Not Rocket Science
A strategic approach to significant emissions reductions is not beyond us.
If we invest in renewable energy, and insure against the problem of intermittency by backing up with natural gas, there is no need to build any new coal fired power stations in Australia.
As coal fired power stations reach the end of their working age they can be strategically retired. The necessary generating capacity is replaced by renewable energy and we steadily transition to a low carbon economy.
Renewable energy and natural gas are power sources that work well together. Renewable energy is clean and limitless but has the problem of being intermittent.
If you look at introducing a broad suite of renewable energy technologies, the problem of intermittency diminishes but doesn?t disappear. The wind might not blow on a day that is cloudy in a region that has no access to hydro or wave technology.
The perfect interim solution is a judicious expansion of the natural gas industry in Australia. The advantage of natural gas is that electricity generation has only half the emissions of coal fired electricity, and it can be turned on and off quickly. If we build new gas generating plants in concert with renewable energy we can start closing down coal generation, and if we can do that we will significantly reduce emissions. Over the next 20 years we could close all of Australia?s coal fired power stations and still have dependable energy to power our hospitals and heavy industry.
It is true that a transition to a low carbon economy cannot be made on the basis of wind energy alone. It is equally true to say the necessary transition cannot be made without a significant expansion of wind energy in Australia. Renewable energy is probably 10 years away from providing steady base-load power for Australia.
Expelled From School?
When Professor Ian Plimer published his last book ‘Heaven and Earth’ it was roundly and forcefully dismissed by actual climate scientists as being riddled with misrepresentations and errors of fact. This didn’t stop it from being widely popular around the world, and helping influence the likes of Opposition leader Tony Abbott and Australia’s most senior catholic, Cardinal George Pell.
His new book ‘How To Get Expelled From School’ was launched by John Howard in December 2011. Despite Howard’s enthusiasm for the new book and its author, Plimer has never actually had any research published on climate change in a peer-reviewed journal.
The fact that Plimer’s new book was launched by John Howard and has a forward by the President of the Czech Republic suggests the book is a lot about political ideology, and very little to do with science. On page 14 Plimer is starting to sound desperate when he says “We should worship carbon dioxide on the alter of the modern world.”
In ‘Heaven and Earth’ Plimer frequently misrepresents his references. Examples are demonstrated at www.cleanenergyforeternity.net.au. On many occasions Plimer’s references directly contradict his arguments. Plimer’s response in ‘How To Get Expelled From School’ is to leave most references out, and present controversial ideas as statements of fact without any support. He does this repeatedly in his new book.
One of Plimer’s main arguments in ‘Heaven and Earth’ was the fact that the planet is cooling. He mentions the post 1998 cooling trend repeatedly and claims that this is proof that CO2 is an inconsequential greenhouse gas.
Global cooling is a difficult argument to maintain when you consider that 2010 was the hottest year ever recorded, the last 10 years were the hottest decade ever recorded, and that each decade has been 0.2 degrees hotter than the previous one since the 1970’s.
In ‘How To Get Expelled From School’ Plimer has finally dropped his global cooling argument. His main line of attack now seems to be that if some climate change is caused by factors other than CO2, then CO2 cannot be causing the climate change observed over recent decades.
Plimer suggests that students ask 101 questions for “activist” teachers who talk about climate change. One of the key questions is number 38, “If we double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, how much will temperature increase?” He goes on to advise the student that “If the teacher plucks a figure out of the air such as 2 degrees C, then you are being fed unsubstantiated environmental propaganda.” He suggests the student “politely ask for a reference that substantiates such a figure.”
In a bizaare twist, that reference could come from Plimer himself. On page 87 of ‘Heaven and Earth’ he says “Regardless of whether climate is viewed from a historical, archaeological or geological time perspective, climate sensitivity [the temperature increase you see with a doubling of CO2] greater than 1.5 degrees C has been a robust feature of the Earth?s climate system over the last 420 million years.”
Plimer completely contradicts himself! A comprehensive critique of his two climate change books is online atwww.cleanenergyforeternity.net.au. Plimer’s ‘How To Get Expelled From School’ is as muddled, confused, self contradictory and flawed as ‘Heaven and Earth’ was.
Communities will benefit from wind farms
To reach a 5% by 2020 target Australia needs to cut emissions by 60 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
The current renewable energy target (20% by 2020) will deliver around a third of that, or about 20 million tonnes a year. Assuming around 70% of that comes from wind, we have got to build around 6,000 megawatts of wind in the next nine years. That?s about six times as much as exists in Australia today, so that?s not going to be any small challenge.
In terms of cost per unit of electricity, wind is currently the cheapest form of renewable energy.
We can look at meeting the 20% renewable energy target in the cheapest possible way by expanding wind energy, or we can look at more expensive ways to get there, which will put significant upward pressure on the retail cost of electricity. If we fail to meet the 20% renewable energy target we will deny regional Australia billions of dollars in renewable energy investment.
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has released the 2011 National Transmission Development Plan, which suggests the grid is well placed to accommodate large-scale investment in wind energy and NSW could be the leading wind energy state in the next 10-20 years.
If I was a wind farm developer, I would look at doing three things. I would fund land-owners with wind turbines on their properties. I would use some of the profits from the wind farm to fund local community projects, and I would look at ways in which local communities could invest in the wind project and reap a dividend. Most wind farms in Australia already make a significant contribution to local communities.
The Eden Chamber of Commerce is hosting a public information session on the proposed Eden Wind Farm on Thursday 19 January 2012 at The Auditorium, Eden Fishermen’s Club, commencing at 6pm. It will be very interesting to hear from Epuron what sort of community benefits the proposed Eden wind farm will bring to the local community.
A Big Test For O’Farrell
he NSW state government draft planning regulations on wind farms was released on Friday December 23.
As is the case in Victoria, the guidelines use a 2km trigger when it comes to residents having the ability to oppose a project. Where residents within 2km oppose a turbine, the matter goes to a Joint Regional Planning Panel.
The idea of the draft legislation is to promote community consultation, which will hopefully give communities a sense of empowerment.
A Joint Regional Planning Panel will be a good thing if it empowers communities, but will be a bad thing if it is simply used as a vehicle to block important wind developments.
There is a problem with the draft legislation. The sound limits are draconian. New wind farms will have to comply with a noise limit of 35 decibels. This limit is significantly tougher than anywhere else in the world. 35 decibels is about the level of traffic noise that people situated 10km from an existing freeway would be exposed to. The noise level of rustling leaves is 40 decibels, rainfall 50 decibels, and normal conversation 60 decibels. Much noisier and dirtier mining industry projects and coal-fired power stations are not nearly as shackled.
There are legitimate concerns with any power infrastructure development, whether it be a coal fired power station, a gas fired power station, coal seam gas or a wind farm. Planning regulations need to be applied consistently to all developments. The O?Farrell governments? approach is inconsistent and heavily weighted in favour of fossil fuels.
The O’Farrell government is committed to a 20% renewable energy target by 2020 and wind energy is the cheapest way for NSW to reach that target. If O’Farrell stifles wind development, then NSW will have to look at more expensive ways of reaching the 20% target, which will ultimately put more pressure on electricity prices.
There is currently more than $10.4 billion worth of wind farm proposals awaiting planning approval in NSW. Those wind farms if approved, would generate enough power for more than 2.3 million homes. Mr O’Farrell has said “We haven’t approved any applications and if I had my way we wouldn’t”.
Wind energy will be a challenge for the state government and the 20% renewable energy by 2020 target will be a test for O’Farrell, who has already left the solar energy industry hanging by a thread.