These are strange times in the renewables industry. There is no doubt there is an enormous push back against renewables by the fossil fuel industries and pro-nuclear lobbies who fear an opportunity lost and a decades-old business model eroded. What is truly stunning, however, is the traction that some of the most idiotic nonsense about wind energy is gaining at the political level. Finally, the wind industry is declaring that it has had enough.
At the same time that a rally organised by a small group of anonymous activists brought an anti-wind campaign to the grounds before Parliament House, and pro-renewable groups hastily organised a rival get-together in the same city, the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturer has intervened in the debate, forging an unusually partisan alliance with green groups and environmental NGOs to create a new initiative called “Act of Facts”.
The initiative is designed to counter some of the silliness that is pervading the public arena and that is clearly having an influence on policy: think chicken eggs being laid without yolks in them, allegations of falling property values, and all manner of new ailments.
“We’ve had enough,” says Morten Albaek, the vice-president of Vestas Wind Systems, which has built more than half of the turbines in Australia. “The industry has been too complacent and too defensive. That has given the anti-wind market a momentum that we have got to stop.”
Such is the polemic about wind energy in the political arena that someone like Ian Macfarlane, the putative energy minister in waiting, is painted as moderate, or even a pro-wind energy sympathiser, and the great white hope of the renewables industry in a Coalition government. Macfarlane, it should be remembered, was responsible for bringing Howard’s manadatory renewable energy target to a sudden close a decade ago, despite having commissioned an independent report which advised him to expand it.
Last year, he stood in front of Australia’s leading wind and solar developers and told them exactly what he thought of their technology. It wasn’t complimentary. And last week he told The Guardian that he would be introducing continuous noise monitoring programs for wind farms – a measure that would impose enormous costs on wind farm developments.
But compared to the likes of the outgoing Alby Shulz, and the incoming Angus Taylor, along with sitting members such as Craig Kelly and Chris Back, and a host of other Coalition MPs, not to mention the Coalition state governments and the pricing regulators who also want the renewable energy target abandoned, then perhaps Macfarlane could justifiably be viewed as a moderate.
Albaek says there are clearly risks for wind investment in Australia. Some $19 billion of wind energy investment is at stake if the renewable energy target is diluted, or even stopped as some suggest. That money would be re-invested elsewhere, but Albaek concedes that the anti-wind movement is gaining traction in other countries – mostly Anglo-Saxon ones – which are watching Australia with interest.
“Australia is a very important marketplace – one of our top markets, and we want to protect the business of our customers,” Albaek told RenewEconomy in an interview. “Of course, politicians are always looking over their shoulder and get inspired by each other. As for policy making outside Australia – any legislation that will restrict development (in Australia) could be copied elsewhere.”
This would be ironic, because the wind industry insists that it has the overwhelming support of the public – up to 76 per cent according to recent surveys, and is strong even among Coalition voters.
“On the global level, the vast majority of citizens want to see wind energy. But you get a totally different impression when you read the media. That’s because the anti-wind lobby has been better at setting the agenda.”
And who do they think is behind it?
“We don’t know who is supporting the anti-wind lobby. But if you have invested money in assets based on coal generation and gas, you would do everything you can to protect that investment,” Albaek says.
“As wind becomes more and more mainstream, these fossil fuel assets get under significant pressure. Yes we are seeing that makes the fossil fuel industry step up again to slow down deployment of wind energy. But both from an economic and an environmental perspective, (wind energy) is the right thing for any society.”
Just before the official start time at 10am, just a few dozen assembled outside Parliament House. By the time 11am came around, and Jones finally descended from the fog, the crowd was estimated at around 100, with a lot of media and onlookers.
Nick Xenophon, the independent Senator who the anti-wind brigade would hold an influential balance of power in the new Senate, did not address the gathering,which ended little more than an hour after it commenced. As Fairfax’ Heath Aston tweeted, Alan Jones had noted: “There aren’t many people here. They don’t have the time.”
And here is a photo from the pro-wind rally, which was to be addressed by Greens leader Christine Milne, parliamentary secretary Yvette D’ath, and country independent Tony Windsor.