Abbott government continues ‘jaw-boning’ of wind farm sector

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In currency and interest rate markets, it’s known as “jaw-boning” – the technique used by officials to simply talk about action, usually on currency and credit marks, to get the market to pay attention.

It has been used to influence outcomes in combating the credit crisis of nearly a decade ago, and more recently by Australian Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stephens on the level of the local currency.

And it has also been used – to devastating impact – by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in trying to prevent investment in wind farms in Australia.

The wind industry has not been short of policy support. A target for 41,000GWh actually remains in place, at least until a Senate vote expected early this week.

But Abbott and his government ministers have managed for the past two years to talk investors out of putting money into wind farms, first by signaling a review to the legislation, then by appointing a climate sceptic and pro-nuclear businessman to lead it.

Then it took eight months to strike an agreement with Labor over a reduced target, and now – just as the new legislation for a 33,000GWh target appears set to be put in place, frustrating Abbott’s stated desire for a much deeper cut – the government has gone back to jaw-boning the sector again.

This time by complaining about its aesthetics, expressing concern about health impacts, and expressing a desire to reduce the target if it could. It is only one vote in the Senate away from being able to do that.

It seems a deliberate strategy to talk down the sector. One wonders what an international investor or financier is to make of Australia’s position and its “commitment to renewable energy”, knowing that the PM is one vote short of being able to turn legislation on this “visually awful” and potentially unhealthy technology.

After Abbott’s extraordinary intervention late last week, where he complained about the noise of wind farms, despite only ever being near a single turbine on Rottnest Island, it was the turn of environment minister Greg Hunt to comment on the fate of the renewable energy industry.

If the wind sector was hoping for support from the minister whose portfolio directly covers the renewable energy target, then it will have been disappointed.

First of all, Hunt refused to be drawn on his view of wind farms, either because he doesn’t have one, or because he has decided it is not politick of him to express one in the current environment.

In several radio interviews and doorstops on Friday, Hunt was repeatedly asked about Abbott’s comments, but said only that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”; that he (Hunt) had a “neutral view”, and pointed – obliquely – to the fact that Abbott “likes Picasso” and Hunt prefers Dali.

Then he gave succor to the protests of the minority of people who are actively protesting against wind farms:

“I’m a little less fussed about this, but for some people, it really matters to them and so we have to absolutely respect what happens to people in their own lives and their own backyards ,” Hunt told Radio 2UE on Friday.

“So they’re entitled to be heard and sometimes people deride those who actually have to live in an area where suddenly something has been built.”

Hunt’s reluctance to express an opinion is perhaps not surprising, given that he has spent most of the last two years saying that the RET was being reviewed because it would have been hard to meet, and that the proposed amendment was in fact an increase, only for Abbott to say the real reason was because the government didn’t like them, and thought they were harmful, and that the new target was a cut, not an increase.

On those supposed health impacts referred to by Abbott in his interview with radio host Alan Jones on Thursday, Hunt suggested that, despite the findings of medical authorities in Australia, the US, Canada, and Europe, the jury was still out on the issue.

At a doorstop interview on Friday, he was asked.


Minister, do you agree with the Prime Minister that wind farms are causing health problems in the community?


Oh look, there’s a Senate assessment and I won’t try to pre-empt that. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

This is extraordinary, given that the current Senate inquiry is being manned by anti-wind politicians – from both the Coalition and the cross-benches – who say they have already made up their mind about the medical impacts of wind farms. Hunt also made note that the National Health and Medical Research Council is commissioning an assessment “so the last thing that I would want to do is pre-empt that.”

So, do wind farms have a future in Australia’s energy mix?

Hunt dodged the question again, pointing instead to the future of solar.

“Look, they (wind farms) are a part of the Renewable Energy Target but I think you’ll find that solar is becoming increasingly competitive.

“The whole purpose of this target is to achieve a certain renewable energy outcome for Australia – 23.5 per cent by 2020 – and then to let the different forms of renewable energy compete, and solar’s becoming more competitive each day.”

That’s an interesting assessment, indicating no long-term potential for wind. Indeed, it points to RenewEconomy’s report on Thursday that the government is looking for ways to push solar over wind farms.

It may be that the big hope for the wind industry remains in state-based renewables targets.

The Greens have announced they will seek the removal of 7C of the RET act in the Senate debate, although they are unlikely to have the numbers.

7C restricts the ability of the states to have their own tradable renewable energy certificate schemes, as Victoria did when the Howard government brought the then renewable energy target to a halt.

“While Tony Abbott tries to hold up renewable energy for the benefit of his mining donors, states are moving on, like the rest of the world, and embracing clean energy jobs,” Greens climate and energy spokesperson Larissa Waters said.

“We need to ensure that Tony Abbott’s vendetta against renewables does not impact on clean energy vision and ambition in states and territories.

“That’s why we will move an amendment to ensure Tony Abbott’s hatred of clean energy can’t stop the states from encouraging higher renewable energy generation within their state borders.”  

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  • Jacob

    Giles, what about the bladeless wind turbines being built in Spain?

    Surely less ugly.

    • It’s a start-up relying on crowd-funding. Still a long long way from having a commercial product. Kind of like the guys with the kite/gliders we have written about. Intriguing ideas, great if they work on commercial scale.

      • Jacob

        The Spanish one does not need to work at commercial scale.

        You can put them in places where traditional wind turbines cannot go. Such as backyards in windy suburbs.

        • 807gt

          How many more inquiries do we need? Is this just another delay tactic?

          • Jacob

            What is

    • Blair Donaldson

      Jacob, consider the area swept by a three bladed wind turbine versus the tiny area the bladeless turbine covers. I suspect the bladeless turbine will go the way of cold fusion and numerous perpetual motion machines, in theory it sounds good but in practice it’s a farce. It doesn’t matter how good the idea appears to be, physics is the same everywhere.

      • Jacob

        The promise is that these bladeless ones are half the cost.

        They are worth investigating.

        Solar thermal is coming down in price. Sure, the first solar thermal power stations were uncompetitive but future ones produce electricity very cheaply.

        • john

          Jacob have a look at what I said

        • DoRightThing

          Work or energy = force x distance.
          Difficult to see how wind wavers can extract much energy seeing as the business end only moves a few centimetres, albeit with a large force.
          This isn’t the best combination for a dynamo, which needs high velocities with lower forces to generate electricity.

          Not much point if they are half the cost, but 10% as productive.
          However, if they can be simplified and made much more cheaply, fields of them could make a useful contribution.

          • Jacob

            Wind made the Tacoma bridge sway back and forth until it collapsed.

            This Spanish guy wants to use the same oscillation physics to make electricity.

            Worth a try. If wind can make a bloody bridge sway back and forth massively, it can make a totem pole sway back and forth to run an alternator.

          • DoRightThing

            That’s because of resonance – if you take energy out of a resonant system, it damps the oscillations and can cause them to cease.
            I’d still go with wind turbines – we have had hundreds of years to find the optimum design, and three bladed ones are it.

        • Blair Donaldson

          Jacob, even if these bladeless generators were one quarter of the cost of a conventional turbine, if they only produce about 5% (at best) of a conventional turbine, where is the saving? They are little more than a distraction. We should be concentrating development on tried and tested technology instead of brain farts that defy physics.

          • Jacob

            Have you seen the Dyson Air Multiplier? People still buy it, regardless of the cost!

            Even though you can buy a normal fan for $20.

            So if this Spanish one can safely be put in backyards, lots of people will buy it just like they buy the Dyson bladeless fan.

          • Blair Donaldson

            That’s a non sequitur. You’re comparing a multimillion dollar large-scale electricity generating unit to a piddly fan worth $20? I’ll bet you anything you like the farcical bladeless turbine never makes It to commercial production. It’s a joke, like your comparison. Do you work for a fossil fuel company?

          • Jacob

            large scale?

            12.5m tall ones would fit in many backyards.

            The 3-blade ones are getting bigger and bigger. And produce no power during very windy periods.

            Yeah I work for a fossil fuel firm because I want batteries to crash in price. *facepalm*

          • Blair Donaldson

            You are still ignoring the fact that your Mickey Mouse stick won’t produce any practical amount of electricity – and you seem to be unaware that the amount of time strong winds shut down turbines is minimal. And given some people don’t like the shadow cast by turbines, you can be guaranteed that heaps of people in towns and cities will be complaining about shadows from 12 meter towers that do little else.

    • lin

      I love the look of wind turbines. Very graceful. And it seems at least some of those complaining about the 45db “noise” at 100m from wind turbines have never even seen a wind farm, let alone been close to one. Typical denier behaviour. First they said wind turbines were useless. Then they were too expensive. Now they are loud, ugly, kill birds and make people sick. When that lot of crap is debunked, they will no doubt have a new fall back position to delay investment.

      • Mike Dill

        If you live in the city, 45db noise is below your constant background. In the country, with little in the way of background noise, it will be noticeable to some people. For those people, they should not have windfarms on their property, or they should sell at a profit, and move further into the outback.

        Since sound disperses with the square of the distance, at 1KM, the sound level is 100 times lower, and not noticeable for almost any person. Once again, there are a few people who are sensitive to these things, but almost everyone else (99+%) can live with the background noise.

        • lin

          Yes. The “windmills are noisy” does not stand up to even cursory scrutiny. And even in the country, things are rarely quiet. Cattle can be very loud, as can sheep, birds, machinery, the wind in the trees, water in the creek etc. For true quiet, you need to live in a hole in the ground.

  • Marg1

    These neanderthals running our country are making themselves look so stupid and ignorant.

    • mick

      I think you and blair are being unkind to troglodytes and neanderthals-seriously

  • Blair Donaldson

    Greg Hunt does not seem to mind trashing his name for the sake of pseudoscience and innuendo. He epitomises the political prostitute who will say anything to stay in power. The wonder is that he doesn’t see he is on the wrong side of history. The current Senate enquiry ignores all the previous NHMRC findings and is in any case, stacked by wind energy opponents. Expect to hear claims that the sky is falling from the likes of Madigan and his fellow troglodytes.

  • Edward Borland

    Wind turbines work when the sun doesn’t shine and they’re competitive, another dagger in coal’s heart. And they look so elegant. 🙂 How many enquiries do you need about the health impacts of windmills? They’re had ten or more haven’t they? These people are just plain cuckoo. How about an enquiry into the effects of coal pollution and coal dust on child development and lifespan.

  • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

    How scared the COALition are of wind.
    The fact that SA saw its single operating coal fired plant, accidentally go off line, due to a fire and the whole state powered by mainly wind and a small amount of gas backup, must be a freak out for the precious, conservatives and their coal bosses.
    They know pv as it is, presently, is only adding a few % of total generation, labour intensive, low capacity factor and adding little overall benifit, mainly for those that have it.
    I wonder how they’d feel if a few large solar thermal stations where planned with a similar capacity to windfarms, more hair loss for precious Abbott & Coalition.

  • john

    infrasound this is very low frequency which whales use which is transmitted by ships which is transmitted by vehicles yes the very motor car you drive in the infrasound levels will exceed 100 db. in fact possible up towards 110 which if the audio frequency level were higher would ruin your hearing as humans have a limited range of audio hearing response we do not register high or low frequencies however young children do have a larger hearing range and you may notice if you have a very young child in the area of a TV for instance and the volume is up at a level you can hear it they the baby is crying.
    Yes because the poor baby’s ears are hurting this will soon changes as the ears loose the ability to hear the harsh amount of pressure waves we use to listen to our TV or music.
    Now as to this absolute rubbish claim that only Wind Farms emit Infrasound I so am sorry to disillusion you but wind past trees do and as I mentioned your car does.
    Not to mention every industrial process does.
    Here is a classic case of people with no idea about the science making statements they have no idea about but they will be taken note of it is pathetic.
    Yes I do have figures to back up exactly what I say.
    Published some 40 years ago before anyone even heard of this so called infrasound syndrome.
    I know we now live in the era of total ignorance where not many people do any science past grade probably 4 so I have grave fears if the people in Parliament are so pathetically educated they have no idea about what they speak.

  • DoRightThing

    How on Earth did that appalling joke of a government get elected?
    It has to go. Full reboot and reinstall with sustainability built in.

  • Beat Odermatt

    Every bit of fossil fuel saved will remain for future generations. If these nutters want an enquiry than let them look at the alternatives such as coal. Which causes more cancer?

  • George Papadopoulos
    • Mark Malone


    • Richard Koser

      Their property price doubled to $2.6m after they started hosting 19 turbines. It sounds terrible.

      • George Papadopoulos

        And the farmer has had such an unfortunate experience with the “quiet” monstrosities, that he and his wife regret hosting them.