Glow-in-the-Dark Red Herrings & Dead Whales — Offshore Wind Nonsense in Oz

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During 2023, Australia made steady progress towards its goal of 82% renewable energy in the grid in by 2030. Some would say that we are halfway there! Progress is being hindered but not stopped by the usual suspects — fossil fuel vested interests and their puppets in politics and the mass media. Conservative politicians are touting nuclear energy as the solution to achieving carbon-free electricity production. Strange, because they were in power at a federal level for 10 years and made no moves towards supporting this. Now that they are in opposition, with no chance of implementing anything, they are crowing about it from the rooftops. Or, to change the metaphor, they are promoting glow-in-the-dark red herrings!

Australia generates a great deal of electricity from solar energy — from large solar farms and also rooftop solar. A quick look at the NEM widget shows that 42% of electricity on the eastern seaboard is being produced by renewable resources — that percentage will grow during the day as the sun rises to its zenith (it is 8:00 am at home as I am writing this).

As I have mentioned previously, what Australia’s grid lacks is more wind power. Onshore wind has made some progress over the past decade, but access to offshore wind development is controlled by the federal government, so it had been slowed to almost a stop by the conservative government that was previously in power.

With the federal government now controlled by Labor, offshore wind power development is picking up pace. Enter the usual suspects, with arguments borrowed from naysayers overseas. SBS News featured a news item a few days ago from the Hunter Region of New South Wales. The Hunter is famous for racehorses, wineries, and of course, coal. Newcastle, in the Hunter, has one the largest coal exporting terminals in the Southern Hemisphere.

Over the past few years, as coal has been declining, the locals have taken up eco-tourism as a new earner. These people have been courted, confused, and led down the garden path by the coal lobby. Whale watchers and fishermen are protesting against the proposed wind farm to be built offshore. The poster that is being used pictures a dead whale on the beach, with wind turbines in the background. The message: offshore wind turbines kill whales. Despite numerous studies to the contrary, these arguments against offshore wind are being trotted out again. I am surprised that the turbines are not surrounded by piles of dead seagulls and terns. And glow-in-the-dark red herrings!

Former (Australian) Prime Minister Tony Abbott called them (wind turbines) the “dark satanic mills of the modern era,” while former US President Donald Trump claimed offshore wind turbines were “causing whales to die in numbers never seen before.” Conservative politicians are also claiming that koalas are being culled by “blunt force trauma” to make way for onshore wind and solar farms. There is no evidence of harm from renewable energy, but there is plenty of harm from bushfires fueled by rising temperatures.

Despite all the FUD, progress is being made in renewable energy in Australia. OpenNEM reports that the average contribution of renewables over the calendar year of 2023 was 38.2%. This is an increase of over 3% from calendar year 2022. Hydro contributed 6.7%, rooftop sola 11.7%, utility-scale solar 6.6%, and wind 13.2%. Sunwiz reports that over 3 gigawatts of rooftop solar were installed in 2023. Many of these installations include a home battery.

Australia has two main grids — the NEM, which services the eastern states of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania; and the WEM, Western Australia’s standalone grid (for our international readers, Western Australia is about 2000 miles from New South Wales — Perth to Sydney is 2000 miles). The WEM managed an average of 36% renewables over the year, a similar result to the NEM.

In some states on some days, rooftop solar supplied all the power needed. It won’t be long before these events occur on a regular basis. What will the purveyors of glow-in-the dark red herrings say then? They will probably make the obvious point that we need more batteries and that we should upgrade the transmission lines, a job they could have easily done during their decade in power but failed to tackle in a spectacular manner.

During this time of transition, the public needs to be brought along with the changes. This is difficult due to the amount of misinformation purveyed by the Murdoch-controlled press. One of the ways that our electricity provider (AGL) is involving us in the process is inviting us to participate in grid resiliency during peak weather events, like our current heatwave. Yesterday we received a text from AGL requesting us to reduce our electricity consumption between the hours of 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm. For this we would be rewarded with a $5 discount on our electricity bill.

This is a great way to be an active support for the grid. We can still watch TV and run a fan. We left the fridge and the computer running. We turned off the air conditioners (the temperature had peaked at 38 degrees Celsius and the humidity was very high). For two hours, we lived like we did in the ’70s and we made $5!! We can charge the car overnight. Because we are retired, we eat our cooked meal in the middle of the day.

In this time of climate change weather crises (in the last month we have had multiple floods down the east coast of Australia, and the north is expecting its second cyclone in a few days), we need to ask ourselves what we can do to save energy, produce energy, and support the grid. The AGL events are a fun way to do this — we have had a few of these and sometimes the grandkids are here and it becomes a bit of fun to see what we can do without for a short period of time. Last night, we ended up in the pool in the dark cooling off.

So, what of 2024? I would expect that rooftop solar installations will continue at their record-breaking pace, driven by power companies’ increases in price. Offshore wind will slowly pick up the pace — some of these gargantuan projects will be years in the making. States are building more transmission lines and interconnectors to send excess power across their borders. I expect Australia will easily reach its target of 82% renewables by 2030. The future is bright and breezy!

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