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The anti-wind and anti-solar garbage fit to print in Murdoch media

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One day I expect to pick up a Murdoch newspaper and see a prominent and strident opinion piece proclaiming that the world is actually flat, not round. Or that gravity is actually just a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese government to make sure that people feel grounded.

In the interim, we pick up the Murdoch media and have to wade through scientific bollocks of another type: that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the United Nations to keep everyone poor and subdued. Or that wind energy and solar energy are not really things at all. They don’t even work.

The latest came this week – and not for the first time – from Keith De Lacy, a former Queensland Labor state treasurer. His article is entitled :”Solar and wind simply don’t work, not here, not anywhere”. It proves that you don’t have to be a member of the conservative parties to believe and spread such tosh. But it does help if, like the 76-year-old De Lacy, you are in the right wing of your party and want to defend the fossil fuel industry.

De Lacy’s piece, like so many others published by the Murdoch media on renewables and climate change, works on a single principle. The more lies you tell about the subject, and the more “facts” you turn, the more impressive it might sound. It is a strategy nicknamed FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. It is certainly designed to take a long time to repudiate.

But that is what we have done. With the help of Craig Morris from Renewables International, who pitches in on some of the nonsense that De Lacy has written about Europe and elsewhere, we have gone through the article piece by piece, myth by myth, fossil fuel fantasy by fossil fuel fantasy.

Before we give Morris the floor, there is one particular element of his article that draws interest: “Have you ever seen an industry that so believed its propaganda?” de Lacy asks, in reference to renewables.

Yes, the fossil fuel industry.

Remember the “clean coal” meme, and the line that coal is the only way to solve global poverty? Of course you do, because it is still parroted by the federal government, and even the NSW Coalition government, which is investing yet more into the CCS boondoggole.

De Lacy is a former chairman of what was Australia’s biggest independent coal miner, Macarthur Coal, which was sold for a fortune to the world’s largest coal miner, Peabody Coal. It was a great deal for Macarthur shareholders and a lousy one for Peabody. But at Peabody, they didn’t just not believe in the science, they acted against it. And they didn’t read the signs.

Just last year, de Lacy was still proclaiming that the industry would turn around, that Peabody had a great future. A few months later and Peabody filed for bankruptcy. There is a general admission that the coal industry is in structural decline, never to recover. Hence the screaming and railing of coal industry refugees, and climate change skeptics, and their new attachment to the nuclear bandwagon.

De Lacy reproduces the same myths that are constantly circulated in the Murdoch and other conservative media – as well as among coal and nuclear advocates about renewables.

There is this: “Every kilowatt has to be backed up by conventional power, dreaded fossil fuels …. So we have two capital spends for the same output — one for the renewable and one for the conventional back-up.”

Um, no. Every power system needs back-up, whether it is coal, nuclear, gas or renewables. If a big nuclear power plant is built, say the Hinkley C reactor in UK, it needs a significant amount of new back-up in case it goes suddenly off-line. The UK’s National Grid estimates this cost at about $12 billion. South Australia has reached nearly 50 per cent wind and solar without the need for extra back-up, because it had already been built to back up existing fossil fuels.

“When they eulogise the future of renewables they point to targets, or to costly investments, never to the real contribution to supply.”

That’s not right, either. Most policies framed by governments have a specific contribution in mind. The 50 per cent targets by various state Labor governments, the 100 per cent targets by the ACT, the 90 per cent target by the Greens. And there are the 100 per cent scenarios canvassed by many, including the Australian Energy Market Operator. Yes, the AEMO, wind and solar do work.

We’ll hand over to Morris for the next installment, to address some of De Lacy’s ridiculous claims on the international markets.

Australia, Morris notes, is in the midst of an extended discussion about the country’s energy future. “The timing is bad for critics of renewables, who increasingly have to pick their stats carefully. But not every number from the past applies to the future.

“An opinion piece entitled “Solar and wind power simply don’t work — not here, not anywhere” in The Australian shows the hopelessness of fighting wind and solar. Before we get to specifics, one general comment: we should be wary of articles that jump around from “country A pays too much for Y” to “people can’t pay their bills in country B” to something else in country C. That’s a clear sign of cherry-picking. What does Y cost in A, B, and C? How many people are behind on their utility bills in all three countries? Now we can begin to make assessments, not before.

“Below are some of the statements followed by… facts, supported with sources!

Germany has spent $US100bn on solar technology and it represents less than 1 per cent of their electricity supply.

Germany had nearly 6% solar last year (source in German and English), including power exports, which have risen to a record level.

 morris
Skeptics said Germany’s switch to renewables would make the country reliant upon power imports, but the opposite has happened – because wind and solar can grow really, really quickly.moriis2
I’m not sure where the USD 100 billion comes from, but let’s assume it is correct. Still, comparing the upfront cost of solar to one year’s power production is misleading. Solar panels have 25-year performance warranties, no fuel costs, and very low O&M. So compare, if you want, 25 years of power production, not one, to the upfront cost. Furthermore, the cost of solar has plummeted, so to compare historic PV prices to current ones, you need to divide by 3, say, for 2006 prices vs 2016. Early investments were made to bring prices down. As US clean tech expert Hal Harvey put it, with their early commitment the Germans were “not really buying power — they were buying price decline.”morris3It is reported electricity prices in Germany, Spain and the UK increased by 78 per cent, 111 per cent and 133 per cent between 2005 and 2014 as they forced additional renewable capacity into their electricity markets. Retail prices in Germany are up, wholesale (industry) power prices are down. For Germany, only half of the increase is due to the renewables surcharge, only half of which is in turn directly attributable to the price of green power. We went from 6% green power in 2000 to 33% last year as a share of demand (excluding exports).
morris4
(Otherwise, Spain’s main problem was clearly the financial crisis.)
“Britain is little better. Subsidies are being wound back, and a Department of Energy report points out that in 2013, the number of households in fuel poverty in England was estimated at 2.35 million representing around 10.4 per cent of all households.” Most fuel poverty is actually due to heating oil / gas, not (green) electricity.
“As of 2013 California was the only state to adopt a feed-in tariff for solar power. It was immediately dubbed a failure by the renewable energy community because it offered only 31 cents per kWh, only five times the rate for conventional base load power.” Rooftop solar should cost around 10 cents or less in California now. It does in Germany.

China built one new coal-fired power plant every week in 2014, and India’s coal-powered investment in that same year equalled the total electricity capacity of NSW and Queensland.

MW ≠ MWh. The plants were built, but they are running at lower capacity (less gen). China has reportedly reached peak coal. The word from China is that “fossil fuel subsidies” have lead to overcapacity. Analysts say China has 100 GW of excess coal capacity alone.

The good news, it is possible to reduce fossil fuel use in electricity generation — through hydro-electricity and nuclear fuel. Plenty of countries have done it — Canada 60 per cent hydro and 15 per cent nuclear; Sweden 45 per cent hydro and 48 per cent nuclear; Switzerland 54 per cent hydro and 41 per cent nuclear; France 11 per cent hydro and 79 per cent nuclear.

Hydropower and nuclear – now that I think about it, that does sound like the best combination for Australia, especially given its massive untapped hydropower potential!

Otherwise…. ah, the past. Yes, governments threw cash at nuclear for decades and doubted that wind and solar would work. But all of the countries listed above are having trouble adding new nuclear at anywhere near the rate art which they are building solar and wind. France has not added a reactor since 2000. It aimed to build 170 by then but only reached a third of that level. All of these facts are available for free online.

So the real story is that wind and solar grow faster than anyone ever expected, almost uncontrollably, generally surpassing targets, while nuclear has never met any target set anywhere.

And now, some opinions of my own: France now aims to reduce its reliance on nuclear further, though I predict it will fail because its reliance on nuclear is too great – France will remain committed to nuclear until there is a meltdown.

Sweden will likely remove more nuclear than it adds from here on out, despite the recent confusing policy announcements that not even the Swedes understand (let’s just say the country agreed to go 100% renewable and build new nuclear). If the present is any indication of the future, the Swedes will struggle to control the former and fail to build the latter.

Switzerland also has a nuclear phaseout policy. Meanwhile, China, Brazil, and India continue to build renewables faster than anyone expected – and faster than they can build new nuclear.

morris5



Finally, this one:

The Germans are rueing the day they decided to save the world by converting to solar and wind.

Um, no.

morris6

We should add something on De Lacy’s claims that “as of 2013 California was the only state to adopt a feed-in tariff for solar power.” Actually, there are 44 states, most of them with what the Americans call “net metering”, which is when households receive the same amount for solar as their retail rate.

As for utility-scale solar plants, recent tenders in the US have shown bids of just US4c/kWh. Even if you back out the tax break, it still comes up to 6c/kWh, locked in for 20 years. That’s cheaper than coal or gas in the US, which is one reason why solar accounts for more than two-thirds of new capacity in the world’s biggest economy.

A couple of other claims. De Lacy says Ohio halved its renewable energy target. No, it froze them, at 12.5%. The 25% De Lacy referred to was for total “advanced energies”, renewables were supposed to be only half that. Sure, challenges to state-based renewables targets have been made in many states, funded by the climate-denying, coal mining Koch Bros, but most have resisted. In California, New York and elsewhere, the targets have been lifted.

De Lacy then goes on to the usual scare campaign about loss of jobs, manufacturing, etc, etc, etc. As if having an energy industry supplied 72 per cent by coal protected the car industry.

“Make no bones about it, a clean green economy has no place for high-vis shirts,” he says.

barnaby white rock windSorry, you are wrong about that too. Here is a picture of the “sod-turning” at the White Rock wind farm in Barnaby’s Joyce’s electorate.Hey, look what they’re wearing!

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of German Energy Transition. He directs Petite Planète and writes every workday for Renewables International.

(Editor’s note: Last image was changed because it was not the Nyngan solar farm, but another solar farm).  

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  • Cooma Doug

    I read the Delacy article and I was well into it before I realsed it wasnt satire.
    At 76 and having denial to such an extent, the man is danderous.
    Thanks for the response to that terrible shameful article.

  • Goldie444

    Just a note on the Australian newspaper paywall link – if a link from a Google search of the same title is made, the paywall is removed and the article can be read.

    • Goldie444

      I should add, for this story, I do not think it is worth reading. I only got to the 3rd paragraph and stopped.

      • david_fta

        I once tried reading something by “economist” Terry McCrann – with the same result.

        • DevMac

          Hah! McCrann couldn’t economise his way out of a paper bag.

    • Marko Simatkovich

      @Goldie444 – Thanks for the neat tip on getting around the paywall… handy for seeing the tripe spilling out of Murdochsdystopia.

  • John Saint-Smith

    I guess the de Lacy article was timed to fit with the election – in order to remind the voters how dangerous it would be to vote for Labor or worse still, the Greens. I wonder if they realize they are writing the endnotes on the history of our once intelligent species? Would they care?

  • Peter F

    My edited post in response to the Australian. There is some overlap with the above

    Mr. de Lacy you are wrong in almost all your assertions. Wholesale power costs in Germany are now 20% lower than Nuclear powered France. Germany exports more power than it imports and the only way you can get to a $100m subsidy is if you assume that 20 years of Feed in tariffs was for power with no value. In fact Germany is generating 6% of its power from solar not 1% as you state and in 3 years time wind generation is expected to exceed that from black coal. Furthermore renewables in Germany this year will generate as much power as Australia uses.

    While some US states such as Ohio and Hawaii have changed their renewable mandates any reduction in their planned capacity is vastly outweighed by increases in the big states California, Texas, New York and others

    And as for Germany rueing the day. Please find one industry that is leaving Germany because of electricity prices or explain the fact that 93% of the population think it is important that they increase their renewable energy generation

    In the US nuclear power stations in Illinois, New York and California are closing because they cannot compete with new wind and solar or natural gas.

    In the first quarter in the US generated 70TW.hrs just from wind and solar this is 55% more than the entire Australian demand. Regardless of mandates 90% of the new power capacity brought on in the US this year has been wind and solar and less than 500MW of coal has been commissioned in the last 18 months while it is closing around 10,000MW of coal every year.

    As for reliable nuclear. Last year for some months 40% of Belgium’s nuclear power was off line for about 6 months and all of Switzerland’s plants were also offline. Every country with large amounts of nuclear has large amounts of hydro and pumped hydro storage to compensate for the inflexibility of nuclear. The combined cost of new nuclear plus pumped hydro is about double the cost of wind + solar + pumped hydro. With massive loan guarantees and grants the US commenced 4 new nuclear power plants 5 or 6 years ago and has just completed one which was started in 1977 However in spite of the offer of massive loan guarantees and grants no new projects have been initiated in the last 3 years and 5 more closures have been announced in the last 12 months. All five new plants are late and over budget

    You say coal is expanding. It is not. According to the BHP energy review, world wide coal consumption fell last year. China’s coal use for power generation has fallen for the last 3 years and the rate of decline is increasing. Coal shipments YTD in the US are down 20%. and down more than 40% from the peak. India has just cancelled 4 ultra mega coal power plants (equivalent to almost half Australia’s black coal fleet) and existing power plants are struggling with record coal stockpiles and falling utilization rates. While Indian internal production is up coal imports are down 15% YTD.

    The largest coal plant under construction in Germany is in such dire financial straights that it may never be turned on and while 8GW is under construction over the same period 14GW is closing.

    You say the energy density of renewables is too low yet the US Energy administration says if all the suitable small roofs in the USA were covered with solar i.e about 14% of total roof space. it would generate enough power to meet peak electrical demand.

    In Australia’s case the newest 350MW combined cycle gas plant in Queensland will need 600 CSG wells over its life. Each pad uses the same land area as a wind turbine. Then you have processing plants access roads, pipelines the power station, waste treatment plants etc. so overall land usage is about 1,000 hectares. Over 30 years it will generate about the same power as 150 wind turbines using 1/4 to 1/3rd of the land and no fuel costs or water table contamination and far less disruption to farming.

    In Victoria the Latrobe Valley power precinct is about 130 sq. km of once valuable farmland. 130sq.km of desert near Mildura with solar panels will produce more power per year than the current output of all the brown coal power stations

    Finally new contracts around the world are offering fixed price for 30 years for wind at US$30-45 per MW.hr and solar from $22-70 whereas the current average spot price for coal in Queensland is A$82(US$60). I.e wind and solar are now cheaper than existing queensland coal let alone new coal with all the attendant interest and depreciation.

    In summary. the arguments are about as relevant as those of the carriage whip manufacturers in Chicago who said the automobile will never replace the car

    • Rurover

      Nice rebuttal, Peter.
      Pity the majority of Murdoch rag readers won’t get to see your words of wisdom.

      • Peter F

        Some of them may have a slightly different version is the top comment below the article but it was posted a couple of days late

    • Pedro

      Very interesting especially your point about the land required for CSG wells for a 350MW gas plant

  • johnnewton

    The interesting thing about this article, which I just referenced online, is that almost 100 per cent of the comments are saying that it is bullshit, and are offering well referenced rebuttals. Even Murdoch readers…

  • howardpatr

    Probably a member of the Angus Taylor, Member for Hume, anti wind turbine mob – STOP THESE THINGS.

    News Corporation at its best – De Lacy probably ran it past Rupert and/or Mad Monk Abbott.

  • Alan S

    At the Boothby Candidates’ Forum last night I asked the Xenophon, Family First and Liberal candidates about anti-wind statements that federal MPs in their parties had made.
    The NXP candidate stated that any concerns Nick had voiced previously were since rescinded and they were in favour of wind. The Lib made waffley and non-committed comments but at least avoided the phrase ‘utterly offensive’. Family First (whose Bob Day complained about wind farm noise – he runs building companies so is highly sensitive to noise) responded that wind ‘failed to return on its promises’, didn’t provide baseload (we’d already had a discussion on storage) and was noisy. He claimed that the shutdown of the Northern power station will create chaos in SA next summer when we have a cloudy, windless day. Apparently nuclear is more family-friendly than wind.

  • solarguy

    The mind boggles at the stupidity of climate change deniers and the FF industry and certain pollies. Within 15yrs we will be saying, we told you so, and they will have nothing to come back with.

    • Ron Horgan

      Nothing to come back with Sir!
      Gad, do you imagine that the money doesn’t matter?
      My resort on tropical Heard Island is very profitable and the transplanted coral reefs are a world wonder.

      • solarguy

        WTF are you on about?

        • Ron Horgan

          You don’t do irony?

    • lin

      There is a fair chance most of them will have died of old age in 15 years, or will have re-imagined their opposition to FF. Very few will have the integrity to admit a mistake.

      • solarguy

        Hearing you!

  • Chris Fraser

    Tomorrow I hope everyone will be kind to any who they see buying The Australian … spending their own money to be lied to.

  • Roger Brown

    Just read some comments in the UN Australian rag , WOW didn’t know we had so many DUMB C@NTS in Australia ? Off to have a shower now .

    • masongeo

      [New to Disqus, so this feels a bit awkward.]
      Thanks for the article, which is a great take-down of the rubbish in The Australian. However, I have a problem with the final image: I don’t think it was taken at the Nyngan solar farm. There are no mountains (or geology) like those in the background anywhere near Nyngan. Further, if the image is from the southern hemisphere, then the sun (ie in the north) is broadly to the left because the shadows are pointing right (to the south), so the image is looking broadly east. Nyngan is about 10km east of the PV farm, so that would put Nyngan right under those mountains. Nor are there mountains like that at the Broken Hill PV farm.

      So does anyone know where the image is from? If in the southern hemisphere, it might be in Chile.

      • masongeo

        I think I found it. It’s probably Desert Sunlight, in California. In which case the shadows are pointing north, and the image is looking broadly west. In Google Maps, you can see the white band in the mountains, about 6 km to the west.

        • well spotted. we must have labelled it wrong. we’ve changed the image.