Hazelwood uses more land to generate power than wind farms | RenewEconomy

Hazelwood uses more land to generate power than wind farms

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Victoria’s coal-fired Hazelwood power plant produces less electricity per square metre than the state’s wind farms – another wind myth busted.

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One bit of malarkey I see trotted out every now and then is that wind is too diffuse a source of energy and requires too much land to be practical. Well, if that’s the case then coal power must be even more impractical because the coal fueled Hazelwood Power Plant in the Australian state of Victoria produces less electricity per square metre than the state’s wind farms.

While wind turbines get spread out over a wide area, apart from the bases of the turbines and the roads built to service them, almost all the land is still available for its original purpose which is normally either grazing or cropping. In Australia wind farms only remove about 1% of their total land area from use. And this is a figure that will get even smaller as the average size of wind turbines increases. A site that uses two megawatt turbines might only remove 0.67% of land from use. And even that small amount of land is not a complete loss, as agriculture benefits from reduced wind speeds and the service roads can be used by farmers.

Wind farms vary a lot in the total area they cover due to local wind conditions and topography. The Bald Hills Wind Farm, which is under construction on grazing land in Victoria, will have 52 turbines over 1,750 hectares, have a total capacity of 104 megawatts, and is expected to operate at over 36% of capacity. Using the 1% figure for land removed from grazing, which may be too high as its 2 megawatt turbines are large for Australia, it will produce an average of 218 watts per square meter, which isn’t bad at all and is much better than Hazelwood.

Hazelwood Power Plant is a monster. I mean that quite literally. When they remake Silence of the Lambs they should cast Hazelwood Power Plant as Hannibal Lecter because I can’t think of anything scarier. It is the least efficient power plant in the OECD and the worst polluter in terms of greenhouse gases per kilowatt-hour produced. It is single handedly responsible for 9% of Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation. Due to exposure to hazardous substances it is estimated that over $400 million in health related insurance payouts will need to be made, and that’s just to former employees. It’s maximum output is 1,740 megawatts and it operates at an average of about 66% of that. The plant and its mine covers 3,554 hectares. Brown coal is carried to the plant on a forty kilometre long conveyor belt. The coal seam it comes from is 100 meters thick and large enough to power Hazelwood for over 500 years.

Per square meter, the Hazelwood Power Plant and mine produces an average of 32 watts. This means that at 218 watts, the Bald Hills Wind Farm will produce almost seven times as much electricity per square meter, utterly trouncing Hazelwood in the energy density sweepstakes. And while Hazelwood is horrible, it’s not the only coal plant that does badly. According to the Australian Wind Energy Association, Australian coal requires about 2.7 times as much land per unit of electricity produced than wind power. As the average capacity of Australian coal plants has been dropping, they are probably doing even worse than that now.

This article was originally published on CleanTechnica. Reproduced with permission
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  1. suthnsun 7 years ago

    Then factor in the enormous water and other consumables consumption by Hazelwood, all of which are serviced by external land and infrastructure – wind farms are positively dainty! (It might be an interesting extension to your story to see an estimate of what that might amount to)

    People become habituated then blind to the monstrosities thrust upon them, very important to wake us up to the whole picture.

  2. adam 7 years ago

    ” Due to exposure to hazardous substances it is estimated that over $400 million in health related insurance payouts will need to be made, and that’s just to former employees. ”

    Where did this come from? Sounds a bit rich without a refernce.

    • Ronald Brak 7 years ago

      It came from asbestos:


      But I have made a very bad mistake and used a figure that doesn’t just apply to Hazelwood workers but which instead applies to Victorian SEC workers as a whole. I appologize for that. I really should have taken the time to investigate it more carefully. Thank you for prompting me to look into it further.

  3. George Papadopoulos 7 years ago

    Ronald, I think your analysis should have included some factor which defines how much land is “consumed” by audible wind turbine noise.

    I would suggest, given a wind industry guess, that a 1.5km radius around each wind turbine would be the minimum.

    • Warwick 7 years ago

      George, how much land is “consumed” by other audible sources such as planes, trains and automobiles? Are you suggesting a 1.5km buffer from all roads, railways and aircraft flight corridors?

      • George Papadopoulos 7 years ago

        Warwick, we are comparing sources of energy production and I have brought up the issue of noise nuisance as a form of noise pollution. Pedersen et al have define wind turbine noise as being the second most offensive source of noise to humans. Any wonder why few if any nations put huge wind turbines in urban areas?

        Why not compare coal plants to car emissions, cow rectal emissions perhaps?

    • Ronald Brak 7 years ago

      George, crops don’t care, sheep don’t care, cows don’t care. Animals will happily use the pylons for shade. So wind turbine noise doesn’t remove land from agricutural use. As for humans, it’s difficult to hear a modern wind turbine at 500 metres, let alone 1,500. If you can consistently hear Australian wind turbines at 1.5 kilometres that’s pretty amazing. Maybe you should be on TV or something.

      • George Papadopoulos 7 years ago

        Ronald, these are interesting assertions about how animals “don’t care”. I also note that eagles and bats “don’t care” but get chopped up by blades instead

        A pastoralist at Crookwell, John Carter is on public record stating how his cows performed very poorly when grazing on a paddock close to wind turbines in contrast to a similar herb grazing much further away, putting on only half the weight over the summer months.

        Another family at Gunning is on public record stating how they had to put extra fences in to force their sheep to graze in paddocks closer to the wind turbines.

        It just so seems that the bar of evidence is so low when it comes to assuming animal welfare and safety is taken care of amongst an industrial site…

        • Chris Fraser 7 years ago

          We’ll get Dr Chapman to make a note of that one !

          • George Papadopoulos 7 years ago

            Chris, good luck trying to get Chapman to accept basic scientific observation as an example of “mass hysteria”

        • Ronald Brak 7 years ago

          George, the British Royal Society for Protection of Birds is building a wind turbine at their headquarters precisely because wind power is less destructive to birds than fossil fuels:


          Do you think you know better than them? If you have evidence that wind power is more destructive to the environment than climate change resulting from burning fossil fuels, produce it. If we want to argue that humans should give up on technology and go back to hunter gathering like it’s the last episode of Battlestar Galactica or something, make that arguement. And if you want to argue that CO2 in not a greenhouse gas and/or human activity has not increased its concentration in the atmosphere by over a third, well, I’m sorry. I truly am.

          • George Papadopoulos 7 years ago

            Ronald, your logic is flawed. If wind turbines are supposedly the lesser evil, then why not focus on better technologies such as solar thermal or solar PV?

            I think if you had a harder look at coal plant mortality of birds it is very centralised and has a heavy impact on a local ecosystem.

            If you compare this to large industrial wind turbines, there is specific and heavy impact on part of an ecosystem, raptors and bats, everywhere they go. Trying to achieve a RET of 20% will mean wind turbines almost everywhere in fertile parts of Australia!

            If the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had any integrity it would have installed a renewable technology which would not harm any birds like solar PV. Maybe we should focus on the “royal” opinions of Prince Phillip: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/prince-philip/8901985/Wind-farms-are-useless-says-Prince-Philip.html

          • Ronald Brak 7 years ago

            George, are you saying the effects of coal plants are only local? Don’t you think that global warming resulting from burning fossil fuels is, as the term suggests, global in nature?

          • George Papadopoulos 7 years ago

            Ronald, coal plants are part of the picture and so are wind turbines, especially if they are not implemented in ways which effectively reduce carbon emissions.

          • Ronald Brak 7 years ago

            George, do you accept that (1) CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and (2) Human activity has increased its concentration in the atmosphere by over a third.

          • George Papadopoulos 7 years ago

            Before I answer your question, Ronald, do you accept the published evidence that suggests wind turbine noise is highly annoying and affects the health of individuals at close range?

            Do you also acknowledge the claims of US epidemiologist Carl Phillips that there are thousands of adverse reports on human health worldwide suspected to be related to wind turbine activity?

          • Ronald Brak 7 years ago

            Ah, thank you. I have no doubts about you now.

    • Jonathan Maddox 7 years ago

      Hardly relevant when (a) the beach is far noisier than any turbine, and people love to live as close as possible to the ocean; and (b) 98% of your perfectly arbitrary suggested radius is still perfectly useable for whatever it was already used for : grazing, transportation, etc, even if there are people who wanted to build a house there but would now choose not to.

      • George Papadopoulos 7 years ago

        Jonathan, a lot of people take pleasure at putting their TV/stereo so loud that you could hear it down the street. Yet when their baby cries they get stressed. Perhaps you should tell them that the dBA of the baby is less therefore they shouldn’t complain. I wonder whether the concept of beauty and harmony means anything to a wind industry employee?

  4. Jimmy 7 years ago

    Too right can’t even get your figure right, and then blame coal power stations to pollute the planet.

    • Ronald Brak 7 years ago

      Yes, that’s right. There’s no pollution from coal. When I’m feeling poorly I put a lump of burning lignite in a bowl and breath deeply of it’s healing vapours.

  5. Martin Nicholson 7 years ago

    I certainly don’t want to be supporting coal power, but the kind of numbers that Ronald has come up with certainly apply to open-cut mines – the kind used in the Latrobe Valley – but do not necessarily apply to underground mines.

    The two worst users of land on a watt per square metre measure are hydro and biomass. Hydro because of the large reservoirs needed, and biomass because of the dedicated land to grow sufficient trees for several years before you can use them – plus holding adequate stock to ensure an ongoing fuel supply. Hydro is about 180 times worse than on-shore wind but biomass is a whopping 400 times worse.

    Reference: Table 11.3 in the book The Power Makers’ Challenge, Springer 2012 (written by yours truly).

    • Ronald Brak 7 years ago

      In Australia coal power does poorly even when the area taken up by mining is completely ignored. For example, Hazelwood’s mine only takes up about a quarter of its total area. A quick look at Wikipedia shows me the Tarong black coal power station takes up 1,500 hectares. If it operated its four units at Hazelwood’s capacity, then it would produce an average of less than a third as many watts per square metre as the Bald Hills Wind Farm. There will be plants in Australia with much smaller footprints per kilowatt of capacity but coal doesn’t compare well with wind even when mining area isn’t accounted for, especially now that the average capacity of Australian coal plants has dropped so low.

  6. Chris Fraser 7 years ago

    The cause of these perceived issues is more likely some lifestyle things which can be removed , like the fags and the demon drink.

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