GRAHAM LLOYD, the ‘environment editor’ for The Australian has got together with Hamish Cumming, an opponent of the proposed Mortlake Wind Farm, to write a creative and imaginative piece about wind power and carbon dioxide emissions.
An environment editor who has a grudge against one of the world’s most successful forms of renewable energy must be quite a rare bird. But for an employee of the Murdoch News empire it is probably a wise career choice. Opposing the huge and powerful fossil fuel/mining industry would not be good for Lloyd’s future prospects in that system.
Lloyd relies heavily on what he calls Cumming’s ‘two year analysis of Victoria’s wind farm development’, but does not say where or how this analysis has been published, nor can I find it on the internet.
They claim that, while Victoria’s wind farms have displaced a significant amount of Victoria’s coal-fired power, this has not resulted in any less greenhouse carbon dioxide being generated by said coal-fired power stations. Lloyd and Cumming claim that when the wind blows and Victoria’s wind farms are generating at a high level, the coal-fired power stations cut back their generation, but go on polluting the atmosphere at the same rate as they would at full power. What they are implying, but not saying, is that the coal-fired power stations are so poorly designed, poorly managed, or simply so inherently inflexible that they cannot reduce their rate of pollution, even when they are generating less power!
Where Lloyd and Cumming get really creative and imaginative is in claiming that this is not any fault of the coal-fired power stations, but of the wind farms. Somehow we are to believe that the (alleged by Lloyd and Cumming) failure of Victoria’s coal-fired power stations to reduce their emissions in response to reduced demand on their generation is all to be blamed on the wind power industry.
Energy demand rises and falls all the time. Some of this is regular and predictable, some depends on factors like the temperature, and then there are the surprises that come from breakdowns in generators, the transmission system or industry. Generation must at all times match power consumption — that is a simple necessity of the way any electrical system works. All of this pre-dated the wind farms. Why should we believe that the Victorian power system coped with these variations in the past, but is now incapable of coping with a much smaller level of variability in wind power generation, especially when that variability is predictable because wind speeds can be predicted?
South Australia too
While most of Lloyd’s efforts were directed at Victoria, he also criticised South Australia’s wind power, unsurprisingly not mentioning that, largely because of SA’s wind power, one coal-fired power station had been entirely shut-down while the other would in future only run for six months each year. (See an article in Adelaide Now, 2012/04/18, by Miles Kemp and Cara Jenkin.)
Before the decision to shut-down the SA coal-fired power stations, in March 2012, Adelaide-based energy economics group EnergyQuest chief executive Dr Graeme Bethune produced a press release which stated, in part:
“… a massive 26% of South Australian electricity was generated [in 2011] by wind, up from 18% in 2010 and less than 1% five years ago. Since 2006-07 the share of gas in power generation has fallen from 58% to 49% but the big change has been in coal, which has fallen from 42% to 25%. Wind is effectively replacing coal.”
Yet Cumming claims that he has established that for SA’s wind power:
“…even with the continued expansion of wind farms in South Australia, the Australian Energy Market Operator’s figures show the abatement has risen to only about 4 per cent of the installed capacity.”
We are expected to believe this, with SA’s two coal-fired power stations shut down?
More imagination and creativity
Quoting Lloyd’s article:
“Cumming estimates the cost of greenhouse gas abatement [in SA] at $1,484 a tonne”.
Generating a megawatt-hour of electricity in a coal-fired power station results in around a tonne of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. From the EnergyQuest report mentioned above, we can see that 17% of the coal-fired power in SA has been replaced by wind power. 17% of $1,484 is $252, so if Cumming is right this $252/MWh cost of abatement would have been passed on to consumers — increasing the retail price of electricity by 25 cents per kWh.
As a South Australian I can assure readers that our electricity price has not gone up by anywhere near as much as 25 cents/kWh, and in fact informed commentators involved in the energy industry have told us that most of the price rise that there has been was due to infrastructure costs.
Lloyd writes of an (unnamed) report being presented to The Netherlands Parliament claiming that wind farms will not abate the greenhouse gasses released in their construction “even across the total life of the wind farm”. He does not mention, of course, the many other reports that have shown full abatement in about the first six months.
Lloyd’s ‘evidence’ goes very much against the consensus
Lloyd prefers to accept Cumming’s assertions that wind turbines are not abating greenhouse gasses to the findings of various consultants around the world, presumably because Cumming’s figures agree with Lloyd’s preconceptions.
Wind power abates greenhouse gasses in the UK, why should we believe Lloyd and Cumming’s claims that, for some reason, it is not working in Australia. See Beyond the bluster: Why wind power is an effective technology by the UK Institute of Public Policy Research.
Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM), an engineering and consulting firm, produced a report in June 2012 that listed the CO2 abatement from Australia’s wind power installations.
In July 2006 consulting firm McLennan Magasanik Associates Pty Ldt produced a report which, in effect, stated that greenhouse CO2 emissions would be reduced by about one tonne for every megawatt-hour of wind power generated.