Hunt flags move to offshore wind on "grand scale". Is he serious? | RenewEconomy

Hunt flags move to offshore wind on “grand scale”. Is he serious?

Greg Hunt flags “major investment” in offshore wind in Australia. Is the Coalition trying to shift the wind energy debate from land to sea?

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Environment minister Greg Hunt has flagged a push towards investment “of a grand scale” in offshore wind in Australia – even though the technology is thought to be twice the price of onshore wind.

offshore windHunt’s comments came during an interview at a Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in Shanghai, when he was asked about the prospects for onshore wind in Australia, which has pretty much ground to a halt following the Abbott regime’s attack on the technology.

Apart from three wind farms that have won contracts with the ACT government’s auction system, there has been no new onshore wind farm construction in the last two years – since the Coalition was elected.

Hunt was asked about the outlook for wind energy, in clear reference to the dislike of wind farms by Abbott, former treasurer Joe Hockey and others in the Coalition, and the push by cross-bench Senators to stop the industry in its tracks.

“Look wind – my approach to wind has always been there are no moral qualities either way in different forms of energy and electricity,” Hunt said.

“They all have different capacities, some may be lower cost, some may be lower emissions, and as I’ve said in Australia beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

“We’re likely to see, however, a move to offshore wind.

“There are some very significant opportunities which are close to the electricity backbone, and I think that there are likely to be some major international financing and investment opportunities on a grand scale.

“And so we will try to facilitate offshore wind, and if it’s cost competitive grade, if it’s not then it doesn’t matter.

“But we want to remove any bureaucratic barriers.”

It’s the second last sentence that is the key, and the cause for surprise that Hunt has even mentioned the technology: offshore wind farms are thought to be at least twice the cost of offshore wind farms.

So much for the government pushing for the “lowest cost” technology. But as we have seen with the controversy over wind farms, and the push to invest in large-scale solar plants, the government is keen to exercise some preference on its energy sources.

The Coalition is also caught between fierce resistance to wind farms from influential parts of its constituents. Many oppose wind farms on the basis of their appearance and some on assumed health effects.

Even the NSW deputy health minister and mental health minister, a noted wind critic, says wind turbine blades create “pressure waves” that “resonate in the skulls” of people living as far away as five kilometres. Perhaps a move to offshore wind will reduce the controversy over wind technology.

The UK conservative government has effectively shifted all investment in wind energy from onshore sites to offshore, and this week announced plans for the world’s largest offshore wind farm. But the costs are high, with the global average cost for offshore project at more than £100MWh, although new “floating” wind farms may reduce those costs below £100MWh ($A215.62/MWH).

Hunt also spoke approvingly of solar technology developer RayGen, and said that wave and tidal investment were also “very prospective technologies”.

But he said the big game changer for energy systems was storage, and he reiterated that he was encouraging the Clean Energy Finance Corp and ARENA to work with that technology.

He also said that the 33,000GWh RET for 2020 – reduced from its previous level of 41,000GWh because of falling demand – was “rock solid”, even if demand continued to fall.

On the subject of off-shore wind farms, of which there are no known proposals in Australia, apart from some casual suggestions a few years back of giant turbines in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, UNSW energy expert Mark Diesendorf recently wrote that the technology could have some benefits.

Namely:

“Offshore wind farms can utilise higher and less-variable wind speeds than onshore farms.

“There is often more suitable (and available) space to build wind farms in offshore waters than there is on land.

“Offshore wind turbines are far less visible than onshore turbines, which matters to a small minority of people.”

But, as Diesendorf also noted, the capital and maintenance costs associated with offshore wind farms are, at present, roughly double that of onshore wind farms.

And he noted Australia did not have the same population or area restraints faced by Europe and the US. In addition, most of Australia’s coastal waters are too deep for current wind turbine technology.

And it will be a long time before floating wind turbines – which are still at the pilot stage – are commercially available, although Scotland this week announced its plans for the first floating wind plant.

But he did say there were some potential sites located off the Western Australian coast near the South-West Integrated System (SWIS) electricity grid, while others are near the cities of Whyalla (South Australia), Gladstone (Queensland), Rockhampton (Queensland), Bundaberg (Queensland), Mackay (Queensland) and Melbourne (Victoria).

“As the offshore market expands, it’s hoped these costs will decline to the point where the advantage of higher electricity output will outweigh higher set-up and operational costs.”

Hunt, or his advisors, may have read Diesendorf’s article, pointing as he did to the “significant opportunities which are close to the electricity backbone.” But he might have to wait a while for the costs to come down.

In the meantime, it was a hardly a ringing endorsement of the onshore wind industry.

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11 Comments
  1. barrie harrop 5 years ago

    Hunt dreaming.

  2. Keith 5 years ago

    Hunt and Turnbull need to come to grips with the fact that the rest of the world is engaged. Nonsense about direct action in Paris will result in derision. Ducking around onshore wind likewise. Crunch coming for Turnbull.

  3. GlennM 5 years ago

    Classic FUD..
    (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt). The COALition keeps changing the story, almost monthly. Keep the punters confused. The latest is suggesting “Hey guys we LOVE Renewable energy” we are going to do Offshore wind…..just as soon as it is “cost effective”. That buys them another decade to pollute and keeps their Coal funders happy…all the while “appearing” to support RE.

    Don’t worry as soon as Offshore wind becomes cheap they will find that offshore infrasound hurts “Dolphin babies” and we will wait until “pixie dust” becomes economically viable..

    But while we wait for Pixie dust..lets burn some more COAL.

    GlennM

  4. Ray Miller 5 years ago

    FUD for DUD policy. As Mark D is also trying to point it is the diversity which is of greatest benefit. We will need to have some offshore wind, the renewable resources are very predictable but we need to locate them in very diverse locations and use the array of technologies so they have the best chance to maximize the resource and meet the widest load at the cheapest overall costs. Storage is of course part of the plan and we already use a range of inbuilt storage in hot water cylinders, fridges, thermal mass in buildings, gravity in water storage etc.

  5. Jacob 5 years ago

    What is the point of this when the grid in AUS is a rip off.

    Far better for voters to install solar PV + batteries and go off grid.

  6. Mark Diesendorf 5 years ago

    In 2009, using multi-criteria analysis, Eleonora Messali and I published a survey of potential sites for off-shore wind power in Australia — see Wind Engineering 33 (4):335-348. Based on commercially available technology with foundations in the ocean floor, the potential is limited by the substantial depth of water around most of our coastline. Since off-shore wind is still an expensive technology and there are many undeveloped on-shore wind farm sites on agricultural land, why would we bother with off-shore? The situation is different in Europe and Japan, where available land for renewable energy is in short supply.
    Over the past few decades governments have opposed the lowest cost renewable energy technologies while supporting (slightly) the most expensive. It’s a tactic for slowing the dissemination of renewable energy.

  7. Rory McGuire 5 years ago

    I assume you meant to say “twice the cost of ONshore wind farms”.
    But a close look at Hunt’s comments suggests they are blindingly obvious or unintelligible.
    Why on earth is he talking about ‘moral qualities’ of different energy sources? Looks like a red herring.
    What is “And so we will try to facilitate offshore wind, and if it’s cost competitive grade, if it’s not then it doesn’t matter,” supposed to mean? Cost competitive grade? What’s he trying to say? If it’s not then it doesn’t matter? Is he saying that cost is irrelevant, or, if it is too costly then they (the government) won’t try to facilitate it?
    All up he looks like he is floundering, or trying to make a grand statement without saying anything.
    Or maybe he wants to do with turbines what his previous master did with the boat people: send them to Nauru.

  8. Chris Fraser 5 years ago

    Development of offshore wind ? Funny thought bubble from a funny government. Which rings of another Lomborg-ish delay tactic.

  9. David K Clarke 5 years ago

    Why should we go to off-shore wind when it is twice the cost of on-shore wind and there are plenty of good sites available for more on-shore wind farms? It makes no economic sense at all.

    Could it be that Hunt wants to propose off-shore wind farms, then, when the punters are told how expensive they will be, oppose wind power as uneconomic?

  10. Alen T 5 years ago

    If we’re talking about offshore, I much rather we invested in Carnagie’s Ceto 5. The added bonus of desalinated water (with power generation) should especially be appreciated in the south, as CC is projected to lead to lower rainfall there.

  11. Leigh Ryan 5 years ago

    Rory your spot on, it’s all a Red Herring, and take note, it’s all talk, there is no Action, this government has no intention of ever supporting Renewable energy in any form, they have sold their souls to the Coal Lobby for Political Donations, i think it’s time the Coal Lobby members and their supporters had a very public Name & Shame File.

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