A wind farm might be a dangerous place for chickens to roost given the threat the rotating blades are said to pose for birdlife. But a whole flock of chooks from former premier Geoff Gallop’s backyard coop landed in the middle of a wind farm north of Perth last week.
These were carrier chooks. They came with a message that must have left a salty taste in the mouth of the man who now teaches the principles of government in New South Wales.
Back on July 26, 2005, then premier Gallop released a media statement headed: “Wind farm chosen to power Perth’s desalination plant.”
In it, Dr Gallop claimed that Perth’s new $387 million seawater desalination plant in Kwinana would become “the largest facility of its kind in the world to be powered by renewable energy”.
“We have delivered on our election commitment to power the Kwinana desalination plant by renewable energy,” Dr Gallop crowed.
Four days later, I wrote a column for this paper pointing at that the premier’s claims were untrue. And I outlined a set of easily obtainable facts that made it clear that the line being pushed by the government wasn’t just spin, but palpably dishonest.
It didn’t do much good. The Government – and its agency, the Water Corporation – continued to repeat the lie. And most of the rest of the media continued to repeat it, too.
“Western Australia’s much-touted desalination plant will be powered by a $180 million wind farm of 48 giant turbines,” is how The Australian newspaper regurgitated the line. “The 80 megawatt wind farm, to be built at Emu Downs north of Perth, will make the desalination plant the largest of its kind in the world to be powered by renewable energy.”
“Giant wind turbines will be used to power Perth’s new $387 million desalination plant,” was how the ABC reported it. “The WA Government has confirmed 48 wind turbines . . . will supply power to the new plant at Kwinana. The use of wind power will help the Government reach renewable energy targets.”
So not only the Labor Government and the Water Corporation are left with stuff looking like egg on their faces with the news that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has found that the claims are misleading.
The ACCC has told Perth water consultant Michael Derry, one of several complainants, that it has instructed the corporation not to claim that the plant is carbon neutral and directly powered by the wind farm. Unfortunately, the ACCC has no powers over the green bulldust that politicians sprinkle around to try to boost their electoral chances.
What the Government did in this case was egregiously deceptive. It wanted to con the public that its desalination plants were “green”. They’re not – they are decidedly “brown”.
The ACCC’s main argument with the Water Corporation was the claim that the desalination plant was powered by the wind farm. It takes just a moment’s thought to disprove that one because everyone realises that a continuous industrial process like desalination can’t be directly powered by a wind farm that only works when there is wind.
But the Government’s deception is really much deeper and it goes to the heart of how carbon trading will eventually operate. That it sought to use this ruse at a time when it was proposing its own emissions trading scheme makes its behaviour even more sinister.
The Emu Downs wind farm is owned by the Griffin coal mining group and a Queensland Government agency called Stanwell Corporation. When Griffin applied to build its Bluewaters coal-fired power station near Collie, it offered its investment in the wind farm as an environmental offset to the coal project’s ongoing greenhouse gas emissions.
The State Government accepted that, thereby expending all of Griffin’s green credits in the wind farm.
When then Queensland premier Peter Beattie announced Stanwell’s part in the project he said this: “Queenslanders will benefit from the creation of thousands of renewable energy certificates and Green Power rights which will be purchased by Energex Retail to meet its customer needs.”
So all the green credits in the wind farm were already spent by its two owners before some bright spark in the Government – facing criticism by conservationists that the desalination plant was dependent on fossil fuels – came up with the plan to say it was wind-powered.
What they have done is commit a fraud. You can’t buy something with money you don’t have.
The Government never sought to answer the refutation of their claims that were published in this column back in July 2005. On several occasions since then I have revisited the issue, but the bulldust just keeps coming.
The public can have no confidence in the State Government’s green credentials unless it comes clean and acknowledges that it has been wilfully misleading.
Michael Derry took the Water Corporation to the ACCC after reading a new commission publication called “Carbon claims and the Trade Practices Act”, which is designed to stop green frauds.
“When I read it, I realised it was tailor-made for the sort of misleading claims being made about the desalination plant,” Mr Derry said.
The report is available online at the ACCC website.
“Vague, unsubstantiated, confusing or misleading information will reduce consumer confidence in carbon claims thereby disadvantaging ethical traders,” the ACCC warns.
Did you hear that Geoff? Alan?
1st July 2008
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