Friday, 23 September 2011

The clean energy answer is blowing in the wind

Daily Telegraph
Tuesday 20/9/2011 Page: 21

THERE is obviously a healthy debate going about wind power in Australia, but some of the claims being made are about as far from reality as the Earth is from Uranus.

I was at the footy a couple of weeks ago when it was blowing a gale and the subject of wind farms came up. The thing everyone wanted to know was: Clean, green energy sounds great, but will it add to the pain when I get my power bill? Wind power is currently more expensive than either coal or gas, but you would barely notice it when your bill comes in.

Even with all the wind farms planned by the end of the decade under our renewable energy target, the projections are that renewable energy will make up between 4-7% of our bills by 2020. And wind power is coming down in price, while coal and gas are getting more expensive. The 21st century will be the clean energy century. Wind is the cheapest clean energy source that we can roll out on a large scale. And it works.

Over the first six months of this year, Australia's 1188 wind turbines generated enough electricity to power more than 725,000 homes. One week the wind was blowing so strongly it powered more than 1.5 million homes. What rusted on opponents of wind are most afraid of is the evidence that shows how well it works in producing our electricity and reducing emissions.

South Australia now gets over 20% of its electricity from wind power; one of the reasons the state's carbon emissions fell by 18% over the past five years. wind farms also provide jobs for local communities and contractors, as well as an economic boost for struggling regional areas. At the Capital wind farm near Canberra, about $10 million went straight into the pockets of locals during construction.

It went into the corner store the local restaurant, motels and more. Farming couple Brian and Marcia used the income from turbines on their property to pay for drought feed for their livestock. There are many other examples where wind power has saved the family farm. Wind power employed more than 2200 people in 2010. It is sometimes criticised by opponents for providing more jobs during construction than ongoing positions. They say these aren't "real" jobs, but I wouldn't tell any of my construction worker mates that their job isn't real.

Another criticism is that wind has to be "backed up" by gas power plants, which sit idling away waiting for the wind to stop blowing. In fact we can predict the wind with better than 90% accuracy and our electricity grid is flexible enough that it can be easily accommodated. No one is saying that all our electricity should come from the wind, but it is playing an increasing role in providing clean energy for Australians.

Kane Thornton is director of the Clean Energy Council