You never what debates are going to blow in from nowhere and this little scrap about the economics of windfarms broke out in the Crikey sealed sections last week. There are some interesting issues for the Bracks government which the MD of Australia’s largest alternative energy company has attempted to deal with. A blue has also broken out involving lobbyists Halstead Management Services so read this right through.

Vic govt wind energy project a lot of hot air

A scholar of wind power writes:

“By crikey Crikey,

The Victorian Government rolled over quickly on the Portland Wind Energy Project!

Despite five hundred submissions to Special Panel hearings that were the longest ever in the state, Pacific Hydro got practically everything they asked for when all of the Panel’s recommendations except one were comprehensively dumped by Red Mary and Cabinet in favour of wind farms on four sites near Portland that include the magnificent Cape Bridgewater.

There is not much point in creating one environmental disaster in order to solve another, but that is the result of Bracks’ action.

He and his ministers, duchessed by Pacific Hydro, fell for the company’s empty threat to pull out of the entire project (and the best wind regime in the state) if it was not permitted to include Cape Bridgewater.

The cape’s landscape, classified by the National Trust thirty years ago, will now be degraded by forty windmills, each one taller than the Statue of Liberty, even though there are other economic sites available in the region as alternatives that would happily accommodate wind farms, sites which are presently being snapped up by other companies.

If the International Panel on Climate Change “worst case scenario” is correct and if the turbines on Cape Bridgewater ran for a hundred years rather than the twenty-five years anticipated, figures show they would contribute to a reduction in sea level rise of about half the thickness of a human hair.

Some reduction!

And likely to be even less. Yet the subsidy paid by consumers for “green power” from these windmills would give a sevenfold return if the same amount were to be spent on insulation.

We could learn from practice overseas.

Denmark, for instance, with the world’s most extensive experience of wind powered turbines, will not allow them to be erected on any land within three kilometres of the Danish coast, a coastline longer than Victoria’s. Moreover, they are restricted in the Danish planning system to special areas that are selected and set aside for “wind parks”.

The debacle in Victoria highlights the naivete of a government with a dearth of business acumen and commercial savvy, and a desperate desire to be seen as green at any cost to the community.

The arse end of the state will now suffer for having the rug pulled out from under it, but the planning ramifications run deeper as there are now no limits state wide.

No area of the state, be it park or freehold, industrial landscape or high scenic value, appropriate area or inappropriate, can be regarded as free of the threat of visual intrusion from poorly-sited wind farms.

Good luck”

CRIKEY: I was the Kennett press secretary back in 1993 who had to defend the cancellation of Labor’s Toora windfarm project. The cost of power produced was 6 times higher than brown coal and it required a lifetime subsidy of $18 million at a time when the state was financially stuffed and had almost 40 per cent electricity over-capacity. However, in the face of a Green onslaught we also ran an environmental line that the project was bad for the environment because it was loud and ugly.

ends

This was sent out subscribers the following morning on August 30:

More huffing and puffing on windmills

“Sir,

Nice to see Bracks going to get with it and build some windmills. Keep up with his Honourable Friend in NSW.

Perhaps he’s going to sell that lovely green energy to power-hungry Alcoa, instead of that rotten dirty stuff they use now. If he does, he better not say they use it to combine oxygen with carbon to make carbon dioxide, with a handy by-product called aluminium, just right there in Portland.

Or perhaps he’s going to run a cable over to Tassie and sell it to them, instead of that stuff they used to get from oil and dams.

More likely though, that some creative crooks, as well as Dr. Bob and Britney, have discovered that the poor old taxpayers are a near bottomless source of money for various forms of idiocy.

Windmill farms the go, boys and girls!

If you have a handy spy in WA and are interested, you might like to have a look in Esperance, where they have a veritable phalanx of windmills all churning away. Not too far from the local power station, I believe.

Economics of that lot would be interesting, I bet.

And in NSW they have a splendid windmill just next door to about two million tonnes of export coal at Kooragang Island. Coal is carbon for carbon dioxide, heat and electricity, and the windmill is about 200 boiling jugs worth at peak power.

Just as well Australia is so big, big enough for veritable plantations of windmills with added advantage they don’t need water. New job description “Windmill Farmer” enters the language, sit back with smile on face while gently raping the taxpayer.

This has got to be the best racket since they came up with building submarines all those years ago.

Yrs, John”

CRIKEY: When driving around Australia in 1997 I actually went out and inspected those Esperance windmills, 4 hours drive south of Kalgoorlie. All pretty innocuous a couple of kilometres out of town but there is no doubt they would cost a bomb relative to traditional power sources. However, it might make sense for remote communities like Esperance but it is just crazy for places like NSW and Victoria to sponsor expensive windmills when they have cheap and abundant supplies of coal, gas and hydro power.

ends

Finally, this was emailed to Crikey on Friday afternoon:

Pacific Hydro MD answers the critics

Dear Stephen

I read with interest the letter from your “scholar of wind power”, who seems to have grossly missed the point on the Portland Wind Energy Project.

This $270 million project enjoys the overwhelming support of the Portland community, with whom we have spent the past three years consulting and building relationships.

Of the 500 submissions to the Panel your scholar refers to, more than 75% were actually in favour of the project (an unprecedented expression of support in any such hearing). Furthermore, independent research confirms in excess of 88% of Portland residents support the project – with more than 3,500 signing a petition to this effect (in a town of only 10,000 residents). In addition, the bi-partisan political support of both the Bracks Government and the Victorian Liberal Party further underlines the widespread popularity of the development.

This project will create 2,000 jobs across Victoria, most of them regional, and bring significant international investment into the country, with a windmill blade manufacturing plant likely to be set up in Portland.

But the benefits aren’t all financial. The Portland Wind Energy Project will generate enough pollution free electricity to power a city the size of Geelong, reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 800,000 tonnes per annum, which is the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road.

As your scholar rightly points out, this project is not a panacea for global warming. What he/she fails to point out is that it is a giant step in the right direction. The critical mass achieved from the Portland project will enable companies such as Pacific Hydro to look at less efficient sites inland, which become affordable because of the infrastructure to be developed in Portland. It also sends a signal to other developers that this State is supportive of renewable energy, but only if the process is rigorous and adheres to the local community’s desires.

Pacific Hydro spent three years and $2.5 million on an environmental effects statement and community consultation. We have amended our project a number of times to take into account the comments and requests from local residents, including removing seven of the highest yielding windmills off the tip of Cape Bridgewater.

The renewable energy market will succeed in this country – largely because of the enormous human and social cost of our continued reliance upon fossil fuels, which will soon become an unbearable financial cost as well. This progress must be measured, with appropriate consultation and consideration, so that when a development such as the Portland Wind Energy Project comes along we recognise it for what it is – a landmark project with enormous financial, social and environmental benefits.

Sincerely,

Jeff Harding

Managing Director

Pacific Hydro Limited

Windfarm lobbying

Second sealed section Sep 2

A passionately one-eyed anti-windfarm campaigner writes:

“Pacific Hydro paid an ex Glenelg council person to set up a company called “Halstead management services”

Danny Halstead then set up the Portland Progress Association (PPA) which then spent Pacific Hydro money To propaganda Portland people with no real reason to go further than skin deep into participating in their more than often quoted polls.

The PPA paid People to hand out “wind farm for Portland” stickers. The PPA paid people to put in positive submissions to the planning panel. Jeff Hardings figures on support are misleading. The support is bought support

All this propaganda was done on the back of the jobs argument – this is also wrong and the reason Jeff Harding uses the word “likely” when talking of the new business in Portland . The mail is nearly all of the wind towers will be imported and only construction will help the local community

The minister is, we think, the first to ignore their own Dept of infrastructure planning recommendations. Mrs Delahunty did not even visit the sites!

It is more insidious – The Department of Natural Resources and Environment were silenced on most levels.

One of the department of Infrastructure panel members Dr Graham Redding was forced to resign after sitting through 98% of the hearing when he was found to be connected to Pacific Hydro – he worked for the firm Sinclair Knight and Merz who did the environmental effects statement.

Cheers, Implacable and one eyed critic of the Portland windfarms.

Danny Halstead sticks it to the one-eyed anonymous coward

By Danny Halstead

Founder Halstead Management Services

“To the Coward that wrote the above letter:

Why don’t you have the integrity to put your name on the bottom of your letter. Or are you afraid of the consequences of telling “pork pies”. I would love to know your identity so that we could have a short session in court where the laws of perjury apply.

For the benefit of your readers and subscribers, I would like to set the record straight on every claim made by this gutless wonder.

False Claim #1

Pacific Hydro did not pay me to set up my company. In fact, Pacific Hydro did not become a client until 9 months after the establishment of Halstead Management Services. Since our business was established we have 63 clients, one of which is Pacific Hydro, and to date it accounts for almost 16% of our total earnings. So whilst Pacific Hydro is an important client, we are not dependant upon it for our survival. I am very proud of our relationship with Pacific Hydro and it is great to see a Melbourne based company engaging local people on a $270 million dollar project. So, bravo Pacific Hydro!

Claim #2

I did not set up the Portland Progress Association (PPA). I was one person among eleven people who saw the need for such a group to promote Portland and to facilitate growth. We formed an Interim Committee and this was the genesis of the PPA. It did not take long to get about 80 other people to join the PPA and share our vision for our town. We have been involved in many issues and one of them is windfarming. We are not unique, many towns have a Progress Association or a Chamber of Commerce.

Claim #3

The PPA did not pay anyone to hand out “Wind Farms for Portland” stickers. They were freely available at all service stations around the town and many people took the opportunity to show their support for the Portland Wind Energy Project by putting a sticker on their car.

Claim #4

The PPA did not pay anyone to put in positive submissions to the Planning Panel. This concept would be abhorrent to our Committee and Members. Besides, the people of Portland found it to be a liberating experience to speak out in support of a project that had so many benefits. The Planning Panel itself was impressed by the obvious community support enjoyed by the project. Like many Australian towns, we have a handful of serial objectors who oppose all projects to delay or stop any new developments. What irks people such as the one-eyed critic is that it is fight-back time. Portland people are sick and tired of the same few people blocking development and opposing projects. So, bravo Portland Progress Association!

Claim #5

The misguided coward (the one-eyed critic) obviously has not read the Minister’s Assessment Report that clearly states that wind towers will not go on Cape Bridgewater unless they are constructed from a blade factory to be established in Portland by NEG Micon (the successful tenderer). Besides, the towers for the Codrington Windfarm (completed in June 2001) were manufactured in Portland by Keppel Prince. Once again, Keppel Prince will be used to manufacture the 120 towers for Portland plus the 50 towers for the Challicum Hills project near Ararat. I can’t speak for Keppel Prince but I have heard that they are in the process of employing an additional 50 people right now in anticipation of the Portland Wind Energy Project proceeding. So our one-eyed critic got this one completely wrong.

I suspect that there are other claims directed at Pacific Hydro, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, the Minister for Planning and the Members of the Planning Panel who may also take umbrage at the veracity of comments made by the one-eyed critic. I will leave it to them to tell their story.

Perhaps we should rename the one-eyed critic a “coal junkie” because like most windfarm critics, he or she offers no real alternatives to fossil fuels to generate electricity. Australia is one of the worst green-house polluters in the world when measured on a per capita basis and it is time that we started to look at viable alternatives such as windfarming to clean up our act. Think about it next time you flick on a switch. Is there a better way?

Danny Halstead

Managing Director

Halstead Management Services Pty Ltd

PO Box 134, Portland 3305

Another perspective on windfarms

Second sealed section Sep 2

“Dear Stephen,

I work for a NSW council that has recently had an application for a wind monitoring mast.

As these are often (not always) the precursor to a wind farm we have had a lot of debate from local interests. “The case against wind farms” website in the UK has a lot of good arguments against, except not many of their figures are referenced.

In particular it seems the argument for insulation subsidies is particularly pertinent, but I have a few other thoughts.

First, as I understand it the federal government has this scheme in place that requires our generators to source 2% of their power from green sources including bagasse and wood burning power stations.

Apparently they also have to reduce emissions by 5% on 1997 figures also or be penalised. Someone may explain this better but this does seem to indicate a willingness to use (distorted) markets to improve our energy production which I guess is good even if a little tokenistic.

Second, given the pretty small output of most windtowers the drama they cause seems hardly worth it unless they are located in very remote areas which tends to defeat the purpose what with transmission losses over distance.

Third, given one of Australia’s competitive advantages is the amount of sunlight we receive and our empty space should we be concentrating on solar more and developing technology to flog to the rest of the world?

Fourth, any reasons why we couldn’t get the generators to install solar panels and inverters to all new houses hooked into the grid. Surely the relatively small contributions would add up quickly and would cause half the drama. Existing houses could also be retro-fitted reasonably easily, one suspects.

Finally, it occurs to me that the Greens and Libs ought to be a little closer in their philosophies than one might first expect. Surely the Libs are all for efficient use of resources to increase profits, and it goes without saying that the Greens ought to be pushing efficient resource use from any angle they can.

I hope Crikey might stimulate a bit of debate in this area, you guys don’t push much green/economic debate.

Cheers, Council Boy”

In defence of wind farms

Sealed section Sept 3

“Dear Crikey

Love reading the stuff you do but I have to take issue with the comments on wind farms. Some of the original points raised were not entirely accurate and the further comments, while I am sure are well intentioned, are not really based on fact either.

Power generated by wind farms is more expensive than coal in Australia, that is true. But as we know coal does not pay for the greenhouse pollution it creates. If it did, wind would be cost competitive today in Australia (where we have the second cheapest electricity in the world!). Now this isn’t such a big if.

As we can see from the debate at Johannesburg at this moment, the cost of greenhouse gas emissions will have to be factored in at some stage.

While Australia’s wind industry is tiny by world standards, it has the potential to deliver a significant proportion of the country’s electricity. In Europe by the end of the decade they are likely to have more installed wind capacity than Australia’s entire power generation capacity. As Australia’s wind industry grows and more components are made locally, the costs will come down further and this is already starting to happen.

Wind also offers significant economic benefits. For example the $260 million Portland project will generate up to 2000 direct and indirect jobs many, many more than coal would. Much more of the components will be manufactured locally as the industry grows.

While wind is more expensive (assuming we ignore the greenhouse benefits), if 10% of Australia’s electricity came from wind power prices would go up just 0.2c a kWh – and we would still have the second cheapest electricity in the world (after South Africa, which doesn’t include the cost of decommissioning its nuclear plants.)

The vast majority of Australians recognise that we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Electric accounts for almost 40% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Shifting just some of our power to wind will make significant contribution towards this and the relatively small additional cost is likely to deliver significantly more economic benefits.

Solar is of course another option, particularly in remote off grid locations throughout Australia. The technology is improving and the costs are likely to come down further, however, wind is much more competitive with traditional power generation for significant levels of power generation.

“Council boy” raises some issues relating to government programs, but has confused a NSW measure with a Commonwealth one. I can explain further but I fear this email is long enough already. If anyone wants to know how they work feel free to contact me directly.

Cheers, Rupert”

Peter Fray

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