Mechanical engineer Hamish Cumming has had death threats made against him, endured public ridicule and suffered an arson attack on his organic beef and oat farm in southwest Victoria because of his love of birds and loathing of wind farms.
But he still wants to know whether billions of dollars are being wasted on a renewable energy scheme he believes is failing to deliver the carbon emissions savings it promised.
Mr Cumming said his analysis of company records showed millions of tonnes of coal were being burnt unnecessarily by Victorian electricity generators to back up intermittent wind power, greatly reducing the claimed environmental benefit.
Mr Cumming’s claims have been rejected by wind industry lobby groups, which have said the carbon emissions savings from wind would come about through the operation of the national electricity market, where overall carbon emissions were falling.
Mr Cumming remains unconvinced, saying the issue was the rising inefficiency of brown-coal generators.
He said he had used company reports to track the carbon intensity increases at Victorian brown-coal generators over the past six years, which he believed correlated closely to the addition of wind farms into the grid across South Australia, Victoria and NSW.
But he is getting little help from the coal or renewables industries to confirm or reject his analysis.
Mr Cumming’s one-man crusade has highlighted some uncomfortable truths about how the environmental performance of Australia’s renewable energy market has been monitored.
His questions are timely given the recommendation by the Climate Change Authority this month that Australia maintain its renewable energy target, which could see up to 30 per cent of the nation’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.
The Australian Energy Market Operator admits it is forced to calculate carbon emissions data via modelling rather than actual coal consumption because it does not have access to company records.
And wind companies receive payments via renewable energy credits for the amount of electricity they generate, not the carbon dioxide emissions they abate.
AEMO spokesman Joseph Adamo said the organisation was in “close and frequent contact” with large registered generators and was not aware of complaints about the accuracy of its data.
Mr Cumming said he had been alerted to the issue by former workers at Victorian power stations. “Looking at the claims that the wind farm companies were making, and comparing that to what I am told by power station engineers and people in the industry, it didn’t match up or make sense,” he said.
“I started looking at the AEMO generation data and the information from coal-fired power stations and it became increasingly clear to me the emissions savings being claimed by wind farm companies weren’t actually there.”
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