Fossil fuels just a back up for wind and solar energy?

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The head of REpower Systems says he’s surprised that Australia seems to be a hotbed of complaints about the health effects of wind farms. And he suggests it is inevitable that fossil fuels will be relegated to supporting roles for wind and solar energy.

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The head of one of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers has expressed his surprise at the public debate around health concerns over wind energy in Australia, saying it does not happen elsewhere.

Andreas Nauen, the managing director of REpower Systems, which has built or contracted to build around 1,000MW of wind turbines in Australia, recently completed a visit to the country and was surprised to hear that the claimed health impacts of wind energy was given such prominence.

Doesn’t this happen elsewhere in the world?

“No. A blunt no,” Nauen told RenewEconomy in an interview (The full details of which can be read here). “I am always surprised – I have been to Australia a number of times, and every time this comes up (and) I think to myself ‘hmmm, the only country in the world where this gets discussed’.

“You have in other countries very specific discussions about things like warning lights for high towers. It’s always a very solution orientated discussion, if it comes up at all, but this fundamental discussion of wind turbines causing illnesses, I don’t see it anywhere else in the world.

RenewEconomy suggested that part of the reason may be the different ownership for onshore wind farms in Europe, where community ownership is more prominent. (Only two out of Australia’s 1,000 or so wind turbines are owned by local community groups).

“If there was a serious issue with health, people would not trade that off (for ownership),” he said.

During his visit to Australia, Nauen argued forcefully for the Renewable Energy Target to be retained as a fixed goal of 41,000GWh, noting the rapid change of energy systems around the world. He said Australia needed such policies to maintain its momentum of investment.

Nauen said even conservative organisations such as the International Energy Agency were pushing for a “revolution” in the way we use and supply energy, and this was occurring in Germany, where the push to replace nuclear and invest heavily in renewables meant that fossil fuels in the future would be used “sparingly” as a back up for wind and solar energy and other renewables.

Despite obvious resistance to such ideas, Nauen said that the biggest energy companies in Europe were now coming around to that type of thinking.

“In most countries you go through a phase of resistance, but I think in most places in the world we have overcome this,” he said. “And now it is down to the fact that most large companies have their renewable divisions that drives that investment just like they do their traditional generation business.”

He said this was true for Germany’s biggest generation companies, E.ON and RWE (who incidentally have said they have no plans to build new fossil fuel generation), and was also taking hold in other countries.

However, despite the need to act on climate change, Nauen said it would ultimately be commercial realities and economics that decided energy investment.

“Giving priority to renewables is a good start, but in the long run we have to build the competitiveness of wind turbines,” he said. “So this whole debate about who comes first and who gets priority simply gets overcome by a simply commercial discussion about who generates electricity in the most efficient and competitive way.”

See full interview here, also covering future costs, turbine size and the outlook for the Australian market.

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13 Comments
  1. WindAus 7 years ago

    Aussies are proving to be illiterate…which moron in the world thinks wind farms are harmful…wht abt mining…is tht not harmful to env and people including who are working in that dirt…my god aussies wake up…

  2. Julien 7 years ago

    This raises a very disturbing issue. If Australia is the only country in the world where people are getting sick from wind turbines then maybe the problem hasn’t been the wind turbines at all. The problem is Australia – Australia is making people sick! What else could it be? Australia is the only variable here. I think there needs to be an immediate senate inquiry into the health impacts of Australia!

    Or maybe the whole wind turbine syndrome stuff was just a load of bollocks.

  3. Canadian 7 years ago

    Canada Health have just commenced a 2 year study into the health effects from wind farms. The details are in the following link:
    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/nr-cp/_2012/2012-109-eng.php

    This debate needs more honesty and facts and less sales pitch.

    • Laura 7 years ago

      Negative health effects have been reported world-wide. It’s really unfortunate that people in the wind industry can’t be honest about these facts.

      • Ketan Joshi 7 years ago

        Hi Laura,

        You mention reports of negative health effects world wide. Could you please provide the following:

        – Peer-reviewed and repeated evidence of an established and prominent causal link between reported health effects and the operation of wind turbines, explicable through thoroughyl investigated physiological causes.

        – Statements of medical consensus from official medical bodies confirming this linkage

        – Peer-reviewd and repeated evidence that the infrasonic emissions from wind turbines are both characteristically unique and of a sound pressure level high enough to cause the symptoms you mention.

        – Double blind, peer-reviewed and published evidence that communities adjacent to wind farms exhibit symptoms at a rate greater than a control group, controlling for non-physiological factors.

        If you claim that there is a definite and medically accurate causal link between wind turbines and reported health effects, you must provide, at the very least, the items above.

        • Laura 7 years ago

          Perhaps you’re missing the point. Mr. Nauen falsely stated that Australia is the only country in the wolrd where people are complaining about negative health effects and that’s an outright lie.

          It’s something that wind industry people say in every country where there are people registering complaints. “This is the “ONLY” country in the world where we hear this sort of thing.”

          It’s an absolute bald-faced lie and they need to be called out on it. We hear the same thing in Canada. Friends of mine hear the same thing in the UK. They hear it in the States and it’s time the lies stop.

          If they can’t at least tell the truth on this issue, what else are they being dishonest about?

  4. Rupert 7 years ago

    Mr Nauen should make a visit to Geraldton in WA. The coast north of there is one of the windiest places in the world, so much so that no one lives there! There was a time when those famous dirty industry promoters, Lang Hanock and Joe Bjelke-Peterson wanted to build a railway to bring coal from Queensland to the Pilbara to create an iron-ore processing industry. With such winds just on the doorstep and S Australia already demonstrating what is possible, think of the employment that could be created in one of the least inhabited parts of the planet! Wind power in that area would also nicely complement the solar power generation that has already started.

    • Ross McNeilage 7 years ago

      Reply to Rupert. I think you have a good idea there but the problem with having wind farms at places nobody lives anywhere near is that the infrastructure has to be built to transmit the electricity so far that the exercise is not cost effective. BTW how good is it that they are shutting down 25% of the dirty Yallourn power station. I wonder if its windy there, the transmission lines are already in place.

      • Rupert 7 years ago

        The small farming town of Northanpton lies north of Geraldton and is connected to the SW grid. Certainly a grid connection to the iron ore towns in The Pilbara would be needed but there is a long stretch of very windy coastline north of Shark Bay that is much closer and cartinly no further than the rail lines they have already built for the iron ore mines.

        Interestingly the strong winds of this coastline were the main reason that Dutch ships avoided landing in WA on their way to Indonesia. Those that got too close were wrecked!

  5. Justin 7 years ago

    Its thanks to our stupid media. They are idiots who will give even the most ridiculous story a chance to ferment and infect peoples minds. As usual we will get left behind thanks to our media and politicians. The politicians these days have no guts. Its all about re-election and not about making a positive impact on our country. While our politicians engage in a neverending whine about sexism, misogyny, prostitution instead of jailing the culprits immediately our country is decaying and fading. When will we get our high speed rail link? Why can’t China pay for it considering we give them so much? Why can’t companies innovate in Australia and boost productivity? Our country needs direction and it needs to take a hard line on these issues.

  6. Chris Fraser 7 years ago

    Perhaps this story would be a good forum for the infrasound gallery to defend themselves. Any takers ?

  7. Ketan Joshi 7 years ago

    The anti-wind lobby’s focus on spurious health claims originated in Canada, with Dr Nina Pierpont publishing a study that easily ticks all the boxes of bad science. (See – http://www.quora.com/Wind-Power/Is-Dr-Nina-Pierpoints-Wind-Turbine-Syndrome-a-real-medical-syndrome-caused-by-wind-turbines )

    The issue seems to arise mainly in English speaking countries, though it’s not easy to collate empirical data to support this. The prevalance of anti-wind groups is a decent metric for predicting reports of ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’. Scotland, England, America and Canada all seem to be over-represented, when compared to installed wind capacity.

    Pointing out this international discrepancy is no problem for the anti-wind groups. As skeptics of their claims, we are limited by logic. As claimants themselves, they are limited only by their imagination.

  8. health advocate 7 years ago

    I am very concerned about the health impacts of fossil fuel generation. Not to mention the safety issues that are created with the coal dust which sits in the rooves of houses. Speak to fire fighters and they will tell you that fires in coal areas are fought very differently – as the dust in rooves makes homes explode.

    There are so many reasons why Australia must look to renewable energy and health is just one of them.

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