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Coalition says wind turbines increase emissions, more coal needed

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Coalition Senators say that wind turbines are likely to cause greenhouse gas emissions to increase, and insist that the best thing that Australia can do to combat climate change is to export more thermal coal.

The extraordinary conclusions – from Senators Chris Back and Jonathon Duniam – were included in the dissenting report to the Senate inquiry into the resilience of electricity infrastructure in a warming world. They also insist that coal and gas would remain the dominant sources for electricity around the world for “many generations to come.”

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“Energy generated by wind turbines do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the electricity sector by the amount claimed. In fact, there is some evidence that the addition of wind energy onto the grid actually increases carbon emissions,” the Coalition Senators wrote.

It was one of four dissenting views on the report prepared by the Greens chair Sarah Hanson-Young, highlighting the impossible nature of Australia’s energy politics, and the apparent refusal of any parties to agree on anything, including facts.

One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts issued a dissenting report which simply claimed that there was no such thing as a warming world, or at least one caused by man. Nick Xenophon insisted that gas should play a prominent role in the energy transition, and also quoted a debunked Murdoch media report that there was a “20 per cent limit” on wind energy; while Labor issued a dissenting report because they didn’t want to be seen agreeing with the Greens, even though they largely did.

The main thrust of the Greens report was for the managed exit of coal-fired generation and the need to meet strict climate targets.

It said coal had “no role to play in a secure energy future”, questioned the role of gas as a transitional source of energy, and argued that storage technologies – including off-river pumped hydro, thermal energy storage, and batteries – are able to overcome the problems of intermittent generation and allow the grid to be converted to 100 per cent clean renewable energy at minimum cost.

It supported expanding and extending the renewable energy target, a carbon trading scheme, expressed its support for a change to the 5-minute rule, an investigation into the relaxation of settings on fossil fuel generators, and for widespread reform of the AEMC, the rule-making body considered by most to be too slow moving.

Labor said it broadly agreed with the contents of the report, but not its conclusions. It did support an orderly exit of coal generation, no government money for new coal power, support for new technologies, and market reforms to encourage those new technologies. And it wanted an emissions intensity scheme.

The contents of the Coalition’s dissenting report, however, are quite extraordinary, and highlight the difficulties that prime minister Malcolm Turnbull would have if he ever chose to implement sensible energy policies, or sought to implement the inevitable conclusions of the Finkel Review.

In essence, the Coalition’s report was a collection of renewable energy myths that might have been collected from far-right anti-wind and climate denying websites:

For example:

“Energy generated by wind turbines do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the electricity sector by the amount claimed. In fact, there is some evidence that the addition of wind energy onto the grid actually increases carbon emissions.”

and

“It is a legislated requirement that 600 million renewable energy certificates (RECs) will be issued between now and 2031, adding a cost of at least $50 billion to power bills. This represents a significant wealth transfer to wind power companies from Australian power consumers and achieves no measurable benefit to the environment.”

This assumes that the 600 million RECs will all be traded at the current price of $80. They won’t, and it is ridiculous to suggest they would. There is every chance that with a surplus from 2020 as more wind and solar farms are built, they will have negligible value.

That the Coalition allows such palpable nonsense to be issued in its name is staggering. But the main source of their information seem to be from the notorious anti-wind campaigners and economic analysts Alan Moran and Brian Fisher, who the two Senators quote throughout their report.

And the fossil fuel lobby:

“With Australia emitting less than 1.5% of the world’s GHG’s, our greatest contribution globally may be to supply high energy, low polluting coal to the burgeoning economies of China and India as they transition their populations from subsistence living to middle class aspiration.”

But perhaps the greatest piece of idiocy and ignorance came in this following paragraph, relating to the proposed change of the 30 minute settlement period to a 5 minute settlement, to align with the dispatch period.

“Coalition Senators comment that the market price is currently averaged over 30 minutes. If generators were expected to jump on and off the grid every 5 minutes, the stability of the grid will be compromised. “

Are you kidding? That is pretty much what is happening now as the generators suddenly withdraw capacity to push prices within a short period and then flood the market with suddenly available capacity

“Many generators need more than half an hour to synchronise to the grid and have set forward contracts.”

Er, yes, and that would be why people are proposing 5-minute rules to encourage fast-reacting and even instantaneous responses from new technologies to take over from the dumb, slow moving machinery that currently dominates the grid. If you can’t respond in 5 minutes, don’t. And don’t expect to be paid for something you can’t do!

Indeed, the Coalition presumptions on coal and the whole energy debate appear to be based on the very same climate denial conclusions of Roberts. Even the highly conservative IEA concedes that solar will dominate the world’s electricity grid if climate targets are to be met.

The only circumstance where coal does remain dominant is if climate science is ignored – something that the Coalition has, for all intents and purposes, chosen to do in its first four years of government.  

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  • The Awul Truth

    This is completely insane. Which lobbyists are paying for this guff?

    • MrMauricio

      Chris Back is insane for a start!!!

      • Alastair Leith

        Or rotten to the core.

        • MaxG

          Does this not quality for ‘stupid’?

    • Joe

      Rupert, The Minerals Council,The Clean Coalers, Adani….the list is endless

  • baseload renewables

    “In fact, there is some evidence that the addition of wind energy onto the grid actually increases carbon emissions”.

    Um…ok. Did the Senate provide any references to this evidence?

    • Alastair Leith

      IPA and Uncle Rupert told him so. He interrupted and harried witnesses at another Senate enquiry this year (into coal closure) to pontificate his nonsense ideas. What an embarrassment to the nation is Senator Back when opening his mouth on any climate or energy related topic.

    • Joe

      Senator Malcolm Roberts is always asking…”show me the empirical evidence”…I wonder what “evidence” Coalition Senators Back and Duniam dug up ?

      • Calamity_Jean

        Silly Joe! Don’t you know you don’t need evidence when you agree with the conclusion? /sarcasm

  • howardpatr

    Roberts; the most basic of the base.

  • MrEd

    Colorado carbon footprint has also increase, but am unable to find the citation. Bottom line: for every nameplate of wind power, there is a corresponding 1MW of simple cycle (fuel guzzling) gas turbine power need to be placed to support when the wind drops or trips the wind turbine.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/jan/09/wind-turbines-increasing-carbon-emissions

    https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2015/09/19/vermont-renewable-energy-program-increases-states-carbon-footprint/

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/sep/26/myth-wind-turbines-carbon-emissions

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/energy/windpower/9889882/Wind-farms-will-create-more-carbon-dioxide-say-scientists.html

    • David Osmond

      Sth Australia has about 1,500 MW of wind, but less than 700 MW of open cycle gas.

      There’s certainly some need to back up wind with dispatchable generation, but it certainly doesn’t have to be open cycle gas. Hydro works well, but SA doesn’t have any of that either.

      • nakedChimp

        They’ll soon have some batteries.

    • David Osmond

      Sth Australia’s electricity intensity used to be 1.07 kg of CO2-e per kWh in 1999/2000. In 2013-14 it was about 0.67 kg CO2-e/kWh, a 37% reduction. That happens to correspond with going from 0% renewable to about 32% renewable when this report was written: https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/3ef30d52-d447-4911-b85c-1ad53e55dc39/files/national-greenhouse-accounts-factors-august-2015.pdf

      • Kevan Daly

        How are you treating the emissions of the electricity coming from Murraylink and Heywood in the above calculation?

      • Alastair Leith

        That’s actually a much better way of refuting Mr Ed’s claim than percentages which could have seen an overall rise to accomodate the extra (but fictional) spinning reserve.

    • Brett Roper

      That Guardian article above doesn’t support the conclusion that wind power increases the carbon footprint. It has a bundle of well informed rebuttals of the non peer reviewed study that erroneously came to that conclusion.

    • MikeH

      Dear Mr Ed. Your claims are a lot of horse hooey.

      The amount of gas (or coal) generation (MW) in the state does not determine the level of carbon emissions, it the amount of gas (or coal) that is burnt for generation (MWh) that determines emissions.

      Here is the generation mix in SA over time – notice how the introduction of wind displaces coal and gas reducing the carbon footprint of SA.

      http://i.imgur.com/EOZiLDa.png

    • Farmer Dave

      MrEd, if you are one of those who is frightened by the energy transition, I can understand how appealing the argument that you have reproduced must be. Please think through what is being proposed by your informants on this matter, though. They seem to be claiming that if a 100 MW wind farm is installed, then a 100 MW gas turbine needs to also be installed to provide electricity when the wind is not blowing. Let’s assume for the moment that their simplistic picture is accurate, and dig deeper.

      When the wind is not blowing, the gas turbine is running, and is using 100% of its maximum gas fuel flow, and is therefore putting out the emissions that go with 100% fuel flow. When the wind is blowing (and let’s ignore for now the intermediate case when the wind is not blowing enough for full wind farm output), the wind farm is pumping out its 100 MW, and your informants would argue that the gas turbine must be on idle – ready to ramp up if the wind stops blowing. So, if the gas turbine is throttled back, it could be at 10% of output (10 MW). It’s probably not so efficient at low throttle settings, and the corresponding fuel flow might be, say, 15% of maximum. The fuel would NOT be at 100% – a turbine getting 100% fuel and having only 10% load would over-speed and be shut down, or it would destroy itself. So the 15% fuel flow would lead to 15% of the full load emissions, as every molecule of methane burned would give one molecule of carbon dioxide. So in summary, when the wind is blowing, the emissions of the gas turbine your informants insist must be kept idling would be much less than the emissions under full load. Hence even if your informants are correct about the need for these gas turbines – and there are lots of people who dispute that – there is simply no way that the emissions of those gas turbines when the wind is blowing could be as high as their emissions when the wind is not blowing. Even if your informants are right, the presence of the wind farm must reduce emissions.

    • Gary Rowbottom

      It isn’t rocket science. Every MWh produced by renewables is a MWh that a fossil generator is not emitting at the emissions intensity of the particular fossil based generators involved. Once the storage that is now being mobilised for deployment is built, and continues to be built we will start to see some bigger inroads into emissions. Just as well.

    • Mike Shackleton

      By your rationale, my car burns fuel at same same rate regardless of whether I’m driving at full throttle or sitting at traffic lights.

      Plus, wind generators can accurately predict the times and their output because of accurate weather forecasting and observation stations. The national energy market can predict our demand and potential shortfalls in supply 24 hours out. If a gas generator isn’t needed, they don’t have to start up.

    • stephan011

      You misunderstand how the grid works. The grid has lots of redundant power sources that switch on/off as needed, renewables is just another source, and integrating large amounts of renewables isn’t difficult.

    • Alastair Leith

      Any citation of “wind-watch” rules you out of the discussion on rules of charitable conduct.

  • Chris Fraser

    Going out kicking and screaming. Remember these days well.

  • Greenradagast

    I can only deduce that anyone involved with the renewable energy industry that ‘doesn’t’ vote Greens obviouly delights at the prospect of collecting unemployment benefits, or would rather serve cappuccino’s at OTR.
    I do not believe for a second that those Coalition senators are dumb. They are in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry and are playing dumb to stall for time.
    The industry will eat those fools up and spit them out again.
    Karma is my best friend………..

    • Peter Campbell

      I suspect they can’t stomach the thought that the Greens might have been right about something, so they construct any kind of argument they can to try to bolster a position they reached for essentially irrational reasons.

      • Alastair Leith

        Not mutually exclusive prospects. Stupid has manifold support constructs.

  • MaxG

    1. People deserve the rulers they elect.
    2. Stupid people vote for stupid leaders
    3. We live in a world of fake news; the more stupid you are, the more you buy it.
    In this scenario, it is not even necessary for corporations to bribe or lobby… the leaders are as dumb as bat stuff…

    • nakedChimp

      Don’t paint the world in such naive colors please.
      We got all sorts of monopolies/oligopolies which skew public opinion and what not else.
      Or do you blame the beef cattle or chicken on a farm for their fate as well?

      • MaxG

        You know quite well that I am talking ‘big picture’ 🙂
        … and in principle this is how it is… feel free to rebut it.
        E.g. Trump is a direct result of just that; he appealed to what was referred to as the ‘less educated’ (which is just a nicer way of saying stupid — which I define as “having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense”).
        Neoliberalism (in conjunction with what I call vulture capitalism) has been going strong for a good 50 years… and to a certain degree brainwashed most. E.g. hate the government for hand-outs, at the same time complaining their private health care rebate got slashed.
        … and I am not even touching the surface, why I minimised to three points what could warrant an essay.

        • Alastair Leith

          People aren’t stupid in that they intuitively know they’ve been stiffed by the ruling class since Reagan onwards. There was a post-war period where the ‘new deal’ type of economic structural arrangements briefly interrupted wealth from mostly syphoning upwards. It did this largely through unprecedented rates of economic growth (on the back of a fossil fuel consumption explosion and technological advancement in consumer goods). From Reagan onwards that all stopped and neo-liberalism was the order of the day (and nightmare).

          They might not understand that Trump is the biggest kleptomaniac in recent times to hit the Oval Office but his supporters (vast majority of whom seem to be white) do know that he’s talking their language (racial prejudice and resentments and class disenfranchisement). I guess you could say that makes people stupid, I’m more incline to think it makes them a product of their circumstances and education.

          • MaxG

            Well, if you “intuitively know” being screwed, why vote for the leaders who screw you = stupid.
            “product of their circumstance” typical for today’s world: blame someone else! = stupid (as per my definition above). — So, you’ve proven my point. 🙂

          • Miles Harding

            As some above has said, the reasons are complex. Job (in)security, mortgage stress and the politics of fear can make people act irrationaly as they try to defend their own futures.

            I still have trouble comprehending why the disaffected masses would vote for (more inexplicably attend the rallies of) obvious astroturf movements that have equally obvious radical free market agendas that seek to destroy the public institutions that support the very same people.

          • MaxG

            The reason is simple: wilful ignorance.
            People spent more time on figuring out what car to buy than where to put the X on he ballot paper.
            But then, we have politicians, who never learned the craft… combine this with people who have even less of a clue what the four pillars of democracy are, let alone what the parties stand for… the out come is as expected, and demonstrated.
            As for your second paragraph, this is called self destruction — and they are even enjoying it (why I called it ‘stupid’, which is what it is!)

  • Robert Comerford

    If you wrote a novel using some of this it would be considered unbelievable.

    • Alastair Leith

      Joseph Heller, been there, done that.

  • Farmer Dave

    I used to take some consolation in the fact that our Australian politicians had not reached the nadir reached by the US Republicans who during the last 7 years of the Obama presidency voted 60 times to repeal Obamacare only to have their repeal be vetoed by President Obama. Then, when they finally got a Republican President, they could not agree on what they wanted to replace Obamacare with, so it remains in place. The news in Giles’ article above has just destroyed those consoling thoughts; I think our politicians (with the honourable exception of the Greens) are showing that when it comes to stupid, they can mix it with the worst the US republicans have to offer.

    A few years ago I managed to get on Senator Chris Back’s mailing list, and one of his periodic newsletters contained a veritable feast of climate change denier memes. I wrote him a polite letter pointing out the many errors his newsletter contained, and asked him to withdraw it, as it was still available on his web site. When I received no reply, I wrote to the President of the Senate asking him to launch an investigation into Senator Back; my argument was that his newsletter was so basically wrong in so many ways that parading such ignorance brought the Senate itself into disrepute. I eventually received a polite reply from the President of the Senate telling me that he would not launch such an investigation. However, the newsletter in question disappeared from Senator Back’s web site – and I was taken off his mailing list.

    This very sorry matter makes me mourn even more the recent death of John Clarke; what a great opportunity this panoply of stupidity would have offered to his rapier wit!

    • Alastair Leith

      Well done on pursuing the matter, that’s the kind of thing an active democracy requires, individuals to spend time and effort holding back the complete and utter corruption of the body politic through donations, back room deals and gentlemens club type cliques.

  • Joachim

    Are you sure this is not a belated April Fools Joke?

  • Kevan Daly

    “There is no empirical scientific evidence that the world has warmed or
    is warming due to the human production of carbon dioxide.”
    That’s what Malcolm Roberts said in his dissenting report.

    “One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts issued a dissenting report which simply claimed that there was no such thing as a warming world.”
    That’s what you, Mr Parkinson, said he said.

    I think you have grievously verballed Mr Roberts. Besides, no one in their right mind would claim that the world hasn’t warmed since the Maunder minimum in about 1702.

    • Peter Campbell

      It hardly matters exactly what Roberts said or how it was paraphrased. What Roberts has failed to do is explain how it is possible that every reputable scientific institution in the world has got it wrong.

    • Mike Shackleton

      The debate over whether carbon dioxide emissions contributes to climate change is now no longer central to our transition away from fossil fuels. Facts are, nobody wants to build fossil fuel generators anymore – renewables are winning the battle on price, deployability and can serve the function of “baseload.” We can simply ignore his bleating and deal with the issue of how our grid will be upgraded to handle the new technology.

    • A Blot

      He’s just proving why he only received 77 first preference votes.

  • Just_Chris

    Speechless, just speechless – and people wonder why we have blackouts.

    I remember when the health minister in South Africa said that HIV was all a western conspiracy. That comment ranks directly with “..wind turbines increase emissions..”.

    There is simply no way in hell that replacing lignite power stations with a mixture of wind and gas could result in anything other than a reduction in emissions. I struggle a bit with the idea that going 100% renewable is as easy as the greens make out – but really, the world isn’t warming, if it was it’s nothing to do with humans and wind turbines can lead to an increase in emissions? The is just the foaming witterings of people trying to find relevance.

    • james gibson

      South Australia has blackouts because most of the time it doesn’t have enough generation capacity to respond to the demand for electricity. It relies on an interconnect with Victoria’s brown coal power stations to do that.

      Disagree? Let’s cut the interconnect and see how 50% renewables works in practice, without brown coal baseload backup.

      • Alastair Leith

        Let’s see now the SA govt has more control over dispatch in its state with it’s own OCGT and private battery storage for FCAS/backup generation.

        Baseload is a functional constraint not an asset in a 50% RE grid. Coal got squeezed out of SA for a reason, it couldn’t compete with wind without one plant blowing up (fortunately with no injured workers but certainly cost cutting on maintenance played a role) and the other being walked away from by the owners. No interconnect involved they were in SA and fully amortised.

      • Just_Chris

        The Victorian grid would fail if you took out the gas turbines so I don’t see your point, taking a large part of any grid out will cause problems. There are many micro grids operating on mixtures of wind and solar. The only grids that run with one technology is those that are running on geothermal or hydroelectric. Coal is not magic pixie dust, adding it to a grid won’t solve all your problems.

    • Alastair Leith

      Well, on gas Howarth et al clearly demonstrated that if fugitive emissions are above 2.5% then it’s as bad as burning coal to generate electricity. Although gas can ramp much faster than coal (but less so than batteries and PHES) so it serves as a gap filler for now, where coal cannot hope to.

      FE above 3% are evident in many USA unconventional gas fields and even Australian LNG fields when the CO2 (with methane mixed in) is vented not sequestered.

      • Just_Chris

        If you compare the worst gas to the best coal then emissions are close but at no stage would replacing the worst coal with modern wind farms result in higher emissions, even when backed up by gas.

        There are gas wells that are more CO2 than gas so I take your point, if you drill into a gas reserve that is very high in CO2 and the just vent the CO2 your emissions with gas would be higher than a lot of modern coal options. My understanding is that a lot of Australian coal is very gassy and that a lot of our gas is pretty low in CO2 so I suspect we’re better off burning gas than coal in almost any sensible scenario.

        • Alastair Leith

          Read Howarth et al. It’s not just the CO2 it’s the methane especially in inconventional gas rigs. Up to half the fugitives can happen during drilling stage prior to fracking even. It goes straight into the atmosphere. Then there’s leaks in the well casings transmission leakages, network leakage… NYC network leaks like a seive apparently.

          Agree gas has a temporary gap filler role until enough wind, solar and storage gets built.

          And agree coal will be squeezed out of Australian market by wind reducing coals CF and therefore (subsidised) profits and by solar creating a duck curve of death for coal within ten years, I expect.

          Certainly on an isolated grid like WAs SWIS grid duck curve give coal no place to export to unless there’s major PHES put in place. And even for PHES theyd be more likely to buy when the price is low or negative (lots of wind).

  • onesecond

    Does Australia have a fair voting system or does it have this nonsense with gerrymandering and not counting the votes spreaded out in several districts and therefore announcing winners that got less votes than their competitors like in the US and the UK? If it has a fair voting system, how does it come, that these clowns are in charge of the Australian government?

    • Rod

      I would say on the whole it is a fair voting system for the lower house.
      The upper house (Senate) has historically been a safety valve to temper the government of the day.
      However, of late it is increasingly made up of independent Senators who, while meant to be representing their electors, seem to have their own agendas.
      I think Max is right. We deserve what we get, however the current government only got back in by one seat so not all of us can be blamed.

      • Durham 52

        Sadly the Senate does not represent the states, or provide “a safety valve to temper the government of the day”. Senators from parties vote along party lines, not for the benefit of their states. While independents may occasionally vote in line with the interests of those who elected them, they more often vote to secure passage of government legislation, in exchange for tit bits designed to aid their re election. (N X anyone?)

      • onesecond

        Thanks for the reply.

      • Leon Degney

        Yes Rod, by one miserable seat then having the audacity to claim a mandate to enact all the crappy policies that they couldn’t get trrough the senate before the election. What gall, loosing sixteen seats mainly because of those RS policies and still claiming to have a mandate. What hope is there for us?

        • Rod

          We can only hope more of the electorate now understand they have been fooled, at least on the renewable energy debate.
          1.6 million solar households is a lot of renewable energy converted voters.

  • billslycat

    Turbines generate electricity. Part-time, weather-dependent, chaotic wind is the worst imaginable fuel to power a turbine. Here’s a good simple explanation of why wind power is a sham: “Why Not Wind: an open letter” http://kirbymtn.blogspot.com/2014/06/why-not-wind-open-letter.html?m=1

    • A Blot

      The comment of a troglodyte, battery technology will become base load, just one answer of future energy storage.

    • stephan011

      You misunderstand how the grid works.

      The grid has lots of redundant power sources that switch on/off as needed, renewables is just another source, and integrating large amounts of renewables isn’t difficult. Yes, wind or solar alone would be a problem but that’s not actually what’s happening

      And the, capacity factor for new wind is above 40%, onshore wind power costs from 3-4 cents US /kWh

  • Helen Holmes

    Wait a minute…if wind power increases emissions, and the LNP mob and ON don’t want to reduce emissions, let’s increase windpower!!! Makes sense eh?? :-O 🙂

    • james gibson

      The problem is that in addition to increasing emissions, wind power is ludicrously expensive. Australia should have the cheapest power prices in the world, but they are some of the most expensive.

      Without an interlink to Victoria’s brown coal power stations, South Australia would not have electricity on most days.

      • stephan011

        Except that power is *more* expensive in other states, so it kind of destroys your argument that SA renewables have driven up the cost.

        Wind power is some of the cheapest power in the world, here in the US, most of the coal fleet is being shut out of the market because coal can’t compete with wind any more.

        http://www.power-eng.com/articles/2017/03/moody-s-wind-could-squeeze-out-coal-even-with-changing-political-climate.html

      • Alastair Leith

        Oh wow, moving from a coal and gas dependant grid to 100% RE hasn’t finished yet —so therefore we will always be coal dependant, QED.

        You must have majored in logic at University, dear Sir.

      • Alastair Leith

        You also neglected to reference your claim that wind generation is more GHG emissions intensive than burning coal to generate electricity. Must be so obvious to you that just forgot, I’m quite sure.

      • Greg Hudson

        + james gibson
        ”Without an interlink to Victoria’s brown coal power stations, South Australia would not have electricity on most days.”

        Didn’t you really mean to say that most days SA would not be exporting surplus wind power to Vic via the interconnector?

    • Joe

      Bravo !!!

    • Steven Gannon

      A market and policy to help reduce electricity prices? Don’t be silly.

  • solarguy

    I’m so sick and tired of hearing this bullshit from these morons!

  • Miles Harding

    One good thing about the progress of the ‘debate’ is that the COALition argument has now entered an ‘obviously ridiculous’ territory, making our jobs a lot easier than would be the case with the sort of subtly wrong logic the likes of Lomborg are famous for.

  • Darren Morse

    I think they got a bit confused as to the difference between this and the hot stinky emissions they mistake as constructive discussion..

  • Robert Comerford

    Just in….LNP think tank discovers standing downwind from a wind farm causes cancer!! :>)

  • Desertphile

    Good bloody gods this is hilarious!