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11
Oct
2016

New Polling on Political Parties and Use of Renewable Energy, Limits to Use of Windpower

Newspoll Confirms Labor Lead and Questions Renewables

The latest Newspoll confirms Labor’s lead of 52/48 on a TPP basis and shows a slight worsening in Turnbull’s net satisfaction to minus 25 (from minus 23), although he remains “better PM”. This outcome seems to confirm that Turnbull’s meetings and photos with world leaders during the break in Parliament did not impress the electorate. Nor did his photo op in a train with Lucy help.

But the supplementary question on renewables is of considerable interest following the blackout in South Australia. It shows that in a year 44% would not be prepared to pay anything for renewable energy and 28% would be prepared to pay only $100 pa (see Newspoll 10 Oct). While the blackout would have increased the extent of negativity, any “recovery” seems doubtful as questions continue to be raised about the extent to which renewables should be used if a secure supply of electricity is to be assured (see further below).  Also, the publication by Energy Minister Frydenberg of his department’s estimated capital costs alone (there would be additional operating costs too) is likely to add to the electorate’s caution.  Thus the estimate for meeting announced targets would be  Victoria $14 billion and Queensland $27bn in capital costs for extra renewable energy capacity, with federal Labor’s renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2030 requiring “10,000 new wind turbines’’, costing $48bn.

The Usefulness of Windpower

The South Australian blackout has raised serious questions about the usefulness of windpower in particular, which has not been previously discussed publicly, and the additional cost compared with electricity generated by fossil fuels. My letter in today’s AFR (see South Australia Blackout Inquiry) only touches on the issue. But it argues that the South Australian experience suggests that, given the need for security of supply,  renewables should be used to meet no more than 20-40% of demand in circumstances where heavy storms occur from time to time. In short, the basic source of supply would be from generators using fossil fuels or nuclear energy and these basic sources would provide a back-up in the event that the wind farms are unable to operate because the wind is either too strong or too low.

In reality, where wind is intermittent and highly variable there needs to be a back up to windpower and that back up cannot come from windpower itself because it cannot be switched on and off by controllers. This also applies to Victoria, NSW, and Tasmania because those states have similar weather patterns to South Australia. This makes it essential that NSW and Victoria in particular retain sufficient generators that use fossil fuels to provide back up when any windpower established by them stops. These states already operate some windpower and the Victorian government has indicated an intention to close down the major fossil fuel generator system  at Hazelwood early next year. Should Victoria substantially increase its usage of windpower, South Australia would no longer be able to rely on its interconnection to Victoria (which in any event failed to supply when it was needed by that State).

The attached article by Andrew Bolt (see Bolt on SA Blackout) brings out the failure of the government of South Australia to take account of the potential problems of using windpower. Note in particular that part of the possible back up if wind stopped – the coal-fired power station at Port Augusta – was actually blown up with explosives!! Bolt also points out that, in the case of 15 of the 22 towers damaged in the storm, that occurred after the blackout and could not have caused it. Reinforcing the Newspoll questions about preparedness to financially support renewable, Bolt also points out that a survey by the Climate Institute last month found that only 30 per cent of Australians still believe the world is warming and humans were mostly to blame.

At the end of Bolt’s article are some comments by believers in the dangerous warming thesis, denials that the use renewable energy contributed to the blackout, and that it should continue to be used. In fact the Greens still support moving to 100% use of renewables. We will see more of such commentary in the period ahead because there remain a substantial proportion of political, business and academic leaders who have stuck out their necks on the issue and will not recant easily. Hopefully however this could be the start of a real turning point.

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