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The answer is not blowing in the wind (turbines)

The loopy Greens just love wind energy and in theory it sounds great if you have a good site but like so many schemes to save the planet there are always those pesky “unintended consequences) like maintenance issues and well tendency of these machines to chop up all kinds of birds both common and endangered,

Broken promises: The rusting wind turbinesof Hawaii 

Paul GIPE, a former California wind company executive, calls what happened next a ‘tax credit frenzy’.

‘The lure of quick riches resulted in shoddy products that littered California with poorly operating — sometimes non-operating — turbines.’

They were expensive and badly designed. Some were far too small to make a difference, others were just clunky machines designed by the aero industry with blades the length of a rugby pitch.

But thanks to the subsidies, it hardly mattered that some of the untested turbines were so sub-standard they barely even worked. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, for some wind energy investors it was simply a tax scam. 

But as tends to happen with a business that is driven by financial incentives, it lasted only as long as the subsidies. In 1986, the price of oil tumbled and the subsidies started to die out. Suddenly, the wind energy sums didn’t add up any more.

And just like the gold rush miners who had rushed to the same Californian passes a century earlier, the wind prospectors departed in such a hurry that they didn’t even bother to take down the turbines they had littered across the state.

With so many moving parts to worry about, maintaining turbines is expensive — too expensive when the electricity they could produce was suddenly worth so little.

‘So when something broke, you simply didn’t send a repairman because it just didn’t make financial sense,’ Hawaii wind sceptic Andrew Walden told me.

With some turbine makers going out of business, there were no spare parts either.

According to the California Energy Commission, the collapse in subsidies stalled the state’s huge wind energy industry for nearly two decades.

No one who has driven past one of America’s mega wind farms today can fail to be struck by how few have blades that are turning, even in strong winds.

The truth is that even fewer may be producing electricity than it appears. Many are switched to a mode in which the blades continue to turn just to keep oil moving around the mechanism, but no electricity is produced.

Unfortunately, the frenzy of windmill building during the wind rush didn’t just ruin the view, but also devastated the wildlife.

No one noticed until far too late that the 5,000-turbine wind farm at Altamont Pass is on a major migratory path for birds. The National Audubon Society, America’s RSPB, has called it ‘probably the worst  site ever chosen for a wind  energy project’.

It seems rather obvious to me that until they actaully design wind turbines that don’t fail in service and that don’t  shred the creatures of the air then that “dirty” coal fired power station is looking like a far more benign option for the environment than wind power… now can someone please explain that to Bob Brown and Christine Milne?

Cheers Comrades

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30 Comments

  1. evcricket says:

    This is a pretty bad post, even by your standards Iain.

    No comment on habitat loss; the number one cause of bird species loss, and much more of a problem with coal than anything else.

    No comment on the actual bird death statistics, most of which derive from a Spanish site on the Milvus migrans migratory path. I don’t need to explain to you why that’s signifgicant.

    No comment on the fact that buildings kill more birds than turbines. Would YOU have us living in caves Iain?

    No comment on how the Merit Order Effect is LOWERING electricity prices in eastern Australia. I’ll leave it to you to explain that to your readers “Iain”.

    Noting your deafening silence on all of these issues, it’s hard not to imagine that you have some agenda with this post. Maybe some balance is required, so that people will start taking this blog seriously, rather than the flagrantly far-right parrot-blog this has become.

    I suppose you’re in on the Clive Palmer conspiracy as well?

  2. Iain Hall says:

    Hi Evan

    This is a pretty bad post, even by your standards Iain.

    Hmm I’ll let that one through to the keeper

    No comment on habitat loss; the number one cause of bird species loss, and much more of a problem with coal than anything else.

    While I agree with you that habitat loss is a big issue for all animals but when it comes to the big picture I don’t see how you can insist that coal mines contribute big numbers to that loss, in fact I reckon that urban sprawl is a more serious threat to bird habitats than the coal mines that cover relatively small areas even in their open cut incarnations.

    No comment on the actual bird death statistics, most of which derive from a Spanish site on the Milvus migrans migratory path. I don’t need to explain to you why that’s significant.

    As I see it that is actually irrelevant to the point I’m making namely that by design wind turbines pose an ongoing risk to many birds even when they are not in the path of migrations.

    No comment on the fact that buildings kill more birds than turbines. Would YOU have us living in caves Iain?

    Really? How so? No I think I get what you are alluding to here because I have had a few birds commit suicide by flying into my windows at home so there is obviously an issue with the visual acuity of birds and our delight in the highly reflective mirrored glass used in some tall buildings but other than that many bird species actaully thrive in our urban spaces, heck we have even had some rare birds of prey nesting and successfully breeding from the ledges of our tall buildings up here in Brisbane. So humanity is not always a total negative for birds in the environment.

    No comment on how the Merit Order Effect is LOWERING electricity prices in eastern Australia. I’ll leave it to you to explain that to your readers “Iain”.

    Now I would really like to see some actual proof of this claim Evan because as far as I can see the data all suggests that the actual contribution of power to the grid from wind turbines is much less than their rated capacity and their output is mostly too variable for them to be as useful as their proponents suggest.But once you factor in the subsidies and tax breaks for wind power I think that you will find that the added costs and knock on effects of subsidies far out weight any claimed price effects on power prices.

    Noting your deafening silence on all of these issues, it’s hard not to imagine that you have some agenda with this post. Maybe some balance is required, so that people will start taking this blog seriously, rather than the flagrantly far-right parrot-blog this has become.

    I suppose you’re in on the Clive Palmer conspiracy as well?

    Are you looking for a writing Gig Evan? because I would welcome contributions from a Greenie to broaden the writing profile of the Sandpit. Drop me a line if you are interested (the pay is however, non existent) . As for the “Clive Palmer conspiracy” I have not heard of it but I love conspiracy theories because they are usually good value as comedy and convoluted logic exercises.

  3. evcricket says:

    Iain, I hope you understand that this statement refers to ALL generation equipment:
    “actual contribution of power to the grid from wind turbines is much less than their rated capacity ”

    What you are describing here is “capacity factor”. Or, (the amount generated in a year)/(the amount it could generate in a year). Figures for wind indicate this is around 40%. The last coal plant I worked on was 57%. The largest gas fired plant in Australia achieves about 35-40%. So-called “baseload”.

    “Are you looking for a writing Gig Evan?”. Yep. But I need money.

    Look up the Clive Palmer thing. He reckons the Greens in Australia are funded by the CIA as a way to impair the strong Australian economy. I would argue it is more likely Ted Bailleu is employed by, ghods, I don’t know who, to keep electricity prices high. Bailleu’s opposition to upgrading the SA-Vic interconnect means electricity prices stay high. South Australian wind undercuts Vic brown coal, the cheapest and dirtiest power in the country.

  4. Paul says:

    Good post Iain

    However did you also consider that wind and other so called “renewable” energy sources simply cannot provide base-load power?

    Paul

  5. Iain Hall says:

    Thanks for your reply Evan
    Where do you get the 40% capacity factor for wind energy? figures I have seen suggest that wind turbines contribute far less than that.
    Sorry to hear that you are strapped for cash, but the offer remains open if you just feel the urge to get your pearls of wisdom out there!
    Finally I did see some guff about Clive Palmer and the CIA but I immediately dismissed it as nonsense.

    Don’t know much about Victoria, but up here the cost of power is continually rising in a rocket style manner, this is despite us being told that privatizing electricity distribution would lead to lower rates… Hmm right who said that? Oh yeah the state Labor government….

  6. Paul says:

    Its pretty simple really when you think about it evcricket. The wind does not blow all the time as any person can tell you from personal experience but coal can burn 24 hrs per a day and uranium can nucularize around the clock too. It’s not rocket science.

  7. Paul says:

    And also evcricket before you say anything about less power being needed at night some of us have trouble sleeping at night and we lke to watch television and use the heater and other energy consumption activities.

  8. evcricket says:

    Paul, as long as you’re not smelting aluminium you should be okay.

  9. GD says:

    bugger about the aluminium industry then..

  10. Iain Hall says:

    Precisely GD!
    Especially since the future of so much industry is predicated upon making things out of that light weight metal.

    Great to have you back BTW!

  11. Ray Dixon says:

    I heard a report last night that there is enough brown coal in the LaTrobe Valley to supply Victoria’s energy needs for the next 400 years. That being the case, I’d suggest it’s rather premature to be planning to shut it down by what, 2020 or 2030 or thereabouts. It also strongly suggests that as the supply is so plentiful and easily accessed (it’s all open-cut mining) the price should and could be made much lower.

    Now I know I’ll cop heaps over that but the way I see it we should not be panicked into switching to cleaner fuel supplies until (a) there is one that can meet the load (b) it is affordable for consumers.

    Honestly, if any party wants to win government all they have to do is promise much cheaper coal-powered electricity for the next decade (petrol too) and they’ll win in such a landslide they’ll also be in office for all that time. Maybe Gillard should do another about face? It’s about the only way she could win the next election.

    In all seriousness, we are being pushed and shoved into this new energy regime. Which is kinda weird seeing that one doesn’t effectively exist.

  12. Ray Dixon says:

    I see GD has lost his gravatar. Is it really him???!!!???

  13. Iain Hall says:

    I think so Ray 😉

  14. evcricket says:

    GD and others. The aluminium industry are going to leave of their own accord. Our wages are too high and their plants were designed and built in the 50s and 60s and are rubbish.

  15. Iain Hall says:

    I seem to recall that the aluminum smelters up here are actually much more recent that that Evan but the thing to consider is that if our plants were to close then in all likely hood the industry would move to third world countries were there is no carbon tax and no environmental standards worthy of any praise. So is that really a good result for the planet?

  16. Ray Dixon says:

    Carbon tax is not killing the aluminium plants. It’s our high dollar and, in my opinion, the companys’ desires to find a cheap work force overseas. Much like what Qantas is doing by laying off workers here and outsourcing in-flight staff on wages of about $400 per month.

    On the subject of Qantas, the most ludicrous thing I’ve heard lately is that the criticism of their Irish-born CEO Alan Joyce is based on anti-Irish AND on anti-gay sentiments. That’s a load of rubbish. To start with, Aussies identify strongly with the Irish and any connotation that his decisions seem a bit “Irish” is an after-the-fact, tongue-in-cheek description. Moreover, no one knew until very recently that he’d come out. If people are criticising the CEO of a major corporation for being gay, well that’s a first for me. It’s a smoke screen to deflect away from the fact that Joyce seems to be acting under instructions to devalue that company so that it’s ripe for takeover and ripe for a relocation of its HQ. That’s why ‘a dumb Irishman’* is being paid $5 million to trash his own brand.

    (* I couldn’t resist it!)

  17. evcricket says:

    Iain – listen to Ray. He knows what he’s talking about.

    And yes, it would be a good result for the planet. Almost every country in the world has a lower carbon intensity than us.

  18. Paul says:

    Don’t you think Ray and evcricket that it’s exactly the oppossite of progress to be turning off electricity and energy and changing the way we live? There are I believe from memory something like 500 years of coal under the ground in Victoria – it’s basically a sure thing that they will have discovered a new form of electricity generation by 2512.

    Paul

  19. Ray Dixon says:

    Yes Paul, I agree that we should use that brown coal (that’s why it’s there) until something better is found. I said so earlier in this thread:

    https://iainhall.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/the-answer-is-not-blowing-in-the-wind-turbines/#comment-72188

    I’m not so stupid as to think we can continue to pollute forever but I’m optimistic that a) a new source will be found within the next decade or two b) the earth will heal itself thereafter.

  20. Paul says:

    Ray what are your thoughts on vegetable oil for cars, have you seen that? Seems a good way to use something twice- the first time for cooking and eating and the second time for intenal combustion.

  21. Ray Dixon says:

    My opinion is they stink like a bad Ipswich fish & chip shop.

    Seriously, there would be major problems in harvesting & collecting the old oil from all over the country. And would there be enough?

  22. Iain Hall says:

    Evan
    I have no trouble accepting the fact that our high dollar is a big factor here but that does not negate what I have been saying about the bad environmental prospects if we lose our smelting industry to overseas countries.
    That said this claim about “carbon intensity” is I think rather erroneous due to the way the emissions from our coal exports are counted on our ledger rather than on the countries that buy and then burn the stuff, take that out of the mix and then our numbers would be no where near as bad as you want to suggest.

  23. Iain Hall says:

    Paul
    It can certainly work on a local DIY level but unless you know what you are doing in the processing it can be rather dangerous to turn that waste into useable fuel because its not just a case of pouring chip oil into your diesel tank.

  24. Paul says:

    /yes fair enough I guess fellers.

    It would be nice though if we could ween ourselves off an energy source that is mostly in the hands of, let’s face it, Moslem nations.

  25. Ray Dixon says:

    It would be nice though if we could ween ourselves off an energy source that is mostly in the hands of, let’s face it, Moslem nations

    Huh? Last time I checked, Paul, Australia was producing most of its own oil.

  26. Paul says:

    It won’t always be like that though Ray. Eventually we will have no choice but to use Suadi Arabia and Iran and Iraq oil.

  27. Ray Dixon says:

    It’s a long way off, Paul, but what has being “muslim countries” got to do with it? I think the point is we don’t want to be at the mercy of oil-rich sheiks who jack up the price to create obscene wealth. Religion and/or terrorism fears should play no part in our desire to not be reliant on overseas oil to run our cars. As it stands we supply 70% of our own needs and that’s not changing anytime soon. However, at some stage we need to look at alternative fuels like ethanol from sugar cane. We won’t be using oil forever.

  28. Paul says:

    Ray I was just asking questions.

  29. Ray Dixon says:

    I know, Paul, but I just didn’t get the point of the one about us being reliant on “Muslim countries" for oil, that's all. Apart from that we appear to be on the same page re fuel for our cars. And on using brown coal for our electricity needs until something better is found. You have to wonder about the logic of those who say we shouldn't be using that God/Nature-given resource for the betterment of mankind. Err, how would life be if we'd never discovered and utilised the power of coal? Think about it.

  30. Paul says:

    I know Ray! I mean why did God put it all in the ground if he didn’t mean for us to use it?

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