked if there was enough evidence to support wind energy as a feasible alternative energy source, she said: “No, I don’t think that evidence does exist at all. People probably haven’t done the research.

“The other thing that is very hard to get is a true cost-benefits analysis of wind energy.

“I’m quite prepared to speak on the record on this issue, more than prepared, because I just think in many ways people have not seriously examined the best options for alternative power, and I do think that solar energy in a country like Australia, that’s the way we should be going.”

Ms Bailey vowed to campaign against a proposed wind farm near the Victorian town of Smeaton that is being developed by Wind Power – the company behind the contentious Bald Hills wind farm. That project was originally blocked due to a perceived threat to the orange-bellied parrot.

Will Elsworth, spokesman for the Spa Country Landscape Guardians, said local residents were opposed to the project for a raft of reasons, including noise and the fear of declining property values. “The more we found out about it, the more it didn’t stack up,” he said. “The wind company won’t provide any wind speed data to show the site stacks up.

“At the end of the day, taxpayers are going to have subsidise the power. No one is against renewable energy but what they are against is an intrusive energy source that doesn’t have anything to substantiate it.”

Andrew Newbold, director of Wind Power, said the company had yet to decide whether to formally apply to have the project approved. He said the company would want to have the project expanded fourfold to 80 turbines if it was feasible.

The energy industry said yesterday that wind power would dominate the Government’s new clean energy target of 30,000 gigawatt hours by 2020.

Energy supply association chief Brad Page said the industry’s recent assessment of clean coal had it available from about 2020, while other eligible low emission technologies were unlikely to be affordable or ready within the next decade. “We think this scheme would largely favour wind farms,” Mr Page said. “We wouldn’t envisage that there is going to be a huge rush on that target made by carbon capture and storage technology. It’s very unlikely.”

Industry sources say nearly 4000 new wind turbines will be needed to meet this new mandatory target by 2020. There are about 500 installed, mainly across the southern coastal regions of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.

The gas industry yesterday criticised the Government’s new targets, saying they would not provide lowest cost greenhouse gas reductions or immediate action to implement them.

Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association chief executive Belinda Robinson said both sides of politics were ignoring affordable, low emissions technologies available now.

“Both sides of politics have been talking for a long time at reducing emissions at the least cost and the community have been demanding action now,” she said. “This announcement delivers on neither.”

By Ewin Hannan and Matthew Warren

The Australian

25 August 2007

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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