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Wind energy

Jun 23, 2011

The wind in the science culture war sails

The science culture war started by tobacco, nuclear and fossil fuel industries took a curious twist this afternoon, with the release of a Senate report into so-called ‘turbine sickness’. This inquiry was initiated by Family First’s Steve Fielding and is his last hurrah in the Australian Senate.


Dan Cass writes: The science culture war started by tobacco, nuclear and fossil fuel industries took a curious twist this afternoon, with the release of a Senate report into so-called ‘turbine sickness’. This inquiry was initiated by Family First’s Steve Fielding and is his last hurrah in the Australian Senate.

Fielding has turned his anti-green focus from denying climate science to now denying the scientific evidence that wind turbines are safe. The Fielding inquiry comes after a week which has seen Australian scientists from Science & Technology Australia — known until this week as the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS) — lobbying politicians to defend them from denialist death threats and lies.

We have also read that Australian mining companies are promoting the visit of Christopher Monckton, despite reports that he has called Professor Ross Garnaut a Nazi. Even the Herald Sun‘s Andrew Bolt came out strongly today against Monckton’s latest actions. At the Copenhagen climate conference, Monckton called young protestors ‘Hitler Youth’ and then denied he used that phrase, when interviewed about it by Associated Press.

A great development in the science culture war is The Conversation, a new media outlet for Australian academics. This is publishing credible articles that pull apart the intellectual credibility of climate denialism, but there are ominous signs that the battle front has advanced, from climatology to technology.

On June 15 the Australian used Global Wind Day to push its anti-environmental campaigning in this new direction. Like the Tea Party in the US, various commentators from the ‘sceptic’ camp are turning their anti-science activism from climate science to renewable energy.

The purpose is to make it seem that the ‘jury is out’ and ‘science is divided’ about wind and solar power. The Tea Party, for its part, is attacking US Federal funding for renewable energy R&D.

The Global Wind Day front page of the Australian creates the narrative that science is split down the middle between evidence that wind turbines are safe and evidence that turbines create inaudible (infra-) sound, which is destroying the health of people and animals.

The paper reported on a recent scientific forum hosted by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The forum was convened in order to appease a campaign against the NHMRC’s submission to the Fielding inquiry into wind turbines, which had accurately reported that there is no scientific evidence that wind turbine ‘sickness’ or ‘syndrome’ even exists.

Facilitator Gail Jennings valiantly persevered through a train-wreck of an agenda, which constructed the knowledge around the narrative of conflict. It was more a political show-and-tell to appease the Landscape Guardians, who oppose wind-farms, than a scientifically or democratically valid exercise.

If you were a scientific government body hosting a forum on renewable energy technology, you might be expected to have one MP from each of the Labor, Coalition and Greens camps. The NHMRC’s sole political representative was Liberal MP Alby Schultz.

As Greg Combet has pointed out, Schultz has compared the ”perverted science of global warming” to the ”perverted science of national socialist ideology”.

The NHMRC invited 20 non-government or science representatives to the forum: 50% pro and 50% anti-wind. All the community representatives were anti-wind. Nobody from the community who supports wind, nor anyone from the wind industry spoke. Imagine an inquiry into the nuclear industry where the nuclear industry was not allowed to make a presentation!

The NHMRC did not invite Infigen, who own more turbines than any other company in Australia. Infigen did attend (after some lobbying), along with Origin, Vestas, Suzlon and Pacific Hydro.

There is no doubt that some people are legitimately reporting stress and disease and citing wind farms as the cause. There is also no doubt that some wind companies have failed to consult well with local communities and that some people have legitimate grievances as a result. The problem comes when these people are used by campaigners in a science culture war aimed at preventing climate action.

It is reasonable to predict that The Australian and its political wing — Alby Schultz, Nick Minchin, Eric Abetz and Sophie Mirabella — will escalate ‘renewables skepticism’ over the coming months. Expect to see beat ups about solar panel standards, wind turbine sickness, inverter power losses and various conspiracy theories circulating on the Internet.

Already, wind proponents have received threatening phone calls and anti-wind activists have engaged in bullying.

You have to also assume that after a few months of the campaign, ABC and Fairfax journalists will feel bullied into reporting the new anti-science narrative, in pursuit of that false idol of ‘balance’ in journalism.

If science wants to defend itself from the culture war waged by big polluters, it needs to get vocal on technology denialism before it becomes as entrenched as climatology denialism is. There is nothing to be gained by waiting until solar and wind researchers get death threats.

Dan Cass is an unpaid Director of (and has invested $5000 in) Hepburn Community Wind Park Co-operative Ltd, Australia’s first community energy company.


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41 thoughts on “The wind in the science culture war sails

  1. Oksanna

    Follow up on behalf of ‘really stupid birds’:

    Peter, if you are inclined to read, I suppose the SLAUGHTERHOUSE 19 and 22 links that can be searched out from that page could be illuminating.

    One link (from my previous comment link) has the photo of the maimed wedgetail, more on eagle deaths in Tassie, and an old 2006 article “MINISTER EYES VETO ON WIND FARMS” about the problematic South Australian windfarms.

    A scan of the research (there is plenty of it to be found by searching “bird mortality wind farms”) indicates that many prior suppositions are not upheld. Higher bird population does not equal higher mortality from turbines. Height of turbine and height above sea-level are greater risk factors according the research from Spain. And there are specific problems with migratory bird routes.

    But these researchers are being paid by the wind power companies and vested interests. Already in Australia, GE’s Energy Division has started its ad blitz to promote new energy, including wind. (Nuclear is part of that Division, and Gore’s Generation Investment Management has invested in GE too, by the way).

    The wind-farms/bird deaths controversy appears a bit like those who smear non-compliant scientists by saying they are paid by “Big Oil”. Or those like Cass here who are saying its the wind companies that are getting threatened….hard to type that last sentence while laughing at its improbability. Except that here it is Big Wind that is throwing its weight around. With enough allegations of cover-up, suppression of evidence and junk science to make James Hansen (the researcher who complained loudly that Bush squashed the climate science) look like a model of stoic endurance.

    But, Pete, if you want to keep saying that this stuff isn’t out there to, er, …read… then be my guest. Perhaps repeatedly denying there is a problem (with turbines killing wildlife) has a calmative effect? Let’s hope the next generation of wind power devices (that you mentioned) will overcome the deadly effects of the big aerofoils.

  2. justmeint

    But there is more to this story – ofcourse the general public don’t get to hear about it:-

    But are these wind turbines all they are cracked up to be? Obviously as the government is pushing for more of them, we will only get to hear what they consider to be ‘positive’ comments about them. Other’s have very different opinions. ABC chairman Maurice Newman favours the analogy that wind turbines will turn out to be for power generation what the zeppelin was for air transportation: it looked promising but was not the answer.


  3. Frank Campbell

    Peter O:

    It’s an illusion- the blades appear to move slowly, because of their great size.

    They’re spinning at 270 kph. Far too fast for any bird. At that height it’s raptors which bear the brunt. As peak carnivores, they are fewer in number than most species. They are also attracted to birds killed by turbines…

    check out Altamont Pass. Scores of thousands are killed there every year.

  4. Peter Ormonde

    I’m actually yet to read anything credible on bird and bat deaths caused by these gadgets … the blades move so slowly I actually find it hard to imagine…. perhaps they only kill really stupid birds.

  5. Bellistner

    Oskanna: I am a lover of birdlife, so don’t get me wrong here, but the “turbines kills birds so we can’t use them” is a complete furphy. Literally anything we do will affect the environment in some way, even if we retreated to living in caves and wandering about the savanna. So it’s a trade-off. A bird here and there or the mass extinction we’re currently promoting. I’m willing to trade off some of my beloved avian friends if it means there’s a chance that the environment as a whole (including those birds) has a chance to survive our short-sightedness more or less intact.
    We’ve got a big country here, and a lot of choices about where to put stuff so it does the least harm.

  6. Oksanna

    IMAGINE THAT, Bellistner (at post 33). And then imagine a country where we didn’t have any magnificent large birds, like ospreys and wedgetails. Imagine we also didn’t give a stuff if they were from time to time mowed down by the aerofoils of our wind turbines. Imagine if the environmental impact statements had neglected to consider these creatures. Why, then it’d be too late wouldn’t it? I imagine there would be nothing anyone could do about it.

    The impact on animals is more than just the effect of vibrations mentioned in the article. Monckton has highlighted the issue of avian deaths due to wind blades. This has got up some folks’ noses. They even intimated he made it all up. But the bird genocide evidence Monckton spoke of is out there if you are prepared to look:

  7. Peter Ormonde

    Thanks for the suggestions re CSG.

    Sadly I have reached that time of life where I would like to win a few battles. We will do something far more permanent than just annoying the poor blokes who make a hard quid drilling holes.

    The other battle I think we must win is getting the future right – or at least to avoid some of the mistakes made by others.

    One of the key ones in my view has been a headlong rush into windturbines.

    They’re OK as far as they go but I reckon they’re an essentially half-baked gadget. The technical issues arising from the intermittent nature of wind power are very limiting.

    I’d be pretty much certain that the next generation of wind turbines will look and perform very differently to the current “propeller” three blader. Have a look at what the Chinese are playing with.

    As a consequence of the above, there are some things one can do to “smooth out” the swings and roundabouts of variable wind power. First up is putting them where there is the best, most consistent, non-turbulent wind… not necessarily fastest or strongest, but regular and predictable.

    To me that means offshore. Especially here. Think islands, oil rig platforms, barges, pontoons, lightboats. …

    At the moment anyone who is honest in the industry will tell you that location decisions are not being made on the optimal windsource. They are being selected because of a trade off between wind and land/development costs.

    The price of this saving is that the output from most windpower suppliers in Australia is up and down… one hour flat as a tack, next minute it swings about like a gate in a gale. It undermines the potential contribution that windpower can and should make.

    It would be an interesting exercise to develop a policy to optimise the emphasis placed on reliability of the energy source when windfarms are being considered. There would need to be some sort of subsidy or other form of assistance to unhook these essentially technical issues from the pressures of the land market or the higher costs of offshore facilities.

    One of the “solutions” to the intermittent nature of windpower is to have heaps and heaps of ’em – cranking out a fraction of the rated overall capacity – with a back-up supply from gas generators, which can be turned on and off easier than coal guzzlers.
    Which brings me back to my CSG invasion and where we started.

  8. Bellistner

    Note that I’m note suggesting that you should resort to ANFO or vigilante destruction to get your point across that you don’t feel like having gas well drilled on your land, but I can certainly understand the frustration of some farmers who are getting railroaded.

  9. Bellistner

    If only we lived in a vast, largely uninhabited country, where most of the population was clustered along the East coast, with somewhat lesser populations in the mid-South, far South-West, mid-north coasts or isolated inland centres. Imagine, if you will, a country where one could build a large-scale wind farm or solar thermal plant out where the nearest peson was probably 50km from the closest turbine tower or solar tracker. Imagine that country then connecting all these farms with high efficiency HVDC lines and a Smart Grid. And imagine this country doing all this because the generators they’re currently using are an average of halfway through their economic life and have to be replaced anyway.

    Peter Ormonde said:

    I’m surrounded by open cuts and am about to grace some 200 CSG test bores.You could grace them right back with some ANFO, or, (more realistically and much more legally) Civil disobedience. You know, accidentally park across the access gate. Subscribe them to daily porn. Send them your Junk mail. That sort of thing.

  10. Peter Ormonde


    Yes but that 20% wind is 20% efficient and consistent wind … not these misplaced tinker toys we’re subsidising now.

    Now Frank Campbell is not a reactionary in my view. He seems reasonable to me, just angry. And he is justifiably pissed off at how these “solutions” are being foisted onto regional areas. The arrogance of these greenish property developers is creating its own opposition unnecessarily.

    Anyway I’m sure Frank’s big and ugly enough to look after himself but I am concerned that we would drive people away simply be rolling out our “solutions” like some sort of big green steamroller.

    There is a messianic enthusiasm underlying some of the windfarm talk that reminds me far too much of the rhetoric and practices of coal companies, who basically regard locals as historical road kill, dismiss their concerns and typecast them all as opponents of progress. In doing so we create opposition and hostility where it is not necessary. We unite people against us and drive them into the waiting arms of corporate interests which actually do have entrenched hostility to change.

    It would be worth doing this perhaps if the windfarms were being located in the areas of the most reliable and productive wind energy. But that is not the case. The predominant consideration seems to be a place with “reasonable” wind and most importantly cheap land and low capital costs.

    To the extent there will be a Churchill of Renewables I’d be putting my money on him speaking Mandarin. The Chinese are doing some wonderfully clever stuff when it comes to renewables. It will take a few years, but I suspect that by the end of the next decade we’ll be regarding these current windturbines as quaint but largely obsolete relics.

  11. kd

    Yeah, 20% wind, 30% solar (say split 10/20 distributed PV/solar thermal , 30% efficiency gains leaves 20% nuclear/geothermal/gas backup/something else. High voltage DC is absolutely required for this kind of solution. As is the kind of leadership that gets the political naysayers like Frank and Tiny Rabbit to STFU.

    My incomplete knowledge of optimisation algorithms suggests to me that technically this is all perfectly achievable with appropriate investment over a decadal time scale (it’s just well understood maths and statistics at the end of the day, and both these things have values which to translate to true or false). My incomplete knowledge of politics (where ‘true’ at the moment is some horrible twisted comprimise in thrall to short term – subdecadal timescale – vested interests) tells me that this part of the solution is harder. And not helped by kneejerk reactionaries like Frank Campbell, who have the potential to be valuable community leaders if they could disentangle the politics and the mathematics.

    It all makes me wonder where Churchill of the Renewables is going to come from. Possibly from China or India? Maybe those Hindus and Buddhists know how to run a civilisation on a millennial time scale? If the Australian Pollys got with the program they’d be able to throw off the fossils’ shackles and give us something worth voting for, and play a game of Colonial leadership 😉

  12. Peter Ormonde

    Cud et al …
    The magic number for wind seems to be about 20% of total capacity according to the EU stuff I read. It is simply too “intermittent” (as Mark Diesendorf puts it (see above)) to put too many eggs in the basket.

    Yes you’re right the more turbines we build and the more spread out they are we can “average out” the variability… that’s true … if we have 10,000 turbines (industry estimate) scattered all up and down the East Coast we will smooth out the variability problem … that is, some of them will always be working. But overall output will be only marginally greater …. that is, the installed capacity will operate at a fraction of its rated output. Not as sensible as putting half that many offshore or elsewhere where the wind is more consistent.

    Get much better production (more predictable and constant output) but of course the establishment costs are higher. Better output though at much less cost over time.

    Depends if we want cheap half-productive toys – and lots and lots of them – or if we want to get serious about wind generation. So far not much sign of that here.

    At the moment we are doing things on the cheap … sticking them were the land is cheap and the people powerless… just a greenish sort of property development. They are not being placed to maximise the energy source.

    Usage will adapt to availability …. I wonder if Julia Gillard understands that this is a central part of a wind-based power system…. don’t say that too loudly near a politician mate. I’m not sure how long it will take for all those off-peak heaters to be switched, nor how quickly electric cars will make a serious dent in the market but politicians are looking for power systems that can meet the needs of a growing economy and maintain supply at the anticipated rate of demand. Electricity consumption rises in direct proportion to GDP growth.

    We must not delude ourselves into thinking we can solve these challenges by wishing the problems away. The future cannot be powered by our warm inner glow.

    Yes I agree that there are a vast range of potential and existing renewable options … most are far better than land-based wind power in a variable climate like Australia. Solar thermal and geothermal seem far more attractive options economically, and I really like some of that Norwegian osmotic stuff. Lots more work is needed, and some government role in fostering it.

    But this government assistance should not go to subsidising inefficient, undercapitalised and half-developed solutions like windfarms in dusty paddocks.

    I am in no way opposed to moving to renewable energy sources – but I am very critical of the way wind turbines are being introduced and where they are being put. It does not make long term sense. Wind power – properly designed and put where the wind is – can play a role as part of the solution, but it is at best a minor role.

    The productivity commission’s recent report is a worthwhile read on this matter … about getting the best energy outcome for our dollar. So far, all our solar panels and wind farms look pretty pissant despite the substantial costs.

  13. Frank Campbell


    Research the cost of new/upgraded transmission lines in Scotland. Existing minor lines can’t cope with windpower’s crazy surges, and the turbines are scattered everywhere.
    Insanely expensive.

  14. kd


    Let me repeat this for you, as you appear to have failed to notice what Cud said:

    [ the more those turbines are geographically dispersed the less correlation there is between their outputs ]

    High voltage DC lines anyone? Optimisation algorithms? Smart grid? All proven technology.

    And highly responsive gas cogeneration plants cost about £400/AUD600 per KwH. And this baseload fallacy is caused by a market distortion in turn caused by the technological limitations of coal. And there’s a good bit of inefficiency embedded into our systems that would be fairly easy to eliminate given the political will / right economics.

    You do need to get your facts straight or otherwise deal with your ideological blinkers in such a way that allows you to look at this topic objectively. Right now your ideas are so tainted by your cynical approach that your potentially valuable contribution is instead worthless.

  15. Frank Campbell

    This dated 26 June 2011, from the ThisIsMoney website, UK.:

    “The Energy Department has been warned that without this massive back-up for the new generation of heavily subsidised giant wind farms, the lights could go out when the wind dies down.

    Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, said renewables, such as large-scale wind energy, were intermittent and required back-up generation, a role gas was uniquely qualified to fill.

    But as power stations that operate only intermittently would not be financially viable, Laidlaw said: ‘The building of new gas-fired capacity must be incentivised so that gas can fulfil its role as a bridging fuel.’

    To that end, energy companies are asking the Government for ‘capacity payments’. This ensures firms are paid a fee all year round for keeping a plant on standby.

    As in previous subsidies, homeowners would be asked to pay for them through yet another levy on their fuel bills, which are already expected to soar by up to 20 per cent this year alone. The Department is considering the request from energy companies and an answer is expected in a new energy White Paper due later this year.

    Industry sources insist the Government has no alternative but to agree to the ‘capacity payments’ for standby generation if it wants wind power, which also receives huge subsidies, to provide one-third of Britain’s energy needs.

    In winter, when the most intense cold period coincides with a high pressure front, most wind turbines do not work.
    One industry executive said: ‘Why would we build a power station – costing about £600 million – that is guaranteed to make a loss because it is not used most of the year?’

    By 2020, most of Britain’s nuclear plants, old gas-fired plants and coal-fired power stations will be closed, leaving a 30 per cent energy gap to be filled by more new nuclear plants and more wind power.

    British Gas managing director Phil Bentley has warned prices will have to rise by at least 15 per cent to compensate for the soaring cost of wholesale gas.”

  16. Frank Campbell


    Wind turbine numbers make little diff. to production averaging when it counts- peak demand. Stable continental high pressure systems ensure poor to zero wind turbine performance in winter and summer- the coldest nights and hottest days.

    The kindest thing one could say about wind power is that it is superfluous.

    Far more serious is the cost of backup as wind turbine penetration increases. Under 5% it matters little. The grid can cope. Beyond that, backup powergen is essential.

    Currently in the UK, the idiotic windrush subsidised by the govt. means that 17 gas power stations will have to be built in the next 9 years, at a cost of about $15 billion. Highly inefficient of course- as some of the time these gas stations will be idle.

    No surprise to learn that the power corporations are demanding huge subsidies to build these gas plants.
    Note also that Gillard promised wind companies here $1 billion for grid connections.

    The true cost of wind power is far larger than the wind carpetbaggers admit. They usually concede wind is three times more expensive than FF power. It’s far more than that.

  17. cud chewer

    Just a few points here.

    Firstly, the nature of coal fired power stations is that they do not throttle well and tend to be inefficient at light loads. Because of this we’ve created an electricity market that dispatches a lot of electricity at highly discounted rates at night. As a result we find ourselves using a lot of electricity inefficiently and for purposes such as heating water.

    Secondly, if you take a look at the graphs in windfarmperformance.info what you might notice is that the more tubines there and the more those turbines are geographically dispersed the less correlation there is between their outputs. Even with a very small number of turbines (relative to what we could conceivably need) the averaging effect is pronounced. As you increased the number of turbines and the geographic diversity, the quality of the supply increases. Meaning the probability that the total power will fall below a given percentage of the average keeps falling.

    Thirdly, no one has ever suggested you use wind power without backup. But since we’re already headed towards gas fired power as the next wave of power stations its reasonable to assume that that capacity will be in place when its needed.

    Fourth, usage will adapt to availability. In particular uses of electricity that amount to storing electricity in another form (such as electric vehicles) will quickly move in to shape the demand towards the supply. Indeed, its possible to use some of the battery capacity in a future electric car fleet to buffer the grid itself.

    Fifth, you would never use wind power for your entire energy needs. How much of it can be used is a complex tradeoff. However its there and its cost effective (to a point).

    Sixth, there’s so many renewable technologies that are either 24/7 or can or do incorporate energy storage that its hard to list them. Geothermal is the obvious example. Then solar thermal with storage. One technology that’s not gotten is fair review is solar updraft tower (with the energy storage being under the collector). Then of course wave and tidal are vastly more predictable – again when you combine geographically diverse sites.


  18. kd


    To be viable, wind turbines have to be where the wind is strongest already. The RET distortions created by governments not brave enough to commit to proper greenhouse policy probably increase the tolerance of crappy sites though though.

    Personally I’d much rather see wind turbines on my windy Escarpment rather than the CSG bores they’re currently sinking. But you know, I used to go surfing right in front of a nuclear power station as well … maybe that invalidates my opinion.

  19. Peter Ormonde


    That’s not a particularly solid argument mate. The real issue is why we are putting turbines in rural areas …. it’s not because that’s where the best wind is – it’s because that’s where the land is cheap. Not a good enough reason.
    I’m surrounded by open cuts and am about to grace some 200 CSG test bores. I guess I should be grateful that it’s not a nuke? Just suck it up?
    This sort of attitude makes us sound arrogant and smug.
    How about sticking these things where they should be … on all those majestic headlands along the Great Ocean Road, on top of our snowfields and in our National Parks? Not bloody likely… and neither should we.
    How about Toorak or in the Dandenongs or in Mosman or Bondi and overlooking the Blue Mountains…. no let’s just act like capitalists and stick em on cheap dirt where people can’t jack up.

    This is wrong and unnecessary. They should go where the wind is.


    There are significant protests in Germany over the location of turbines, not least from nature conservation agencies. Also in Denmark, Britain and pretty much anywhere else – other than offshore.

    Wind turbines do have environmental impacts… from visual to apparent health. These can be fixed or ameliorated. But it is not an adequate response to simply impose them … that is the same thinking as coal miners and any other developer.

    The point is to put them where the wind is. That means offshore and on top of skyscrapers as far as I’m concerned. It’s where they work best. Not just where the land is cheap and the locals are powerless.

    We must not start acting like mining companies.

  20. Huh-What?

    Umm. Go to Germany. Specifically Northern Germany. Farmers there have been making money from turbines for years. I wonder what problems they’ve been having… or not.

  21. kd


    We must live on different planets. The people in rural areas with heavy deployment of wind turbines that I’m pretty familiar with seem generally pretty happy that they’re there. Perhaps their happiness is caused by the decommissioned nuclear reactor right nearby.

  22. Frank Campbell


    No one could care less about your financial interest in wind turbines. But defenceless rural people are terrified of the zealotry which drives the imposition of wind turbines. There’s no redress, no compensation- just permanent misery and loss of property value.

    No trace of corruption whatever- just millenarian fervour.

  23. Peter Ormonde

    OK PB sorry that I misinterpreted your idea…. thought you were saying that the demand for electricity was infinitely elastic, as we economists would put it … ie that we can reduce demand significantly and quickly.

    One of the biggest problems for renewables advocates like myself though stems from the variability in supply … and that is made worse by bad investment decisions designed to capitalise on various government incentives… so that we end up sinking these contraptions in places where wind speed is extremely variable for example and the results look – and are – shocking.

    The recent productivity Commission report highlights the fact that far too many of the renewables ventures so far have produced very little power for a substantial cost to the taxpayer… not just in Australia, but all over the world.

    But there’s some pretty interesting stuff getting about now on offshore wind plants where you have more steady wind and little turbulence. Still have variability problems but nothing like the stuff Frank (above) sent me. The ones off California for example have about a 10.8% standard deviation. The land based ones here are looking like 40-50%… all over the place. How can one plan for that? Yes, you might be able to run your steel plant next Tuesday!

    The Chinese are doing some extremely clever stuff with friction free systems using magnetic levitation…the latest plans I saw are talking about churning out enough juice for 500,000 households, at much lower and more variable windspeeds.. Big things… vertical…. look like a milk shake container.

    The point is, this technology is in its infancy and we shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to leap into it without doing our homework and getting it right.

    We also risk pissing off good people like my meliorising mate there Frank Campbell, just because we’re sticking these things where the land is cheap and the people powerless, rather than where the wind is good.

    More I look at them the more I like little vertical axis darius rotors on top of buildings… look cute, quiet, get rid of the pigeons and crank out a reasonable bit of juice. And you can retrofit them onto existing buildings. Look much more interesting than solar panels.

    Anyway, again, sorry for misunderstanding you PB.

    If we get this stuff right we can wean ourselves off coal completely in a short time. If we don’t it’ll never happen.

  24. PeeBee

    Peter, you have read too much into what I have written I appreciate your enthusiasm for “renewables” but change is not going to happen as a result of just wishing the problem away.

    I never advocated renewables – although logic tells me one day we will need them, nor do I think you are justified in assuming I am wishing for anything at all.

    All I am saying that the term ‘Baseload’ should be avoided. I would prefer that people recognise the need to have supply matched to demand. I mentioned that demand can be manipulated to some extent, but with coal fired powerstations, the ability to get down to a low levels of supply is limited as a consequence we tend to waste energy.

  25. Dan Cass

    @Peter Ormonde: OK, thanks re the thoughts about how to accommodate the antis. Its hard to have a balanced debate when there is so much anti-renewable propaganda out there.

    @ggm: You are right there – Senator Siewert asked Sarah Laurie whether she was actually advocating a precautionary approach to all industrial infrasound and she basically refused to answer the question.

    @PeeBee: you are absolutely right about the baseload myth. Lots of smart multinationals like GE and IBM and Siemens are investing lots in the smart grid tech now. Its only a matter of time before dopey ole’ Australia catches up…100 years or so 😛

    @Frank Campbell:

    You are basically alleging that I am corrupt, promoting wind to improperly make a profit.

    I remind you of 3 things:

    1. Its not improper to make a profit. Its called free enterprise.

    2. I work for FREE as a voluntary Director of the Board. I contribute far more than I could ever hope to make in profit from the $5000 in shares.

    3. http://blogs.crikey.com.au/crikey-code-of-conduct/

  26. Peter Ormonde

    Thanks for that Frank …. most handy …. as suspected output is up and down like a bride’s nightie!

    I’ll spend some time checking these numbers out in greater detail today but I’ll be buggered if I can see any easy way to integrate such dramatic day to day variation in a grid – unless of course it’s only a tiny percentage of the generating capacity. BIG PROBLEM.

    I’ll compare it to some European stuff I’ve got and see what sort of variability they’re dealing with.

  27. Frank Campbell

    PO: daily wind turbine power production can be found at windfarmperformance.info

  28. Peter Ormonde

    G’day Frank,

    It’s not the turbines that are the problem …. it’s where they’re putting them.

    I’d be very interested in getting hold of the output figures from these installations if that’s possible. Any chance?

  29. Peter Ormonde


    How much fluctuation between peaks and troughs do you think there is in the national grid old mate? To meet the demand for power we must have the capacity to supply the troughs yes? And the peaks. How little can we get away with?

    Here’s an interesting paper by the very clever Mark Diesendorf:


    Like me he points out that baseload power can be supplied by Solar Thermal, Geothermal and a variety of smaller systems, but fundamentally he does not try to argue that the base load problem doesn’t exist.

    Have a look at the graphs reproduced here to see what the electricity demand curve looks like for Victoria as an example:


    To get an idea of projected electricity demand by state:

    Table 8.1 is the critical bit.

    Here’s some interesting broader reading on the matter:

    How much power we consume in Australia each year:

    Projected growth rates and why:

    PB, I appreciate your enthusiasm for “renewables” but change is not going to happen as a result of just wishing the problem away. We need to be able to guarantee reliable efficient and economic energy. That means supplying base load power plus having enough additional capacity to deal with the peaks.

    This will not be done by piddly little PVs on the roof, the odd turbine in a paddock and everyone having a smart meter, nor will it by done by lots of little treadmills being turned by pixies.. Get real or get out of the way.

  30. PeeBee

    Peter@9 I disagree with your comment about a core demand that is relatively static. The core demand is manufactured to consume the power generated from power stations that would normally be wasted (by sending long distances over wires to be dissipated as heat). Things like street lighting, off peak water heating, pumping water up hill to fill reservoirs (to be later released to generate hydroelectricity). Most generators loose money at night and on Sundays, it is sold at deflated prices. And due to the law of supply and demand it encourages use at these times.

    The smart meters being introduced into Victoria is to give customers price signals to encourage use in off peak times.

    Coal generators run at more or less constant output (although can be manipulated to some extent). It is like having a car and saying it needs an engine that can produce a base load of power. So off you go, zipping around the streets sometimes doing 100 kpm, sometimes 60 and when you stop at a red light the engine is still revving and there is no need for it, but you can’s switch it off because it will take a day to start up again. At night you park it in your garage and it revs away all night because you can’t switch it off.

    Just like this car, we need an electrical generation system that matches supply with demand. The term ‘baseload’ is manufactured to make it sound like we need coal fired powerstations.

  31. Peter Ormonde

    Far from it PB….no furphy…

    There is a core demand which is relatively static, then there is a marginal fluctuating demand. Sadly this fluctuating demand is usually coinciding when the sun is not shining on one’s roof.

    In order to fully remove coal fired power generation over time we need a renewable supply of baseload power. If we keep playing around on the edges with dinky little solar panels and windturbines scattered about the place then the underlying demand for power will not be met and we will remain dependent on coal… while it lasts.

    Anyone seriously considering unhooking us from coal is looking at solar thermal plants and geothermal generation… continuous, economical and reliable baseload power. There’s also some interesting things being done with osmosis in Scandinavia which is worth a look.

    Yes there’s a bit of tinkering on the edges that can be achieved with existing PV … the best of which are 16% efficient on the sunniest of days last time I looked …PV panels reflect 84% of the light that falls on them … but the power produced is both extremely expensive and variable. Haven’t seen numbers for wind in Australia but given the variability of this country I’d reckon the numbers are pretty poor as well, unless there are seriously windsheared trees about. And that’s not where we’re putting our turbines.

    As I said, there’s a place for windturbines – probably offshore or on skyscrapers, and there might even be a place for solar panels -if we can do something about the cost and the efficiency – but they are marginal, at least at the moment.

    While we use electricity to power our factories and our cities then yes we need a generating system that can supply it. To ignore this is to whistle in the wind and will guarantee a lingering reliance on coal or gas.

  32. PeeBee

    Peter@2. I keep hearing (and you are repeating) that we ‘need’ baseload electricity but this is a complete furthy. What we need is electricity generation that matches demand. I suspect that if you perpetrate the idea that we ‘need’ baseload electricity then the only answer (in Australia) is coal fired generation.

    One of the drawbacks with coal generated electricity is that you can’t turn it off and on as you require. This is a drawback of this form of electricity generation, but if you peddle the idea that there is a need for ‘baseload’, it turns this rather large negative into a positive.

  33. Frank Campbell

    And note that Crikey’s record in promoting the most extreme renewable energy/climate propagandists continues…

  34. Frank Campbell

    “There is nothing to be gained by waiting until solar and wind researchers get death threats.”

    The theats- and actual violence/ arson- have all been one way: Turbine supporters and beneficiaries routinely abused opponents long before the latter fought back (with verbal insults only so far) A disability pensioner making a one-man protest next to the highway at Waubra was injured in one attack. He was twice threatened with being shot and also surrounded by company thugs who verbally abused him. Police were prepared to lay charges, but the victim was too terrified to do so.

    A western district farmer had three haysheds burnt down on one night. $1m damage.

    The fact is people worldwide are waking up to the uselessness and expense of wind power. They are also demanding research into possible health impacts of noise. The denialism here is all from Cass- a beneficiary of wind turbines. The Senate Inquiry concluded that there were grounds for concern about infrasound in particular and called for urgent research. The anti-scientific attitude of Cass and the phony “industry” has been apparent for years.

    The so-called “community” wind turbines (2 only- an electrical joke) that Cass represents are already making life a misery for those living nearby. There’s nothing “community” about the Leonard’s Hill turbines- the investors are overwhemingly from the expensive inner Eastern suburbs of Melbourne and the Carlton colony of Daylesford, 7km away. I watched the convoy of flash cars and 4WDs arrive for the opening. None of the real locals were allowed in. Heavy security saw to that. As a Green voter, this fascistic mass of lies and thuggery in the name of the environment sickens me.
    What do you think happened to the value of the immediate neighbours’ properties when these monstrosities appeared? Phone any real estate agent to find out…

  35. Douglas Evan

    I am a proponent of expanding wind energy as a clean green cost effective energy generating technology. I made a submission to the inquiry supporting this position. Much misleading propaganda has been circulated by opponents of wind power in pursuit of their own self interested goals. However, leaving aside those who disingenuously claim to suffer negative health effects, there now seems little doubt that prolonged proximity to wind turbines is responsible for genuine negative medical symptoms in a small percentage of people. The mechanism is not well understood but the result seems clear. Community opposition to wind-farms has become such an issue in Denmark, perhaps the world leader in rolling out wind energy, that DONG, Denmark’s largest developer of wind energy has withdrawn from all further land-based projects and will only seek to develop wind power off-shore in future. Denmark is a small country with a much greater density of wind turbines than Australia but perhaps the time is right for Australia, with far greater available space, to pre-empt this situation by applying one or two kilometre setbacks from human habitation. Yes I am aware of the impact this will have on prime wind power sites, especially in the more densely settled south eastern coastal belt, but there is a lot of empty land out there.Maybe the possibility should be seriously explored.

  36. Michael Hampton

    Ummm vibrations, live next door to a wind farm, or the eastern freeway? Surely wind farms can be a component in the alternative.

  37. ggm

    Any repeated activity you care to think of is capable of generating infrasound. As a resident of West End I was certainly aware of non-infrasound rumblings from the concrete factory down by the Brisbane River.

    What these numpties haven’t realized, is that if they ‘go after’ wind power on this basis, then they’ve opened a massive can of worms on precautionary-priciple, wont-somebody-think-of-the-children for a LOT of generalized industry, and large-scale activity.

    Which I suspect, includes their prime vote- and finance support bases. Go gang!

  38. Peter Ormonde


    No no … not the coal industry … I am surrounded by open cut mines … anything the coal industry says I regard with enormous suspicion if not outright hostility…Now we’re up for 200 CSG test bores. Strewth!

    I actually agree that there is a certain romantic aesthetic of gently turning windmills … but they look much better from afar, Dan…. not next door. Offshore or on tall buildings makes much more sense, both aesthetically and economically.

    I’m far more attracted to geothermal and solar thermal and take some comfort from the Government’s recent funding announcements in these areas.

    The Productivity Commission’s recent report makes some interesting points on wind power…. not my first choice by any means… high cost and low and variable output. But it could be part of the answer, if it’s done well.

    I don’t think it is wise or necessarily correct to characterise opponents of wind turbines as “anti-wind”… they probably don’t want them right next door. Some decent planning controls that require wind generators to buy up a sizeable slab of land as buffer zones would solve the problem I’d reckon. But adds to the costs of course unless they can run cattle on agistment twixt the towers.

    All I’m suggesting is that we don’t need a head-on brawl with the locals about these things… a bit of constructive lateral thinking and accommodation might help.

  39. Dan Cass

    Thanks @Stephen Flegg, I share your frustrations with Fielding. He’s a quite nice bloke but politically he has been disingenuous and unproductive.

    Thanks for the constructive criticisms @Peter Ormonde. I think wind farms are beautiful, but that might be partly because I like the aesthetics and also partly because of the idea, what they represent.

    I have to take you up on base load – you’ve fallen for coal industry talking points my friend.

    You can’t rely on a grid using 1 turbine that is intermittent, but 10,000 turbines is another matter.

    Smart grids can manage electricity demand and supply with greater cost and energy efficiency than our dumb, coal grid does.

  40. Peter Ormonde

    I’m not a big fan of wind turbines in rural areas. Largely on aesthetic grounds but also for efficiency. I know I wouldn’t want to be living next to them.

    Don’t know about the vibrations and the low frequency sound or the health effects, but I can understand how people would find them difficult and unpleasant to live near, and that can make you sick.

    I’ve done a bit of work on wind power – even built a few turbines – and I reckon that the only sensible place to put them is offshore – where the wind is. Another possibility is on top of skyscrapers.

    But by and large wind is too variable in this flat low country to be a serious contender for supplying base load power. Offshore or up high is a different matter.

    If we are serious about providing acceptable renewable solutions for energy, we should try and ensure that they are indeed acceptable. Don’t just foist our solutions onto someone else.

  41. Stephen Flegg

    Wind turbines aren’t safe? Come on Fielding it’s time to keep your dignity and retire with some grace. How do these people from the extremes of the political spectrum get voted in???


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