This article originally appeared on the Renew Economy website on June 12 and is reprinted here with the permission of the author, Mike Barnard. Postscript: the small turnout at the anti-wind rally in Canberra June 18 was dwarfed by a pro-renewables rally, also in Canberra, on the same day.
It’s time for another installment of Count the Whoppers. You may remember that we started this occasional feature a year ago with Max Rheese of the mischievously-named Australian Environment Foundation and Australian Climate Science Coalition, funded by the IPA and Heartland Institute respectively, and his fourteen whoppers in less than 1,700 words. We continued it in November with Senator John Madigan’s party policy on wind energy (subsequently removed), where he managed only 10 whoppers, but did it in a quarter of the words, 364.
This time the target in our sights is the anonymously written blog stopthesethings.com (STT). This site is setting new lows in the anti-windpower astroturfing arena, featuring new posts daily attacking all aspects of wind energy and the people associated with it with imaginary data and unpleasant prose. The author has been anonymously vilifying members of the wind industry, researchers into wind energy and proponents of wind energy for nearly six months.
It’s become the go-to echo chamber for Australian anti-wind power activists, and attracts regular comments from the few but impressively vocal anti-wind activists in Canada, the USA and the UK. Unsurprisingly, the Internet quality rating service Web of Trust gives STT very poor marks indeed.
STT is trying to mobilise their small but angry readership to rally at Parliament House in Canberra on 18 June and has issued an anonymous media release to publicise it. They’ve lined up a remarkable number of current and retiring politicians who don’t seem to be fazed by the vitriol, lack of facts or the anonymity of the organisers. These include: Senator John Madigan, retiring MP Alby Schultz, retiring Senator Ron Boswell (all of whom are challenged by climate science) and, oddly, Senator Nick Xenophon who used to hold a rather more fact-based view of wind energy [Mr. Xenophon did not speak at the rally]. They also have a handful of others, including a barrister and a fact-challenged radio ‘personality’ to round out the slate.
Unsurprisingly, given their website’s quick-and-dirty approach and the track record of anti-wind campaigners on this front, the presser is chock full of whoppers. For those interested in reading the full statement, please see the complete text at the end of this article.
Wind Reality 1: Wind energy is saving Australian consumers money
The claims: Power bills have sky-rocketed and are set to double again–and all because of wind power–and household power prices are set to more than double again over the next 2-3 years
The data: Sky-rocketing. Doubling. Doubling again! There’s a grain or two of truth, buried among the hyperbole. Consumer electricity prices have doubled over the past five years, not that anything as mundane as timeframes enter into STT's mind, and are set to increase substantially again next year in Queensland, but certainly not double again in the foreseeable future. Australian electricity prices are expected to rise by an annual average of just 3 per cent in coming years.
But is wind energy even to blame for this? Well, no. What is causing the increases, according to the Australian Energy Market Commission, are upgrades and maintenance of the electricity networks (the poles and wires) to meet customer demand, with retail margins of profit on top of those expenditures. Wind power does not rate a mention anywhere in their report, because it is not a factor in increasing bills.
In fact, the merit order effect caused by wind energy in South Australia — the state with the most wind energy — is actually expected to contribute to lowering the impact of consumer price increases. Because their fuel costs are zero, wind companies are generally the lowest bidders in the market. Whenever the wind blows, wind energy is displacing higher-priced (and polluting) fossil fuel generators and reducing wholesale prices. In fact, the wholesale price, looking only at hard numbers before the carbon price is included, is at its lowest point ever, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).
Due to the world-leading penetration of wind energy in Nick Xenophon’s home state, the Essential Services Commission of SA (ESCOSA) had told retailers that they should pass on an 8.1 per cent saving to households.
Verdict: DOUBLE WHOPPER
Windpower Reality 2: Wind energy is cheap once fossil fuel subsidies and negative externalities are accounted for
The claims: Retailers are forced by the RET to take wind power at prices up to 4 times the cost of hydro, gas or coal fired power and are forced to pay exorbitant prices for wind power.
As explained above, wind energy, driven by the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET), has actually reduced the wholesale price that retailers pay and will continue to do so. It’s worth having a think about who might be annoyed by these lower wholesale prices. Could it be coal and coal seam gas extractors and generators? They wouldn’t fund anonymous attacks on something that was hitting their bottom line, would they?
There is another grain of truth hidden among the outrageous distortions, however. The LRET obliges retailers to buy renewable energy certificates in proportion to their customers’ usage. This policy, originally introduced by John Howard’s conservative government in 2001, has been extended twice, each time with the endorsement of the Coalition, Labor, the Greens, and also the mercurial Nick Xenophon.
The LRET only contributes 2 per cent to the average energy bill and isn’t expected to contribute any more in 2020 when Australia’s renewables share will be almost double what it is today.
Of course, if you are comparing costs, you need to keep in mind that:
• Australia’s ‘old-school’ electricity system was built almost entirely with taxpayer funds and still benefits from significant direct and indirect subsidies throughout the supply chain. With the RET simply leveling a very tilted playing field, it’s no wonder the incumbents are squawking.
• You can’t compare the costs of a fully depreciated coal generator with a new wind farm. Bloomberg New Energy Finance has recently reported that new wind is cheaper than new coal in Australia.
• All energy sources have externalities — but none so much as fossil fuels (see below).
Verdict: DOUBLE WHOPPER
Windpower Reality 3: RECs aren’t a tax, but a market-based incentive
The claim: Under the REC tax scheme
It’s amusing to see this play out in both the US and Australia. In the US, the comparable market mechanism is a Production Tax Credit, aka a reduction of tax rates paid by generators when they are producing MWh of renewable energy. This is a lower tax argument being thrown at something that, um, lowers taxes.
Similarly, in Australia, no taxes are spent on the RECs. As pointed out above, electricity retailers pay a lower average price per MWh for wind due to the merit order effect. The generators earn certificates that they sell to retailers. Meanwhile, energy developers are incented to build more renewable energy generators and the sector emits less polluting and climate-degrading emissions. It’s a pretty virtuous circle all around.
Windpower Reality 4: Wind energy and other incremental renewables are on target to avoid the rarely paid REC penalty price
The Claim: The REC price will rise to $90, if the current REC tax system is maintained
Ironically, a higher REC price will only occur if the anonymous anti-wind funders of STT get their way and stifle wind farm development!
Let’s imagine for a moment that no wind farms are built, the RET stays in place as it continues to have the support of the major parties, and insufficient new solar, biomass or incremental hydro generation gets built to meet the renewable energy target.
If this happens, there is insufficient REC-compliant renewable energy supply for retailers to purchase, and the retailers pay the penalty for not surrendering RECs. The penalty is much higher than the cost of just purchasing RECs on the competitive REC market, and so the cost of energy would go up.
The reality is that the RET is an effective, mature, competitive energy market mechanism, and as long as wind energy continues to do the heavy lifting in meeting the target, REC prices will remain at an efficient level (currently they are significantly less than half of of the alarmist $90/MWh figure claimed by STT)
The penetration of renewables in Australia is a great success story, which is why coal miners and generators are upset and spending money on astroturfing campaigns that look remarkably like STT.
Verdict: DOUBLE WHOPPER
Windpower Reality 5: REC will continue to be a reasonable percentage of the overall electricity cost structure and drive consumer prices down
The claim: From now until 2031 RECs worth an estimated $52 billion will be issued.
Once again, for this to be true, black would need to be white, the earth would need to be flat and a variety of other realities upended.
The calculation, as far as it is possible to tell if any calculation was done except that of outrageous PR calculus, would require scenario 1 in Windpower Reality 4 above to immediately come true. Magically inverted demand change curves. Magical success by an angry minority in imposing their counter-factual, deeply biased and myopic views upon all of Australian society. And a government and private sector who ignored all of that.
Windpower Reality 6: Jurisdictions with wind farms have the lowest electricity prices in their countries
The claim: With the REC tax and the exorbitant cost of wind power added directly to power bills, SA will soon have the highest retail power prices in the world.
This claim is amusingly similar to equally false claims in the US. There, an independent analysis shows that states in the Midwest, Texas and Mid-Atlantic as well as New York State have lower electricity prices than they would if they hadn’t started building out wind energy.
Australia’s AEMO shows that wind energy has placed significant downward pressure on South Australian wholesale electricity prices. Those price drops are realized by retailers, who could pass them on to consumers, with a projected residential reduction of around $160 per year inclusive of GST [Goods and Services Tax] if they chose to do so, or other costs didn’t prevent it.
Windpower Reality 7: A few people have left their homes because of anti-wind activists creating stress and health fears
The Claim: incessant low-frequency noise from wind turbines is driving people out of their homes all over the country.
Wind farms don’t harm human health and don’t emit undue amounts of noise at the setbacks mandated in Australia. Nineteen reviews of all the available peer-reviewed literature as well as the collection of anecdotal complaints by experienced and appropriately credentialed individuals and organisations worldwide have all concluded this.
The low-frequency sound myth is the latest in a long line of pseudoscience now that anti-wind activists have been pushed off of ultrasound – it’s actually used in therapy and diagnostic imaging constantly – and infrasound– it can’t harm you if you can’t hear it. However, claims of noise from wind turbines consistently evaporate whenever test equipment shows up, to the point where Waubra Foundation CEO Sarah Laurie ascribes it to a conspiracy by nearby wind farm operators to turn nearby turbines off when they know testing is occurring.
Most recently, studies published in the past year in the UK, Australia and New Zealand by very credible researchers in public health and psychology have cast light on the disparity between the lack of means of harm and the number of complaints.
In the UK, researchers at the University of Nottingham studied psychological reasons for complaints about noise, and found in two separate studies no correlation between level of noise and complaints, but strong correlations between negatively oriented personalities or negative attitudes to wind energy and complaints.
In New Zealand, researchers found that symptoms ascribed to infrasound from wind turbines could be induced easily in people by showing them videos describing the effects, then exposing them to nothing at all. And of course in Australia, researchers found that wind farm health and noise complaints were strongly correlated to the activities of anti-wind campaigners near wind farms.
While a handful of documented cases of people leaving their homes near wind farms exist, the evidence just doesn’t suggest that it has anything to do with noise emissions from the wind farm, yet there is strong evidence that it has everything to do with the negative and fearful messages pushed by anti-wind campaigners.
Windpower Reality 8: Wind farms displace greenhouse gases from fossil fuel generation on almost exactly a 1:1 basis
The claim: Because they are continually backed up by fossil fuel generators, wind turbines do not reduce greenhouse gases and the industry can’t produce any actual evidence to show they do.
Wind farms reduce CO2e emissions in the overall electrical grid by substantial amounts. Typical grids produce 800 g of CO2e per KWh (1000 in Victoria) generated by their mixes and wind energy displaces virtually all of that. Claims related to concrete use are pure disinformation as is shown by apples-to-apples full-lifecycle comparisons of wind energy to other forms of generation in Texas, Australia and the UK.
The chart above is a typical assessment of fossil fuel versus wind generation and implications for greenhouse gases. It shows that fossil fuels are cut off by virtually exactly the amount that wind energy is produced, eliminating 99.8 per cent of their greenhouse gases.
This, of course, would be just one example of actual evidence the industry can produce. And here’s a Sustainability Victoria report with similar conclusions.
As for the claim of backup, South Australia wind energy has gone from near zero to 25 per cent penetration in a decade. In that time, SA’s greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by just under 30 per cent, and no back-up generation has been built to achieve this.
Verdict: DOUBLE WHOPPER
Windpower Reality 9: Wind farms are the best choice of any form of generation for wildlife, the environment and ground water
The Claim: Wind turbines are not clean, not green.
There’s a reason why every major environmental, wildlife and bird organisation in the world is strongly in favour of wind energy: it’s pretty much the lowest impact source of energy available for the things these organisations care about. Millions fewer birds would be killed annually if all fossil fuel generators were replaced with wind energy. Ground water would be much, much cleaner and aquifers would diminish more slowly. Habitat currently being destroyed by open pit and mountaintop removal coal mining, acid rain and immense oil spills would be left alone instead.
The real threat to the environment, birds and other wildlife is global warming, pollution and the massive habitat destruction that accompanies fossil fuels. Pretending otherwise is yet another remarkable inversion of reality.
Windpower Reality 10: Wind energy is the cheapest new form of generation except shale gas, and has virtually no downsides compared to the alternatives
The claim: There are smarter and cheaper ways to save the planet.
In addition to 1:1 greenhouse gas reductions, wind power also reduces particulate matter emissions from fossil fuel generation on a 1:1 basis as well, reducing childhood asthma, and emphysema and other cardiovascular conditions in adults. The benefits aren’t just for humans though: all wildlife benefits from the vastly reduced habitat destruction, cleaner air and reduced species extinction threat from fossil-fuel induced global warming.
As has been shown above, it’s cheaper to build brand new wind energy to displace all existing coal generation once societal costs are calculated in. And with coal seam gas producing 50 times the CO2e on its full lifecycle as wind energy, the question should be how little gas generation we can get away with.
So how did the anonymous stopthesethings do compared to Max Rheese and Senator Madigan and their collected whoppers? Well, the presser has 485 words and according to the count above, they manage an amazing 14 whoppers in those few words.
It’s amazing what you can do when you set your mind to something and hide behind layers of anonymity to protect yourself from being called out on your lies.
Full text of ad by STT below:
Wind Power Fraud – Australia Can’t Afford it
Power bills have sky-rocketed and are set to double again – and all because of wind power. Wind turbines are going up throughout rural Australia in an effort to satisfy the Federal Government’s 2020 Renewable Energy Target (RET).
Every turbine is issued between 8,000 to 10,000 Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) every year, which is, in effect, a Federal Government tax on power consumers. Each REC is currently worth around $35: a single turbine will be issued between $280,000 and $350,000 worth of RECs this year. Retailers are forced by the RET to take wind power at prices up to 4 times the cost of hydro, gas or coal fired power.
Under the REC tax scheme power consumers are being forced to subsidise wind power. The REC tax and the exorbitant prices retailers are forced to pay for wind power are added directly to your power bills.
The REC price will rise to $90, if the current REC tax system is maintained. This means that wind farm operators will be issued between $700,000 and $900,000 worth of RECs for each turbine every year until 2031: a subsidy paid by power consumers, worth more than $12 million per turbine.
From now until 2031 RECs worth an estimated $52 billion will be issued. As a result, household power prices are set to more than double again over the next 2-3 years.
In South Australia wind power now makes up around 35% of its total generating capacity, all attracting the REC tax. With the REC tax and the exorbitant cost of wind power added directly to power bills, SA will soon have the highest retail power prices in the world.
If ripping off power consumers wasn’t bad enough, incessant low-frequency noise from wind turbines is driving people out of their homes all over the Country, at places like Waubra and Waterloo, gutting our rural communities.
Wind turbines are not clean, not green and the cost consumers are forced to pay for the unreliable and intermittent power they produce is ridiculous. Because they are continually backed up by fossil fuel generators, wind turbines do not reduce greenhouse gases and the industry can’t produce any actual evidence to show they do.
This is the greatest economic fraud Australia has ever seen. Federal Liberal MP, Alby Schulz and DLP Senator, John Madigan are investigating windfarm operators in breach of State planning laws and, therefore, collecting RECs worth tens of $millions on a fraudulent basis.
Australia simply can’t afford to let this go on any longer. There are smarter and cheaper ways to save the planet.
To bring it to an end join “The Wind Power Fraud Rally” on June 18, 2013 at Parliament House, Canberra.
Anyone who pays a power bill should be there to hear what the Coalition plans to do about it when it wins Government. For details of the Rally check stopthesethings.com