IPA concedes wind farms successful in displacing coal

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IPA admits wind energy displacing coal plants. Meanwhile, The Australian focuses on noise issues from a turbine that was never commercialised.

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The anti-wind campaigners sometimes have difficulty getting their facts in the right order. One of their most common complaints is that wind energy does nothing to reduce emissions as it doesn’t actually result in any fossil fuel generation being switched off, because fossil fuel needs to keep running as “back-up” in case the wind stops blowing.

Of course, this is not true. As the Australian Energy Market Operator notes in South Australia, where wind energy accounts for around 25 per cent of both capacity and demand, coal fired generation – both local and imported from Victoria – has fallen dramatically. There hasn’t even been any need for new peaking power stations and the use of gas has not increased since the state started building the first of its 1,200MW of wind energy.

The Institute of Public Affairs, one of the most powerful and influential anti-wind groups, whose former head is now the WA state energy minister, is a strong proponent of the “continuous” back-up claim. But at the recent, lightly attended  anti-wind rally in Canberra, its director of deregulation, Alan Moran made a crucial admission: wind energy is forcing conventional coal generation out of the market, because it is making it uneconomic.

“(Renewables) are in fact squeezing out conventional energy, conventional, predictable and reliable energy, because they are “must run”, and conventional energy is automatically backed off,” Moran said, according to a transcript published on the anti-wind website Stop These Things. “This is leading to the retirement of coal fired stations, as subsidised wind makes them not profitable.”

Well, quite so. And good. That is actually what these schemes – carbon price, renewable energy targets, emissions limits etc – are designed to do, to hasten the retirement of highly polluting power plants, or at least force them to invest in technology that reduces their emissions and pollution.

But Moran’s admission goes to the heart of the campaign against wind and other renewables. It’s not really a technological issue – as the Queensland network operator and the AEMO both make clear – it is an economic one for the incumbent generators. And the growing penetration of renewables is indeed forcing dirty, inflexible generation such as old coal plants out of the market – as it is in Europe and elsewhere.

Of course, as Moran did, the anti-wind campaigners rattle on about costs. But as IPART pointed out in its recent assessment, the cost of the utility scale renewable energy target is only around $40 a year on am annual  household bill of more than $2,000. And, as ministers in NSW and WA and elsewhere are finding, trying to prolong the life of old coal fired generators is counter productive and very costly.

Moran also blamed the lack of wind energy for a recent surge in electricity prices in South Australia. But as we pointed out in this analysis, it was a little more complex than that, and it was the sudden loss of 800MW of gas-fired generation that triggered the initial problems – which the grid is designed to handle – and in fact the coal fired generator that was operating at the time also had a sudden outage a few days later.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 2.11.10 AM
Not a lot of these in South Australia.

Meanwhile, The Australian newspaper is having another crack at the wind issue, quoting a 1987 report on a prototype wind turbine (pictured right) and its impacts on low frequency noise and infrasound.

It should be noted that the findings of the report were absorbed by the industry, which is why this type of “downwind” turbines tested in the report were not developed, and are not used in Australia.

A report by the South Australian Environmental Protection Authority noted that while downwind turbines had a infrasound problem, the use of  “upwind” turbines had solved it. (Downwind and upwind refers to which side of the mast the turbines are located in reference to the wind).

Section 4.7 of the report says this:

“Infrasound was a characteristic of some wind turbine models that has been attributed to early designs in which turbine blades were downwind of the main tower. The effect was generated as the blades cut through the turbulence generated around the downwind side of the tower.

“Modern designs generally have the blades upwind of the tower. Wind conditions around the blades and improved blade design minimise the generation of the effect. The EPA has consulted the working group and completed an extensive literature search but is not aware of infrasound being present at any modern wind farm site.”

As one wind industry observer noted, it is like suggesting that Toyota must take note of a decades old report on the Model T Ford recommending the use of wider tires. It’s already happened.

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2 Comments
  1. rucio 6 years ago

    Displacing coal generation is different from reducing coal burning. The economic hardship for coal plants seems to suggest that the latter is happening much less than the former. That is, they still have to buy and burn coal to stay “hot”, but they can’t sell as much electricity.

    The result, of course, is the same, but to deal not only with “conventional” plant outages but also with periods of low wind, it will likely be gas that in fact replaces coal, not wind.

    • Bob_Wallace 6 years ago

      More accurately it will be a mix of wind, solar and gas. In the short term.

      Use wind and solar when available as they have no fuel requirements. Fill in with gas.

      Later on replace gas with storage.

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