An hour after I read on-line that Joe Hockey had described wind farms as “utterly offensive”, I drove through the Andalusian plains past dozens upon dozens of wind turbines quietly turning on ridges often near towns. Spain is one of many European nations which have taken wind energy very seriously, with currently 22.9 gigawatts of installed capacity.
Australia has just 3.059GW, putting us in thirteenth position behind nations like China (80.8), USA (60) and Germany (32.4) and six other European nations (UK, Italy, France, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden with a combined total of 26.1GW. Already wind farms in Australia produce enough energy to power some 1.7m homes.
I first saw wind farms while living in France in 2006. My reaction to them couldn’t have been more different to Hockey’s. Like many, I saw the non-polluting harvesting of an endless, free fuel. Here was this century’s natural progression of previous centuries’ use of wind to sail ships and turn windmills, but to a degree that offered part of the solution to a growing problem that 97% of the world’s climate scientists agree is real, man-made and likely to be catastrophic.
As has often been remarked, if 97% of the world’s leading specialist doctors told you that you needed a life saving operation and 3% said not to worry, a decision to go with the 3% would be “utterly” unwise.
Seeing wind farms and solar expanding, I feel the growth of hope that my children and grandchildren will grow up in a world where clean energy has come to steadily complement, then match and soon help replace polluting fuels, with price falls commensurate with the fuel they used being free and boundless. What’s not to like?
When Hockey next sits down with OECD and other world leaders, it’s likely that his revealing remark will have found its way into more than one diplomatic brief. What will nations now well into full and accelerating embrace of wind energy make of such a remark?
China is far and away the world leader in both economic growth and the installation of new wind energy capacity – 5.5GW in just six months of 2013 (more than Australia has installed in total since 1992). I try to imagine a conversation between China’s energy minister and our government’s renewable loathing business advisory czars Maurice Newman and Dick Warburton. Then there’s that other economic basket case, Germany, which led new wind energy capacity growth in Europe with another 1.1GW in the same six months. How is it that Maurice and Dick’s sources of information on wind energy being a dud seem to have passed by Germany’s energy policy planners?
And then there’s that financial doofus Warren Buffett, who in 2013 pumped $US1.9 billion into wind development in Iowa. Joe Hockey should get on the phone and let him know where the energy bread is really buttered.
Farmers have always harvested the sun and the rain to feed humanity. Wind farms are now harvesting the wind to put a massively increasing brake on pollution and greenhouse gas production. Anyone with solar panels on their roof knows how they silently smash your power bill. Anyone who has grown their own fruit and vegetables “gets” the natural wisdom of putting nature to work. It’s not hard for ordinary people to understand that wind ought to be harvested.
So from what possible set of bizarre values could someone look at the application of the minds of some the world’s best energy engineers in vastly improving the efficiency of modern wind turbines and call their work not just offensive, but “utterly offensive”? Community studies consistently show large scale support for renewable energy, so Hockey’s comment will strike three out of four as being plain weird.
Perhaps he has swallowed the propaganda regularly churned out by Alan Jones, on whose program he made his remark, that wind farms “divide” communities. In my study of the history and distribution of noise or health complaints regarding all 52 Australian wind farms, I found just 129 cases of people who had ever complained out of an estimated 32700 people living within 5km. A majority of wind farms have never received any complaints, and there are no records of a a single complaint in all of Western Australia where there are many farms. Moreover, 72% of all complainants live near just six wind farms heavily targeted by the anti-wind farm lobby’s efforts to spread alarm and hostility. In another paper where I went on a fact checking hunt for the likely factoid that “over 40 families” had “abandoned” their homes, walking away from them without sale or compensation as the word implies, I found just 12 families claiming to have moved, two only temporarily. But many of these were known to have other reasons for moving, but found it useful to blame wind farms.
Would Joe Hockey prefer to drive past a filthy open cut coal mine on his way to Canberra? I suspect not. On my drive this morning I also saw quarries, highways, tall silos, towns, tunnels, bridges, massive power lines, radio towers, airports, rail lines, land clearance for cropping, and urban development. Over the decades, bucolic sentimentalists have used language like Joe Hockey’s for all of these. Thankfully, few of them were in positions of power to ban them.