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TV & Radio

Nov 14, 2016


ABC political editor Chris Uhlmann has survived the “pitchfork crowd” (his characterisation) baying for his blood, coming out unscathed after numerous complaints about his coverage of the South Australian power blackout.

The ABC’s Audience & Consumer Affairs division on Friday dismissed at least two of the complaints against Uhlmann filed in late September and early October. The complaints focused on the ABC’s coverage of South Australia’s blackout, with Uhlmann speculating on the role of renewable energy (particularly wind power) in causing blackouts at a time when others (including SA Premier Jay Weatherill) blamed infrastructure failures as a result of a storm.

The ABC has said it received about 180 complaints about its coverage of the blackout — we’ve asked the ABC what’s become of the rest. The public broadcaster publishes summaries of upheld complaints on its website, and there are currently none relating to Uhlmann published online. Any complaint not upheld can be appealed to the Australian Communications and Media Authority — one of the complainants tells Crikey he intends to appeal to the external agency.

[Chris Uhlmann joins Barnaby in blaming wind energy for SA’s blackout. They are dead wrong.]

Uhlmann was pivotal in driving the ABC’s coverage. But the ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs division — which operates separately from the content-creation parts of the ABC — said Uhlmann had never claimed renewable energy had caused the blackout, instead providing context around the state’s energy mix, which includes a high reliance on wind turbines. In light of this, the Audience and Consumer Affairs division determined that Uhlmann had not breached editorial standard 2.1, which requires the ABC to “make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context”.

One of the complaints dismissed on Friday focused on Uhlmann’s live interview with SA Senator Nick Xenophon on the afternoon of the blackout, during which both discussed the role of wind power in the state’s electricity mix. A response to the complaint states:

“Through the course of the interview, Mr Uhlmann indicated that limited information was available about what was occurring in South Australia. He therefore explained that he was necessarily speculating about the nature, extent and cause of the electricity outage. Mr Uhlmann and Senator Xenophon discussed a range of issues including South Australia’s power generation mix and its operational status at the time; some of the complexities associated with South Australia’s power grid; the political decision making that lead to South Australia’s energy mix; together with information about the operation of the national electricity market. Mr Uhlmann did not state that renewable energy, particularly wind power, was the cause of the blackout. Rather, he raised a series of newsworthy questions about the State’s energy mix, including about the possibilities of how the power could be out when the wind was blowing, and 40% of South Australia’s power is wind generated.”

The issues covered in the interview, the report says, were “all highly relevant and newsworthy”:

“Given the unique nature of South Australia’s power generation mix, it was appropriate for Mr Uhlmann to question whether the State’s heavy reliance on wind turbines might have increased the risk of a state-wide blackout.”

Another complaint, filed by journalist and academic Ben Eltham, focused on a follow-up analysis piece filed by Uhlmann about the role of wind energy in the state, which “might have increased the risk of a state-wide blackout”.

The response from the complaints division states:

“Given what had occurred in the preceding 24 hours and the unique nature of South Australia’s power generation mix, these issues were all highly relevant and newsworthy. It was therefore appropriate for Mr Uhlmann to address these issues in the manner he did.”

The Audience and Consumer Affairs division says in both letters that while it has not upheld the complaints, it has brought them to the attention of ABC News.


Jul 22, 2016


The Murdoch media attack on the Australia wind industry knows no bounds, and not many facts either.

This week’s front-page “exclusive” in The Australian suggests South Australia’s wind turbines were producing significant amounts of “negative power” from the grid at the height of the recent electricity “crisis”. But the numbers it quotes are ridiculously wrong.


The story, by Adelaide bureau chief Michael Owen, suggests the state’s wind turbines were “producing about 5780MW” between 6am and 7am, but by mid afternoon were producing “negative 50MW”. As analysis from Ron Brakels observes, the report confuses energy terminology, apparently not knowing the difference between capacity and output.

In fact, the state’s wind turbines cannot produce 5780MW — they only have a combined capacity of 1600MW. There’s not even 5780MW of wind capacity in the whole country.

Let’s presume what Owen meant was MWh (megawatt hours) — the total being produced over a set period of time. But even here he has got the numbers wrong. Between 6am and 7am, according to data provided by the Melbourne Energy Institute, and sourced from the Australian Energy Market Operator, the output totalled around 178MWh.

And the negative output? 50MW? Again, according to AEMO data, the biggest negative point (five minute interval) was 1.8MW, at 2.20pm. The total, between 2pm and 3pm, was a negative 0.09MWh. There were no negative output points at 1pm, as Owen claims.


Now, the critics will no doubt say that, gosh, wind wasn’t able to produce much in that period, so it must be useless. But in that week, a lot of coal-fired power wasn’t available either, with 3200MW of units shut down at Stanwell, Liddell, Yallourn, Eraring, Gladstone, Hazelwood and even Loy Yang A — apparently due to coal quality issues.

(Boy, have there been some problems in coal supply recently. The AER, in a previous report on electricity prices, noted how Loy Yang B had suddenly withdrawn 480MW of capacity — a whole unit — because of “supply” issues. The mine is right outside the front door. The withdrawal helped push up prices by around 50%).

Clearly, The Australian is not trying hard enough to get a broader perspective, or acknowledge the role of gas prices, problems with transmission wire infrastructure and other factors.

Economist Judith Sloan, a contributor to The Australian, took another swipe this week. Sloan was upset about the price spikes that went up to about $1000/MWh during the period:

“How could this happen? How could it go so wrong for South Australia?

“South Australia is paying a heavy price for its misguided energy policy, potentially leading to the further deindustrialisation of the state while also reducing its citizens’ living standards. But the real tragedy is that this outcome was entirely foreseeable.”

Well, no. South Australia used to have these sorts of price spikes as a matter of course, before wind and solar even turned up, because of the reliance on expensive gas and the supply constraints of being at the end of the grid.

As SA Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis told the ABC, that’s precisely why the government encouraged investments in wind and solar: to bring costs down. That has largely succeeded.

Tips and rumours

Mar 23, 2016


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Help wanted. The Attorney-General’s Department quietly placed job advertisements on its website on Friday — for the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Age Discrimination Commissioner and Human Rights Commissioner, all to start in July 2016. It’s interesting timing, considering the role of Disability Discrimination Commissioner has been empty for more than a year, with Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan taking on responsibilities in that area as well as her own. Ryan’s role has also been advertised (she ends her term in July), as has the role that was created for Freedom Boy Tim Wilson, which he has vacated to run for Parliament. Crikey sister site The Mandarin has pointed out that complaints related to the Disability Discrimination Act are the most common complaints received by the HRC, comprising 31%. Complaints relating to the Race Discrimination Act are the next most common, at 24%, followed by complaints related to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act at 20%. That means that the area that has received the most number of complaints has been given no priority by the government, while it has rushed to advertise Wilson’s position and is even advertising Ryan’s position in a timely manner. Why the discrepancy in how each area is treated?

What is a reference? The list of Liberals who have lined up to give references to Bronwyn Bishop’s challengers in the preselction race for the seat of Mackellar is growing, but a tipster tells us that there’s a marked difference between the plaudits given to both Jason Falinski and those given to hard-right candidate Walter Villatora. Both have references written by Premier Mike Baird, but all is not equal:

“Walter Villatora does indeed have a reference from Baird but it was provided some time ago and was naturally given to Villatora due to his work as Tony Abbott’s campaign manager for Warringah — a seat which shares its footprint with Baird’s state seat of Manly.  You could call this reference a ‘general’ type of document.  Contrast this with the new and specific reference Baird has provided Falinski lauding his entrepreneurial abilities and long-time party involvement at various levels including as President of the Young Liberals and you are left in absolutely no doubt as to whom Baird supports.  Baird’s reference also sends a message to the moderates and centre-right basically saying ‘no factional deals for Bronny’, it’s time she was gone.”

Crikey has seen a copy of Baird’s reference for Falinski, which gets straight to the point: “I write to support Jason Falinski’s nomination to be the Liberal candidate for the federal seat of Mackellar in the 2016 election.”

Falinski also gets references from former premier Nick Greiner and Bishop’s former colleague and minister Amanda Vanstone, with Vanstone labelling him “a true believer, a committed Liberal” and emphasising that he sticks with his friends through think and thin. Greiner also makes the case for “generational change we need to remain strong into the future”, focusing on Falinski’s experience in business.

Says our tipster,  “All three leave no doubt who they support — Falinski.  It’s also rumoured Falinski could even obtain references, should he want, from very senior current federal ministers who are also anxious to see the back of their old colleague, Mrs Bishop.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Bishop probably has a maximum of 30 votes out of a possible 96 from preselectors, but that’s optimistic, according to our insider:

“Assuming Villatora bows out before Falinski in the exhaustive ballot and most of his hard right votes flow to Falinski (a moderate) that will leave Falinski just short of the 50% vote required but with about 20 votes left to distribute between the last two candidates standing.  It beggars belief Bishop could gain enough votes to keep her in office so the likely upshot will be a comfortable win for Falinski.”

Turnbull’s Selina Meyer’s moment. By now all corners of the Australian media are chortling at the fact that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s latest talking point bears a striking similarity to the slogan used by Vice President Selina Meyer in HBO’s sitcom political Veep, but now the creators of the American show are shaking their heads as well:


Simon Blackwell tweet

Chris Addison tweet

JLD tweet

Pissing in the wind. While the government is trying to win environmental kudos with today’s announcement about the new $1 billion clean energy fund, it is also funding research into the health effects of wind farms. The National Health and Medical Research Council announced yesterday that two grants, worth $3.3 million all up, would address the poor quality of evidence currently available in the area. Associate professor Peter Catcheside from Flinders University has been awarded a $1.3 million grant to research the effects of infrasound on sleep, and Professor Guy Marks from the University of New South Wales was awarded a $1.9 million grant to research the effects of wind turbines on human health. So it looks like the residents who claimed their dogs and cattle were suffering will have to wait for research in that area.

DJ Dasher. It’s day two of the 103-day election campaign, which means the bills will be racking up quickly for our pollies as they try to hold onto their jobs. Labor MP Tim Watts, who has been known for creative fundraising in the past, has recruited NSW Senator Sam Dastyari as DJ Dasher for a dance party in Footscray next month. Is his music taste as good as DJ Albo’s? Or will the playlist be very Taylor Swift-heavy?

DJ Dasher

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Tips and rumours

Jan 28, 2016


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Craig Kelly is falsktSydney Liberal MP Craig Kelly has drawn the ire of the Swedish media, over comments he made about wind turbines in the Scandinavian country. In a Facebook post last week, Kelly wrote “human stupidity knows no limits”, before having a go at some frozen wind turbines that had to be defrosted by a helicopter. According to Kelly:

“The aviation fuel, the diesel for the truck, and the oil burned to heat the water, could produce more electricity (at the right time to meet demand) than the unfrozen wind turbine could ever produce. (Before it freezes up again).”

craig kelly post

According to Swedish news website Metro (translated here), however, it’s still better for the environment to use the wind turbines and unfreeze them when necessary. Lars Andersson, head of the Wind Power Unit at the Swedish Energy Agency, labelled Kelly’s claim “rather absurd”, and that power companies weigh up the benefits of defrosting the turbines before using the helicopters. One thing the article didn’t cover is how unlikely it would be for Australian wind turbines to require defrosting in such a way.

craig kelly sweden

The column is dead, long live the column. Ms Tips is a huge supporter of gossip columns, and so it was with great sadness that she learned that The Australian‘s Margin Call business goss column is on its last legs. Her understanding is that Will Glasgow’s new business column in The Australian will be its replacement. It’s due to start as soon as The Australian Financial Review lets him go from its own Rear Window column. Presumably, Margin Call’s Ben Butler and Christine Lacy will move on to other duties within the Oz business section.

‘Inappropriate’ for cyber security centre to talk about cyber security. ABC’s 7:30 program this week reported that notorious spy software FinFisher had been found on a proxy server in the Global Switch data centre in Sydney, and was allegedly being used by Indonesian government agencies. You would think this would be the perfect case for the Australian Cyber Security Centre, set up by the government in November 2014 to investigate so-called cyber threats, to weigh in on. Sadly not. After taking more than a day to respond to a request for comment, Crikey was told that no questions on the use of FinFisher would be answered, and it would be “inappropriate” for ACSC to comment on the ABC’s report.

Here we go again. We never get tired of bad news about our $18 billion flying heap of crap, the F-35 — which is a good thing because the bad news never stops. The latest: one of the purported advantages of the F-35 is its heavy reliance on software, and it will fly (assuming its engines don’t catch fire) with millions more lines of code than any other military aircraft. Naturally that makes it vulnerable both to ordinary software bugs and to cyber threats. According to a Pentagon official in documents obtained by Jane’s, the F-35’s manufacturer, Lockheed, “continues to struggle in development with … a complex architecture with likely (but largely untested) cyber deficiencies,” and that proper testing of the plane’s deficiencies might cause further delays (the plane is already seven years behind schedule). Perhaps the Pentagon can ask the Chinese, who are alleged to have stolen the plane’s blueprints in 2009, to help expedite the testing.

What do you mean? While an increasing number of conservative senators have revealed that a same-sex marriage plebiscite was really just a stalling tactic that they plan to ignore anyway, the subs at The Sydney Morning Herald were getting confused. It looks like they were deciding between writing “gay marriage” and “same sex marriage” and ended up with “gay sex marriage”, which probably reveals what the senators really have a problem with.

gay sex marriage

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Jul 21, 2015


Just days after it was revealed that the federal government would exclude wind farms from funding from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, state environment ministers rejected a push by the federal government to impose new wind farm sound guidelines.

The proposal was included as an agenda item in the meeting of state and territory environment ministers with federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt in Melbourne last week.

According to documents obtained by Crikey, the proposal called for potentially including a “wind farm sound measure” in the the National Environmental Protection Council Act 1994, which established a joint council to guarantee people “protection from air, water or soil pollution and from noise, wherever they live in Australia”. In the agenda item, the federal government said there was “merit” in exploring the proposal, which arose from the interim report of the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines, chaired by independent Senator John Madigan.

The interim report recommended that the National Environment Protection Council require wind farms to comply with infrasound and low-frequency noise restrictions before getting a licence from state or territory governments.

In the agenda item, the federal government said more work needed to be done to understand the impact of infrasound from wind farms, despite numerous studies having found no ill effects from turbines.

“Some people living near wind farms claim that they are affected by infrasound and low-frequency noise from nearby wind farms. Currently, there are no standards or guidelines to manage wind farm noise, other than restrictions on the distance between wind farms and residences. More research is required to understand this issue,” the item stated.

The government also wanted to update the current national wind farm guidelines, with the government stating the minimum standards should include: wind farm compliance obligations; impacts on fauna, vegetation, landscape and communities; aircraft safety; wind turbine noise; disclosure of data relating to the operation of wind turbines; and requirements for stakeholder consultation.

These guidelines are taken directly from the Senate committee’s interim report.

Despite the government’s enthusiasm to adopt the recommendations of the committee, which has yet to make its final report, the two agenda items never made it into the agreed statement from the meeting (PDF). Crikey understands that the states rejected the measures. State ministers asked Hunt four times if he planned to impose the same guidelines for coal, but he said no each time.

One of the states also attempted to have the details of the rejection of the wind farm sound measures included in the communique, but the federal government kiboshed the attempt.

A spokesperson for Hunt did not respond to Crikey‘s questions by deadline.

A spokesperson for Victorian Environment Minister Lisa Neville told Crikey in a statement that the push was rejected by the states because the concerns raised by the Senate inquiry had been “widely rejected by scientific and medical opinion”.

“The opened proposal wanted minimum standards dealing with compliance obligations, turbine noise, and more regulations regarding consultation. Victoria opposed these changes,” the spokesperson said.


Jun 12, 2015


Yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared that wind farms were “visually awful” and that he was concerned about their health impacts. He followed up these assertions with a surprisingly frank admission to shock jock Alan Jones: “What we did recently in the Senate was reduce, Alan, reduce, capital R E D U C E, we reduce the number of these things that we are going to get in the future. Now, I would frankly have liked to reduce the number a lot more.”

Abbott has always been a bit afraid of the made-up health impacts of tall towers. This footage of Abbott in 1995 is telling; he is speaking to a community fearing the health impacts of a mobile phone tower in Harbord (now Freshwater, in Sydney).

He even uses the phrase “these things” to describe the mobile phone tower, a phrase he’s consistently used to describe wind turbines when sitting opposite Jones. Characterising inert machines as unspeakable monstrosities is a key component in raising unfounded health fears.

There’s no evidence to suggest wind farms harm human health (and as the 1995 news bulletin makes clear, there is also no evidence to suggest phone towers make you sick, either). In fact, the theory itself is riddled with  contradictions and inconsistencies. No fewer than 25 separate reviews, some published and others conducted by government agencies (such as the National Health and Medical Research Council), all failed to find any scientific evidence that wind farms are harmful.

A $2.1 million study in Canada examined a range of turbines at differing distances from several thousand different participating households. The study found no evidence of health impacts from the wind turbines (it did find that those benefiting from the wind farm were significantly less annoyed by audible noise).

Media warnings about the adverse health impacts of technology can also directly result in reports of ill health. A fascinating study by Witthoeft and Rubin used a shambolic BBC Panorama “investigation” into the “dangers of wi-fi” to prime participants and, along with a control group primed with actual science, exposed them to real and fake wi-fi signals. Regardless of exposure, the group primed with misinformation reported significantly more symptoms than the group primed with scientific information.

Precisely the same effect occurs with wind farm misinformation and infrasound. Fiona Crichton from the University of Auckland found that telling healthy subjects that wind farm infrasound would make them sick resulted in a statistically significant increase in symptom reporting. Abbott’s wind farm comments led to a range of headlines warning people who live near wind farms that they should feel fear and anxiety.

There are some heartbreaking instances of the power of belief. A woman living near a proposed NBN tower in Dereel wraps a flimsy piece of tinfoil around her head to protect from electromagnetic radiation in this video. The misinformed continue to suffer, but the misinformers escape without consequence.

The open admission of efforts to R E D U C E the size of an Australian industry competing with coal-fired power is jarring, and it’s clear that these efforts are behind the declaration that people living near wind turbines ought to feel fear, consternation and anxiety, despite there being no evidence for this. Whether this helps in efforts to kill off coal’s competition is an open question, but we know that people are likely to suffer as a result.


May 22, 2015


The latest episode of the great right-wing crack-up began a few weeks ago, when Paul Kelly used his bully pulpit in the Oz to thunderously denounce Andrew Bolt for his sustained opposition to the campaign for a “recognition” clause/preamble in the constitution. There are a lot of questions about recognition and the fact that the movement for it has become more or less a state apparatus, but Bolt’s comes from the wacky backwaters of the European right.

Acknowledgement of separate peoples means acknowledgement of white oppression and imperialism, and this would destroy the purity and wholeness of the nation. This is couched in the language of being opposed to “division” and “racism”(!), but its overwhelming concern is that the fracture running through our history not be acknowledged. Some of Bolt’s arguments, it must be said, overlap with arguments from the left — that the recognition process has been turned into a state-driven one, squeezing out dissent. But it’s wrapped up in his particular tormented politics.

For Kelly, this is irrelevant. Recognition is not a complex issue with many meanings and consequences, it’s mostly a way of dealing with some outstanding culture-war issues, so we can get on with the process of “reform”, i.e. the further neoliberalisation of the economy. Kelly wants the recognition process to be automatic and depoliticised, because he wants the subsequent process of restructuring to be the same. Bolt’s objections, which Kelly sees as simply crazy, are not part of the debate, but simply a roadblock.

If our polity denies recognition of this truth in our constitution then Australia probably faces a bleak future.

More amazingly, rather than debate Bolt’s points, he simply wonders if Bolt can be silenced by his editors.

This raises another question: as the referendum advances, how much liberty will be extended to Bolt by his editors to continue his campaign in their newspapers?

This is the same Paul Kelly, recall, who trumpeted that the 18C decision against Bolt was some catastrophe for free speech and a rallying point for freedom blah blah (when the Abbott govt bottled 18C abolition, Kelly groused that it had been turned into an IPA-style ideological issue. Yes, by people like Kelly. He’s hilarious.)

Kelly wasn’t saying that Bolt should be restricted because he wasn’t selling papers, but because he was — his fatuouswa was raising resistance to the state-run recognition push. So the Herald Sun‘s editors should do the state’s bidding in silencing dissenting voices on recognition. But 18C is wrong.

This is a problem that the right has made for itself — News Corp especially — and it will only get worse. The Howard government mobilised “traditional values” as a way of disguising neoliberalisation and globalisation, and Bolt et al were essential to that. But the differences between them, small at the start, have blown open. One section of the Australian right is now nativist, parochial, paranoid and increasingly obsessive — and many of them have columns in News Corp papers — while the other is trying to orient Australia to, well, to the Orient. The more insistent the latter get on being rational, the more obsessive the former become.

“When you reject basic scientific method for short-term gain, you rapidly lose your ability to create rational debate.”

Thus, in Kelly’s own paper, we have the latest entrant — Gary Johns, former Labor right minister — who has decided to reintroduce eugenics into Australian politics, arguing that women eligible for unemployment benefits should be obliged to use contraception to get payments. Last year, Johns was insouciant about the fact that this stricture would fall on indigenous women:

“Such a measure will undoubtedly affect strugglers, it undoubtedly will affect Aboriginal and Islander people in great proportions, but the idea that someone can have the taxpayer, as of right, fund the choice to have a child is repugnant. “

He reiterated it in a piece on Struggle Street, the SBS series, which showed people living lives that were much less than they might be, but which Johns concluded were not worth living at all.

Interestingly, when the UK version, Benefits Street, aired in the UK a year ago, people said a lot of terrible things, but no one raised forced contraception. Why in Australia? Because of our frontier history. It’s an idea that can only come back because a certain type of people are to be discontinued. It fits with Johns’ idea of cultural dissolution — that Aboriginal people should be dissolved as communities, and forced into regional cities through work tests, so that the transmission of Aboriginal culture is interrupted, and ultimately dies away.

Last year, the proposal gained criticism even from deep under the bridge where that sort of right live. But Johns has pressed on, with the announcement of a book, wittily entitled No Contraception, No Dole, from the go-to publisher for conservatives, Connor Court, out of Ballarat.

To even enumerate the contradictions of the proposal — oral contraceptives heighten stroke risk, especially in those with existing poor health; it would never survive a section 116 challenge on religious grounds; the Catholic Church would come out against it; and presumably your dole would be restored if you had an abortion, in which industry it might create a mini-boom — is to grant this abhorrent proposal credibility, but it was worth mentioning in passing to show how deranged it is. Yet there it is, sitting at the centre of the Oz. I doubt it’s much what the centre-right wants to be talking about, or to be identified with.

They have created this situation for themselves. Willing to pay host to a series of political obsessions useful in waging a culture war against the left, the centre-right now finds that these obsessives are more popular than they are. Once that starts, things start to go off in all directions: witness the bizarre wind turbine inquiry. Intended as tactical feints, these become the main game. It’s a lot easier to think about whether the Fabian society has a contract out on Andrew Bolt, or single mums are getting free cars, or a propeller is aggravating your bursitis, than it is to focus on core economic and social policy. Debating with them tends to draw you further into their rainbow-unicorn world, which is why Kelly would simply like the whole thing to be shut down.

It’s an extraordinary thing to demand — that one of your own colleagues be silenced (when you’ve defended him against being censored) — and another measure of the anti-democratic spirit that runs through much of the right at the moment. Their Eeyorish sighs that “reform” is impossible while people still have the vote (something Bolt indulged in as well), their willingness to plumb the depths of the 20th century for a forced sterilisation policy … none of it is serious now, but it will be in times to come.

For the moment, watch them tear themselves apart. Climate change denialism got them into this. When you reject basic scientific method for short-term gain, you rapidly lose your ability to create rational debate. It’s akin to the Nazis rejection of “Jewish mathematics”, e.g. Godel’s incompleteness theorem, which was the basis for Turing’s work, which created the computers that defeated the Nazis*. Having abandoned science, myth crept in, and before you knew it they were funding expeditions to find the hollow points at the North and South poles, which served as portals to the inner Earth, where the Aryans came from. And studies into wind turbines.

Sooner or later, Kelly and others are going to have to talk back to this nonsense, and much else like it — rule a line and establish some credibility. They’ll leave it late, and it’s going to be entertaining to watch, and a lot more deserving of our scorn than the other strugglers on other streets.

*No, I’m not saying these people are the moral equivalent of the Nazis.

Tips and rumours

Apr 1, 2015


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Windy inquiry. Senator John Madigan’s Senate Inquiry into Wind Turbines rolled into Portland in Victoria’s far west on Monday, with senators hearing about the impact of investment uncertainty for local workers, as well as the many alleged health side-effects for people who live near wind turbines. It seems that pretty much any ailment for either human or animal can be attributed to wind turbines, with one speaker saying that it took him longer to complete Sudoku puzzles because of the wind farm, while another said that his kelpie could easily jump in to his ute away from the wind farm, but needed to be lifted in when near the wind farm. Throughout the day Madigan asked people about the effects of “wind syndrome”, which sounds like a condition that isn’t related to turbines at all, but not having enough fibre in your diet. A list of symptoms attributed to living near wind turbines has been collated by Professor Simon Chapman at the University of Sydney, and even though it has 244 items including social problems in peacocks, it seems that no one has attributed flatulence to wind turbines so far. So wind syndrome doesn’t actually involve any wind at all.

You want your own data? Pay up. Following the government passing laws that require telcos to retain our metadata for at least two years, Telstra has announced that its also making that metadata available to customers. That is, you can pay Telstra to access your own metadata. We’re curious to see how this will apply to business accounts — could your boss use this to check up on people on their company accounts? Here’s what the pricing schedule looks like:

Beyond the pale for the Greens? We hear tensions in the NSW Greens about support for Sydney independent Alex Greenwich may go all the way to the top. A tipster told us that federal NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon could move to expel SA Senator Sarah Hanson-Young from the party because of Hanson-Young’s support for Greenwich over the Greens’ own candidate for the seat of Sydney, but Rhiannon denied the allegation, labelling it “really crazy stuff”. The source also said Hanson-Young “has been talking about leaving the Greens after failing to get more than one vote in her attempts to become Deputy leader and Party Room Chair” and was planning on joining Malcolm Fraser’s new party: “[She] was set to announce her departure from the Greens when Fraser fell ill,” said our source. A spokesperson for Hanson-Young told us it was “absurd” that Hanson-Young would be considering leaving the party. Watch this space.

Virtual Wolf of Wall Street. While many people across the country are sweating over who’s in and out of their SuperCoach team ahead of tomorrow’s AFL season opener, over at Business Spectator, they’ve turned the fantasy league format to the sharemarket. Offering $15,000 in prizes, “SuperTrader” competitors are invited to trade imaginary stocks for the chance to win real money. We’re not sure if real stock brokers are allowed to play.

SBS rumour mill in overdrive. Working in an organisation that’s suffered its fair share of leaks in recent months, why on earth would the executive producer of SBS World News think he could get away with telling reporters to air fewer complex, unhappy stories in the lead-up to 7pm, when viewers switch to the ABC? One rumour doing the rounds at SBS is that Andrew Clark wrote the email with the hope it would be leaked — to divulge SBS’ dire straits.

SBS is currently pushing as hard as it can to encourage the Senate crossbench to pass an ad-averaging bill to allow it to air more ads in prime time. If the measure fails, SBS will be left with a budget hole and will likely have to start cutting jobs and programs — but Crikey understands the crossbench is sceptical of the government bill. Sending an email sure to be leaked could be a way of sending a message — that SBS needs more money, stat.

But would an EP go as far as to hope his own staff leaked his email? Our truthiness-o-meter says probably not. And besides, as we revealed yesterday, SBS staff have been told not to leak at all, or risk investigation.

Further adventures of Freedom Boy: Freedom Boy went to a conference organised by the Centre for Independent Studies, and they gave him a branded sweater, although the brand is, for some reason, a line portrait of Senator David Leyonhjelm. With this tweet, Freedom Boy has now declared it. The donors to the CIS, and similar groups such as the IPA remain, sadly, mostly undeclared, so we don’t know who is paying them to spruik small government, sorry, Freedom! Nifty!

Reversing the tabloid trend. With newspapers getting smaller across the world, it’s a brave paper that seeks to reverse the trend. Can the rumours be true that the West Australian is experimenting with size expansion, not merely to a broadsheet, but to the rare “double elephant” folio — approximately 122 cm high by 80 cm wide? The resulting publication would be about four times larger than a broadsheet. Sources say that design tests are underway, and that wind-tunnel tests have been done to check drag co-efficient. “We may have to punch holes in each copy to stop being people being pulled into the ocean, but it’s worth it for the white space,” an insider told us. “White space is what Perth is all about.”

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Jul 14, 2014


No doubt Professor Ian Plimer is an expert geologist. He drew upon that knowledge in writing his well-known 1994 book attacking creationists, Telling Lies for God. Unfortunately his attempts to critique renewable energy in his new book Not for Greens demonstrate that he is out of his depth in this field. His treatment of renewable energy is mostly nonsense from start to finish.

Not for Greens will be launched in Sydney today. Crikey ran a fact-check of Plimer’s key assertions on climate science last week; here I’m fact-checking what he says in my area of expertise, renewable energy.

Plimer’s book has no pretensions of scholarship, since it lacks references, and its discussion of renewable energy is clearly not based on scholarly research by himself. He simply rehashes false myths, mostly originating in propaganda disseminated by supporters of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. These myths have been refuted again and again by experts in renewable energy. Here I’ll address a few of Plimer’s howlers on wind and solar power.

A serious error is Plimer’s claim that wind is “totally unreliable” and that “no carbon dioxide-emitting coal-fired thermal power station has been replaced by a wind farm“. Actually South Australia has nominally two coal-fired power stations, several gas-fired power stations and many wind farms. As a result of the growth of wind generation to an annual average of over 27% of electricity generation, one of the coal stations is now shut down for half the year and the other for the whole year. Although gas capacity has not increased, the state’s electricity supply system is operating reliably. Clearly wind is partially reliable, despite its fluctuations.

Plimer then attempts to generalise his above incorrect claims to the notion that wind farms “cannot produce continuous electricity without coal, gas, nuclear, hydro or geothermal backup“. This notion has been refuted by hourly computer simulations of the operation of large-scale electricity supply systems with 80 to 100% renewable energy in several countries and regions (reviewed in Chapter 3 of Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change). These studies use actual hourly data on electricity demand and renewable energy supply, striving to balance supply and demand each hour over periods ranging from 1 to 10 years.

For instance, our research at UNSW simulating the Australian National Electricity Market uses only commercially available renewable energy technologies (scaled-up wind, solar and biomass, together with existing hydro). We find that 100% renewable energy could have supplied electricity in 2010 with the same reliability as the polluting fossil-fuelled system. While we would not operate the grid on 100% wind alone, we could operate it on the above mix of renewable energy technologies with different statistical properties. Furthermore, using the Australian government’s own conservative projections to 2030 for the costs of renewable energy technologies, we find that 100% renewable electricity would be affordable.

The relevant papers by Ben Elliston, Iain MacGill and myself, published in peer-reviewed international journals, can be downloaded from my UNSW website.

In discussing the energy inputs needed to build a wind turbine, Plimer claims that “the correct figure for payback of just the embedded energy is probably more in the order of 15 to 20 years. Whatever the figure is …“. The weasel words “probably,” “in the order of” and “whatever the figure is” suggest that Plimer is either guessing or misrepresenting the result and trying to cover himself. Actual life-cycle assessments find that, depending upon the site and type of wind turbine, the energy payback period (in terms of energy, not money) is actually three to nine months!

Plimer greatly exaggerates the land use and associated environmental impacts of wind farms, by taking the land they span and misrepresenting it as the land they occupy. Wind farms actually occupy only 1% to 3% of the land they span. They are normally erected on agricultural land and it’s rare that a single tree is cleared. They bring supplementary rental income to the farmers who host them (typically $8000 to $10,000 per turbine per year in Australia), and increasingly bring financial benefits to local communities.

Other errors and misrepresentations abounding in Plimer’s account include:

  • The small subsidies to renewable energy under the Renewable Energy Target are not paid “even when a wind farm is shut down”, because they are paid per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, not per megawatt of generating capacity.
  • Furthermore, they are not paid by taxpayers, but by a tiny increase in retail electricity price paid by electricity consumers (except large consumers who have gained exemptions). This increase is offset by a decrease in wholesale price of electricity.
  • Although Plimer correctly writes that “wind turbines can only extract about 45% of the available kinetic energy,” he omits to put this into context: ordinary coal-fired power stations can only convert into electricity 30% to 40% of the energy stored in the coal.
  • The best solar cells have efficiencies of around 25% (laboratory) and 21.5% (commercial), rather than Plimer’s “not much higher than 10%”.
  • Solar power stations do not depend on floodlighting the mirrors to operate at night. Concentrated solar thermal power stations actually store part of the solar energy collected during daytime in tanks of molten salt, to generate at night.

These and other myths are busted in my new book Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change. Are Plimer’s errors and misrepresentations the result of ignorance or deliberate deception? I don’t know, but it is worrying to see them uttered by a senior scientist.

Plimer’s book is not for anyone seeking a rational, accurate, up-to-date account of renewable energy. I wonder whether some will rename it Telling Lies for the Fossil Fuel Industry.


Jul 9, 2013


Graham Lloyd, environment editor at The Australian, is today warning us of the dangers of low-frequency noise from wind turbines. That the turbine referenced does not exist is an afterthought. Lloyd cites a report, A Proposed Metric for Assessing the Potential of Community Annoyance from Wind Turbine Low Frequency Noise Emissions, as an example of the threat wind turbines pose to the human race:

“Our experience with the low-frequency noise emissions from a single, 2-MW MOD-I wind turbine demonstrated that, under the right circumstances, it was possible to cause annoyance within homes in the surrounding community with relatively low levels of LF-range acoustic noise.”

Sounds convincing, right? The MOD-I wind turbine was a downwind NASA prototype, built in 1978 and removed in 1981. The paper itself was published in 1987. From the Wiki page about the MOD-I (emphasis added):

“Low-frequency noise from the heavy truss tower blocking the wind to the downwind rotor caused problems to residences located close by.”

Modern wind turbines are upwind, rather than downwind, and as such, don’t have the same characteristic problem cause by the tower being in front of the rotor. The South Australian Environment Protection Authority recently released a comparative report on low-frequency noise emissions from modern, upwind turbines (unmentioned by Lloyd in his article):

“Overall, this study demonstrates that low frequency noise levels near wind farms are no  greater than levels in urban areas or at comparable rural residences away from wind  farms. Organised shutdowns of the wind farms also found that the contribution of the Bluff Wind Farm to low frequency noise levels at Location 8 was negligible, while there may have been a relatively small contribution of low frequency noise levels from the Clements Gap Wind Farm at frequencies of 100Hz and above.”

Lloyd does admit that citing a 26-year-old report referring to a prototype, nonexistent wind turbine that was never installed in Australia isn’t quite right:

“Clean Energy Council policy director Russell Marsh said the study was not relevant to modern turbines. ‘This is the equivalent of taking a study about Ataris and applying it to the latest iPads,’ Mr Marsh said.”

However, that admission is not central to his thesis:

So why report a decades-old piece of research on a prototype wind turbine like it’s breaking news? It’s a technique Lloyd has used before: have a look at these sentences from an article published in April 2012:

“Village resident Neil Daws is concerned his chickens have been laying eggs with no yolks. Ironically called wind eggs, the yolkless eggs can be explained without wind turbines. But together with a spike in sheep deformities, also not necessarily connected to wind, reports of erratic behaviour by farm dogs and an exodus of residents complaining of ill health, Waterloo is a case study of the emotional conflict being wrought by the rollout of industrial wind power.”

By simply presenting two completely irrelevant facts in close proximity, Lloyd lets the reader assume the two are linked. So where did Lloyd get this 26-year-old scoop? That would be windturbinesyndrome.comattempting to stimulate rageby distributing outdated research on prototype machines. Lloyd claims:

“The research was sent by an American acoustics expert to Australian wind health campaigners and has now been published internationally.”

Well, no, it was already published internationally: see hereherehereherehereherehere,herehere … you get the idea. It’s an old piece of research, which has been mindlessly re-hashed by anti-wind groups and picked up by Lloyd with motivated glee. In the absence of evidence of any harm from wind turbines, awkwardly and unashamedly shoe-horning irrelevant, outdated research into contemporary media is, presumably, the last resort of anti-wind turbine activists.

*Ketan Joshi is the research and communications officer at Infigen Energy. This article was first published at his blog Some Air.