Is ABC’s Chris Uhlmann the new face of the anti-wind lobby? | RenewEconomy

Is ABC’s Chris Uhlmann the new face of the anti-wind lobby?

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A predictable reaction to blackout in South Australia was that wind energy would be blamed. Who expected the ABC to lead that charge?

Source: The Advertiser
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Source: The Advertiser
Source: The Advertiser

One of the most predictable reactions to the unprecedented blackout in South Australia on Wednesday was that wind energy and renewables would be blamed.

What was not expected is how the ABC would lead that charge.

Just an hour after the lights went across the state of South Australia on Wednesday afternoon, ABC chief political correspondent Chris Uhlmann was on TV leaving viewers in no doubt about what he thought was the cause of the blackout – wind energy.

“40% of South Australia’s power is wind generated, and that has the problem of being intermittent – and what we understand at the moment is that those turbines aren’t turning because the wind is blowing too fast. ”

I almost drove my car off the road when I heard this a short time later on ABC News Radio, but there was worse to come. Uhlmann had chosen to interview the politician with the biggest unexplained beef against wind energy, South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon.

“So for the rest of our viewers, who would find it impossible to believe that an entire state can be blacked out, let’s walk our way througn how this could possibly happen,” Ullmann began. “Now 40% of South Australia is wind generated. The wind is blowing very hard at the moment, what’s the problem?”

Xenophon eagerly responded: “The generators don’t work when the wind is blowing too hard,”

Of course, both the assertions from Uhlmann and from Xenophon were absolute rubbish. As the state grid operator and the premier Jay Weatherill had already pointed out before this interview began, the blackout was caused by multiple failures of high voltage transmission infrastructure.

Just how widespread those failures were was revealed later. More than 20 transmission towers were ripped from the ground by winds of cyclonic force, at least one generator was reportedly hit by lightning, and the whole grid blacked out – as it is designed to do in the event of such catastrophic failure.

It wouldn’t have mattered if the Northern brown coal generator was operating or not, or even if there were 20 such large scale generators online, the blackout would still have occurred, as the grid owner, the Australian Energy Market Operator, the Premier and even federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg made clear.

This was a failure of transmission infrastructure at an unprecedented scale in the face of a storm the likes of which had not been seen for half a century.

WIND_SA copy

Wind turbines were actually providing more than 800MW of power when the lights went out (see graph above). So it wasn’t the lack of wind that was the problem. They didn’t operate after the blackout because they can’t. No plant can, not gas and not coal, until the grid is re-established.

Nether Uhlmann, nor the mainstream ABC news reports, made mention of the gas plants, which were also operating at the time of the blackout, and were also unavailable to generate after the event – because the grid was not working.

The problem with Uhlmann’s line – apart from revealing his own personal prejudice, or ignorance – was that it was still being repeated as gospel by mainstream ABC new reports, on ABC News Radio and local stations, into Thursday morning. Power was still out, the reports said, because wind power “was not available”.

Uhlmann was challenged over this comments on Twitter, and then he dug himself further into the mire, tweeting (above) that the reliability issues of the South Australian grid were well known.

His source from that claim? Certainly not the Australian Energy Market Operator, which in several detailed reports has made it clear that there are no reliability issues in South Australia.

Ullmann quoted his own story quoting the conservative Grattan Institute and the report from its lead energy analyst Tony Wood, who has become a controversial figure because of his relentless criticism of renewable energy, including a much contested and criticised report into solar energy earlier this year.

Wood’s report made much of the situation in South Australia to further its agenda to bring an end to state-based renewable energy initiatives and to push for more gas.

Ullmann views were quickly echoed by like-minded commentators. Andrew Bolt spoke to the notorious anti-renewable economist Alan Moran, who predictably said it was all the fault of wind energy and that with “reliable electricity” the power would still be on. The usual suspects emerged elsewhere in the Murdoch media.

Even Fairfax had a go, with its energy reporter Brian Robins writing a piece saying that South Australia was “paying the price” of its investment in renewables.

His source? The same as Ullmann’s, the Grattan Institute, and its claim that renewable energy had the potential to undermine supply security at a reasonable price, because it forced the closure of inefficient power stations without encouraging the construction of the necessary new generation supply sources.

His story prompted Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton to tweet that the Fairfax story was “complete garbage”. He then followed up with another tweet:

The Grattan Institute’s Wood made his own appearance on the ABC later in the evening, accepting that the blackout event was not triggered by wind farms, but then accusing the reliance on wind energy as the cause of the price surges in July.

Wood knows this is not true. His institute’s own report described such claims as “misguided”, but on the electronic media it is easy to be facile and disingenuous.

Yes, wind power is variable and there are times when it doesn’t blow. But the events in South Australia, as the market operator and regulator and numerous studies have made clear, were exacerbated because the price of gas had surged to record highs, the interconnector was down for repairs, and the gas generators were free to exploit their market dominance.

A simple change of the bidding rules, being fought furiously by the gas generators, would change that because it would encourage competition such as battery storage.

Instead, Wood chose to use the occasion to again push for a halt to state-based renewable energy targets, a view that was enthusiastically supported by Frydenberg, deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, Xenophon, One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts and the fossil fuel lobby.

That much was a given. But you’d just expect better from the ABC.


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  1. Gordon 4 years ago

    Indeed a very disappointing episode from the ABC. Chris Uhlmann has certainly made his attitude towards renewables clear. I had to turn ABC morning show off this morning when Uhlmann was in full swing, after the previous efforts of Michael Rowland in trying to blame wind power, ignoring the already stated reasons for the problem by Jay Weatherall.

    Absent from any interview was the question – how could a state with nearly 60% of its electricity supply from gas generators have such a catastrophic grid failure?

    • Nicko 4 years ago

      Disappointing, but not surprising. The movement to the right on the ABC is becoming a stampede.

      Uhlmann has always been biased, but seems to be coming more strident and dropping the facade as his side fails. In this case, perhaps because renewable energy is such a trigger issue to start the mouth frothing.

      I reacted to Uhlmann’s clearly nonsense report a few days ago on the news on the fabled July 7 to push disinformation – ignoring all the abundant real reports to blame renewable energy.

      Imagine someone talking about the price spike, but not talk about the price of gas! Ignorance or lies. He did have his “expert” – the Grattan Institute! It is becoming a Murdoch-style echo chamber.

      • Anna7 4 years ago

        Of course it is Murdoch-style…the managing director appointed in May this year is an ex-News Corp company CEO…there is the reason…wake up everyone.

  2. PV believer 4 years ago

    Giles – you may want to correct this quote “…His source from that claim? Certainly the Australian Energy Market Operator,….”.
    I was surprised when I heard Chris. Similar misinformation and blaming the interconnector as failing was being said on the 7pm ABC news. Shows how slow and hard it is to correct initial faulty information.

    • Anna7 4 years ago

      This is blatant misinformation by the ABC.

  3. Finn Peacock 4 years ago

    Thank God for Giles Parkinson.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      please share widely

      • Brad 4 years ago

        As a conservative that has put up with the abc’s left stance its funny the uproar from one right wing opinion once

        • Dan 4 years ago

          This isn’t about “opinion”. This is about misrepresentation of the facts in what could be perceived to be a deliberate, opportunistic and fundamentally corrupt manner.

        • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

          You are entitled to your own opinions, you don’t get to invent your own facts, conservative or leftie extremist. don’t know how you could think ABC has a “left stance” the entire board and upper management are Howard appointees and ex-liberal staffers. more and more of the on-screen talent wouldn’t know a progressive movement even if they had buy their lunch from them. plugged into the status-quo like never before are most of them.

        • Nicko 4 years ago

          Err. I don’t think so. The ABC is only left wing in fevered imaginations. They are marching right clearly – if “left wing”, why do they put Uhlmann in his position? Make it a second home for the IPA and CIS? Calling up Roberts and Christensen and Bernardi then asking them soft questions to make them appear reasonable? Making Bolt the representative of white Australia on Indigenous recognition.

          If they put on Pilger, not Bolt they might be left wing. But they don’t.

          • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

            Yes, any PR firm would literally kill someone to get the kind of access on ABC that IPA has. Hard to estimate the value in commercial terms but it’s easily in the millions of dollars range

  4. maw56disqus 4 years ago

    I was also surprised and disappointed by the ABC being so biased and saying such outright lies. The lack of general STEM education in society is how they get a way with it.

    • Kenshō 4 years ago

      I’d say there’s more people with a STEM education who are responsible for bias and corruption. The simple reason is STEM is so easily co-opted for its utility value rather than its exploratory role for understanding our beautiful world. Scientists also often have a modest level of IQ, and in developmental psychology, many scientists are only regarded as attaining the level of cognition called formal-operational logic.

  5. lin 4 years ago

    Thanks Giles. Good to have some clarity on the truth of what happened, and good to know where the misinformation is coming from. Fairfax certainly did its reputation no good running with its “paying the price” headline before the facts were known. And it is most disappointing to see the ABC becoming indistinguishable from the Murdoch rubbish. Uhlmann has always pushed the agenda of the rich and powerful, but when a journalist starts telling blatant lies, there should be consequences. As for the Grattan institute, why don’t they just merge with the IPA and be done with it.

    • Kenshō 4 years ago

      Who is Uhlmann responsible to?

      • Damon Schultz 4 years ago

        ABC Director of News and Current Affairs, who reports to the Managing Director (who is also Editor-in-Chief under the Act). But you may get a more timely response from Media Watch…

        • Kenshō 4 years ago

          Are Journalists accountable to a professional Code of Ethics?

        • Chris Fraser 4 years ago

          Go get the truth-benders, Media Watch !

      • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

        His party and ideology it would seem. Even Virginia Trioli (considered a ‘leftie’ by many ABC listeners) goes troppo supporting coal and mythologising about wind, all because her father was an SEC engineer she seems to imply. Journos have this thing about knowing what they know and it’s very hard to educate them, the bigger the ego the bigger the challenge.

      • lin 4 years ago

        Good question. He should be responsible to the ABC, and the ABC should answer to the Australian public, but that’s not happening since its gross politicisation, started by Howard and given its coup_de_grâce by the awful abbott/turnbull coalition.

  6. Goldie444 4 years ago

    I was watching this Uhlmann story live at the time.
    I am glad I was NOT driving at the time.
    I hate to pick on Uhlmann but is not the first time wind has been given a kick on his news stories.

  7. Kenshō 4 years ago

    “So it wasn’t the lack of wind that was the problem. They didn’t operate after the blackout because they can’t. No plant can, not gas and not coal, until the grid is re-established.”

    The ultimate success of renewable energy, will be the ability for islanding regional areas with serviceable networks and the ability to contain damage for unserviceable networks. We already have the technology, for effectively islanding our properties from surrounding network damage from wind, flood and fire. Renewable energy with storage, is the next evolution in our grids and our properties. Those of us who see the vision, can take part now.

  8. Rob G 4 years ago

    It’s astonishing that they are talking about renewables, when how power is generated has absolutely nothing to do with the storm. It’s a bit like trying to figure out how 2 cars crashed, by saying “we’ll that field over there has a lot of cows in it.” Utterly brainless reporting.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      Motivated brainlessness is the only explanation I can find.

      • Anna7 4 years ago

        Yes, motivated and deliberate misleading of the public is what the ABC does best these days….for the past several years at least…see ABC False Balance series.

        • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

          Please link the series you are talking about. Fortunately I’ve gone back to living without a TV. Only abc programs I watch are those it seek out in iView. Uhlman and his ilk will all be feather dusters soon and the climate apocalypse if it comes will be on their heads.

          • Anna7 4 years ago

            Hi Alistair…I prefer no tv in my house too. I should have been more specific. The series I refered to was a special investigation and series of articles by independent journalists. For some reason, I cannot get the page up today to get the link. If you search, ‘False Balance: The Full Transcript of the Meeting between Nick Ross and Bruce Belsham’ you should find the articles detailing how the ABC hid information from the public about the vast benefits of a full fibre NBN compared to the LNP’s mixed technology plan…in the lead up to the 2013 election. The issue of the NBN was allowed to be neutralised, with the LNP simply saying they would build the NBN cheaper, faster and they would finish what Labor started. They finished it off actually….destroyed it as Abbott said he would. The LNP mixed NBN is a disaster.
            None of this news about Nick Ross and his revelations after resigning from the ABC in 2016 was reported on the ABC, and the only report on any mainstream media was The Australian who ran an article saying Nick Ross was biased in his reporting on the NBN and therefore shouldn’t be listened to..
            BTW, the original articles Nick Ross and his technology team wrote, which also pointed out that the old copper network was 80% in need replacing, a cost not included in the LNP model, have been completely removed from the ABC website. Still available with a Google search…

            ‘The vast differences between the NBN and the Coalition’s alternative’ and

            ‘NBN alternative: Is Australia’s copper network fit for purpose?’. These articles were hidden away on the ABC’s obscure Games and Technology page, and not released for mainstream viewing.Whereas the negative article on the NBN which Nick Ross was pressured by his boss to write, was reported prominently on the ABC tv and website, and then repeated ad nauseum on all mainstream news sites.
            It wasn’t just Nick Ross who couldn’t be heard widely by voters before the 2013 election. A pro-optical fibre NBN interview by Emma Alberici was withheld by the ABC until after the 2013 election.
            Of course the outcome of the 2013 election could have been very different if the public was informed properly.
            An optical fibre NBN is the most important infrastructure in this digital age, and the LNP model is the a massive swindle of the Australian public. A deal stitched up with the fossil fuel industry because the LNP plan requires a lot of base load power to make it function…and the electricity companies will be paid large monthly fee for supplying power to each of the 70,000 nodes. The coal fired power industry was desperate for demand for power….the LNP’s NBN plan gives them that.

          • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

            OH ok yes I followed the Nick Ross episode on Delimiter. Renai Le May is (oops, was) a bit like the Giles Parkinson of the NBN space.

          • Anna7 4 years ago

            Renai Le May purported to be all for the optical fibre NBN….I followed his articles on the NBN for a while last year and thought he was ok until I looked back to see what he had written before the 2013 election. There I read a comment of his, saying he was in fact going to vote for his electorate’s LNP candidate because he was a good bloke who had done pretty good things locally….under an article he had written telling people to vote Green in the federal election 2013 because they supported a full fibre NBN….that’s one very confused guy there. He in fact voted for the LNP NBN mess!!

          • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

            maybe he was talking about his preference? anyhow he’s a rusted on Green now, I think… did mention in a column how he had several things in common with the IPA, love of small govt, libertarian principles,… I suspect it was more rhetorical than actual.

  9. Kevin Brown 4 years ago

    I understand windpower was a major contributor to the restoration of power to Adelaide while the interconnector was still down. Distributed micro-grids would mitigate major transmission line failures such as this.

  10. Phil Schroder 4 years ago

    I would have expected such an uninformed view from some politicians but not from Chris. On the positive side, this should strengthen the cases for grid level and residential storage. I wonder if the media will run with that?

    • Nicko 4 years ago

      Not from Chris? Frankly, it is exactly in character.

  11. Rob G 4 years ago

    The guardian reported today that Fredenberg was getting a huge social media backlash. Hopefully the frustration is being shared with Barnaby and Chris. It needs to be called out for what it is.

  12. Sally 4 years ago

    It would be good if everyone could make a formal complaint to the ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs

    • Nicko 4 years ago

      Yes. I just sent it off with this story to Mediawatch too, but don’t hold your breath!

      • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

        So the Monday following two or more instances of Uhlman, political editor at the ABC, completely making shit up that flew in the face of all the reported facts and physical evidence in a blatant attack on an entire industry which we need to arrest rapidly deteriorating climate change, and media watch cover US politics for the entire episode for the first time ever.

        Richard Di Natalie was cut off mid sentence today on the ABC as he tried to make the point that transmission lines had failed…

    • Jonathan Prendergast 4 years ago

      “Renewables are the future but, today, they present serious engineering problems. To deny that is to deny the science.” He’s a disgrace.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      Science, something Uhlman clearly would know so much about.

  13. Nigel Colhoun 4 years ago

    The ABC is becoming more like the MSM everyday.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      more like itself then?

  14. Kenshō 4 years ago

    ***** The Ability to Isolate Regions *****
    Here’s the contentious issue for the future of the grid/s:

    Impractical to have isolated states on energy grid – A senior executive of the company that controls the state’s high voltage line transmission said it would be possible to have regions within the state isolated but that it would be impractical.

    Currently the National Energy Market was divided into regions – those regions being states.

    A “safety switch” at the interconnector (which connects SA’s power supply to Victoria and the national market) monitors problems across the SA network.

    The safety switch goes off when there is a threat to network stability to prevent the problem affecting other states. ElectraNet network services executive manager Simon Emms said it would be possible to divide up the state into smaller regions each with its own safety switch but this would lead to reduced reliability in each.

    “The bigger you make the network the more resilient it is when there is a system disturbance,” he said.

    “(But) in five seconds lost 700MW from the network (yesterday).

    “Essentially, smaller regions could lead more frequent small-scale blackouts.”It (large scale blackouts) is not an unheard of phenomena when certain criteria have been met,” Mr Emms.

    “There have been system-wide blackouts in Hawaii, north east America and in Europe.

  15. Alastair Leith 4 years ago

    My comments on the Tony Wood interview Auntie had the grace to share with us:

    Energy economics experts (EEE) like Tony Woods at Grattan using ill-conceived metaphor in preference to facts.

    TW: “In every other part of our lives you can’t through away stuff which is working, but for some reason* you no longer want to continue to use it², replace it with new more expensive, but better stuff, and not think the prices are going to go up. Of course its going to go up. And I think our political leaders need to recognise that if you replace old coal fired power stations with new gas and RE then it’s going to be more expensive.³ ⁴”

    ABC: “And they’re hiding that truth from people at the moment… [indiscernible]” <(leading) question

    TW: “Well not really hiding it, but not fronting up to it. We're trying to say we’re going to do this without price increases and that I think is a big mistake because if people ultimately see power prices do go up and they’ve been told otherwise then they won’t forgive the politicians [easily?]”⁵

    ABC: “How significant price increases…what… how much can be expect? (sic)”

    TW: “Well you’ve already seen prices in SA went up about 10 or 11 percent in July. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see increases like that for a while yet because as I said the overall wholesale price will go from $50/MWh to $100/MWh. Now there are things we can do to make that efficient and as low as possible but it is a transition we’re going to make, the Federal Minister has said we’re going to make this transition, the government has made that commitment, let’s do it with our eyes open”⁶

    * that reason would be the catastrophic Climate Change we are on track for and have years not decades to arrest.
    ² the continued use of fossil fuels is not cost free. Northern PP in SA blew up. Many Australian coal PPs are in need of maintenance just to maintain BAU. Muja A and B had $300m spent on them in the last decade but are still virtually inoperable.
    ³ so many examples of disruptive technological transitions where costs as well as functional outcomes are improved… do I need to list them all. PV modules are on track to virtually free by ~2036 and deployed at a capacity equivalent to todays global energy demand (Ray Kurzweil)
    ⁴ since when has a political leader avoided recognising the cost of transition to 100% RE? the debate has been about the relative merits of mechanisms.
    ⁵ not a single mention of the rise in network costs due to gold plating, something distributed rooftopPV mitigates against.
    ⁶ TW — Eyes Wide Shut. Wind in SA has reduced the price spikes that occurred when coal was generating in SA. Also this from Climate Council. New wind in Australia, like most places is cheaper than new coal and gas and continues to sail down the learnings curve as we deploy more. PV tumbling down the learnings curve at 26% per doubling in deployment, which globally is every two years. Unfortunately growth in PV (almost entirely rooftop in Australia) has flattened to linear growth for last 4-5 years due to removal of incentives and anti-RE policies within market regulators and gentailers. I wrote more about these issues here (a year ago).

    • Kenshō 4 years ago

      How wind and renewables reduce the cost of wholesale electricity:

  16. Jonathan Prendergast 4 years ago

    He’s no energy analyst. He’s not a very good presenter either –

  17. Michel Syna Rahme 4 years ago

    What a bad joke! I’ve written to the ABC to lodge a complaint and requested they provide the sources that Chris Uhlmann used to reach his conclusion. I suggest you do the same.

    Chris Uhlmanns career as a Jounalist is over, because he has just broken a fundamental covenant of journalism by spreading misinformation and propaganda without checking the facts, and I can’t see how anyone except Nick Xenaphon and the coal lobby could ever respect anything he ever has to say again.

    • Chris Fraser 4 years ago

      He walks a thin line. Just spotted CU on the 7PM news sprouting the merits of synchronous generation, of which the ‘never stopping’ unswitchable coal is best able to maintain. But not a word on the storm or the renewable method of stabilising the grid.

    • Anna7 4 years ago

      No, actually his career is secure because he is reporting in line with the ABC’s new managing director’s affiliations…she was previously a News Corp company CEO. The ABC has long had a high proportion of right wing people on the board. This years May appointment was the icing on the cake.

  18. veloaficionado 4 years ago

    Because the ABC is getting more and more ‘useful idiots’ put in place by the IPA’s whiteanting: what do you expect when a knife is being held to their professional throats? Shut up and dance to the tune they’ve called

  19. Kerry Hanneman 4 years ago

    Bias from the ABC, but fairly balanced reporting by the News Corp tabloids. We live in strange times…

  20. Alan S 4 years ago

    If wind generator towers had been blown over their argument might have had some credibility. As the turbine controls and network protection systems operated as designed, Chris and Nick just come cross as naïve and rather foolish.

  21. Walter Hinterberger 4 years ago

    How had the pylons not been blown down, had they carried fossil fuel power ??

    • Chris Pelham 4 years ago

      Cause you can’t keep coal power down, it’s like the energizer bunny.

  22. Kenshō 4 years ago

    In future, Uhlmann and Xenophon need to focus more on the contextual history of why the wind turbines are configured to operate the way they do. It is cost. A wind turbine is simply a generator and any generator can have storage added to it. Reliability of grids can be increased by purchasing FCAS (Frequency Control Ancillary Services) for fossil fuel generators or purchasing storage for wind turbines and PV. Ulmann and Xenophon have merely reacted and blamed one technology on the grid for a storm.

  23. Robin_Harrison 4 years ago

    ‘Business as usual’ are becoming incoherent because they think they are fighting for their lives. They know renewable energy and the use and storage of it is the most disruptive technology we’ve ever seen. The previous large one, the move from horsepower to auto, took only 13 years and this may be faster.

    The cost effectiveness and efficiency of all RE and its use is improving exponentially and the consequence is inevitable. Coal already has no future, oil, gas and nuclear will be next.
    Simple, real world, economics.

    It should be obvious to all by now. Both the right and the left in our adversarial, dualist ‘democracies’ are fully owned by ‘business as usual’ who are desperately trying to defend their income.

    Progressive development of our culture occurs despite our political systems, way more often than because of them. The current economic relevance of RE will probably soon translate to political leverage. It’s happening elsewhere.

  24. Chris Pelham 4 years ago

    Sell the ABC to Murdoch, it’s already a mouth piece for the Government, there’s no journalism left in the ABC.

    • Anna7 4 years ago

      He was gifted it in fact…by the appointment of an ex-CEO of his to managing director this year.

  25. FeFiFoFum 4 years ago

    C’mon. Give the chump a go.
    The wind was the cause of the blackout.
    At least he got it half right 🙂

    No point arguing against all this misinformation and opposition to renewables and clean energy.
    Just keep building the stuff and connecting it to the network and win this war by attrition. Proof of its viability and merit will be in its performance.

  26. Robert Comerford 4 years ago

    Uhlmann should be sacked.
    Let him go work for one of the fossil fuel lobby backed TV outlets.
    I expect far better journalism from the public broadcaster.

  27. Anna7 4 years ago

    Giles, why would you expect better from the ABC? With an ex-News Corp company CEO as managing director of the ABC as of May this year, we can’t expect anything better. That is why the ABC was so heavily biased towards Turnbull before the election.
    ABC lovers are asleep.

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