Paul’s Epistle to the Australian Electricity Consumer


By popular demand – here’s Paul’s Epistle to Australian power punters.

In our last post, Paul Miskelly gave Ian Macfarlane an almighty serve over his apparent sympathy for wind weasels.

We’ve been overwhelmed by the number of hits on – and with the responses to – Paul’s extremely well-crafted challenge to the new Industry Minister.

Here’s the letter that Paul sent to the editor of Acoustics Australia (and Macfarlane) – giving the wind industry’s pet acoustic consultants a solid whack over their (self-justified) failure to go in to bat for rural communities – a failure that STT puts down to their love of filthy wind weasel lucre and their collective contempt for hard-working, rural Australian families.

Letter to the Editor
Paul Miskelly, Mittagong, NSW

Response to article by S. Cooper, “Wind farm noise – an ethical dilemma for the Australian Acoustical Society?”, Acoustics Australia 40(2), 139-142 (2012)

I would like to add to the discussion raised by Mr Steven Cooper’s article “Wind farm noise – An ethical dilemma for the Australian Acoustical Society?”, Acoustics Australia 40(2),139-142 (2012).

Letters from Kym Burgemeister and Marshall Day Acoustics (both in Acoustics Australia 40(3), December 2012), each make the important point that there is a need to balance the impacts from any given technology on local residents against its benefits to the wider community.  It is the latter – the supposed benefits or, “the greater good”, provided by wind farms – that I wish to address here.

The wind industry and its academic supporters tell us that, while individual wind farms produce an electricity output that is variable, that by spreading a number of wind farms across a wider region, their combined output becomes sufficiently smoothed so that, with a little balancing from gas turbine generation, the combination can readily replace coal-fired power-stations. See, for example, Diesendorf [1].

Thus, we are told, wind farms provide a direct benefit to the wider community by reducing the CO2 emissions from fossil-fuelled generation.  This, I understand, has become a generally accepted view among the government policymakers involved in the wind farm approval process.

I am an electrical engineer.  I thought to test this smoothing hypothesis[2].  The operator of the eastern Australian grid, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) publishes, on a daily basis, the previous day’s operational data for all registered generators.  The data is published as the output at each 5-minute data point for all such times in the 24-hour period, that is, 288 data points for each of more than 300 generators on that grid.

There is now a total of some 2700 MW of installed wind farm capacity spread across the eastern Australian grid, the most far-flung grid on earth, over a region that is 1200 km in its east-west extent, and some 500 km over a north-south extent, making this network of wind farms one of the most widely dispersed in the world.  I thought to analyse the performance of this network of wind farms for the full calendar year 2010.  At that time, the total installed wind capacity totalled a little over 2500 MW, incidentally making it a larger capacity than that of a single coal-fired power-station.

In light of the generally accepted view stated above, the results were little short of astonishing.  Not only is there no appreciable smoothing of the wind farm output, but there occur very frequently through the course of a year what can only be termed common-mode failures of the entire wind farm fleet.

I chose a figure of 2% of installed capacity as the minimum acceptable level of output.  (I am advised by other electrical engineers that this figure is “kind” to the wind industry: those others would have chosen a figure of 5% as the minimum acceptable figure, a figure that would have resulted in an even worse result.)  Using my 2% minimum figure as the failure criterion, the wind farm fleet failed on some 109 occasions in 2010.

To provide some perspective, the unscheduled outage of one major conventional power-station once a year would be deemed unacceptable.  This is a direct comparison, in terms of presently installed wind farm capacity, but, in addition, the failure of the entire conventional generation fleet – for this is also a direct comparison – on any single occasion, would be regarded as catastrophic, and would result in a national inquiry.

In addition to the common-mode failure, there were numerous occasions through the calendar year where wind output dropped rapidly from high values, requiring the rapid response of fast-acting gas turbine generation to fill the gap.  The rapid response requirement results in inefficient operation of such plant, resulting in excessive CO2 emissions at such times.

Inhaber [3] determined, using a conservative approach, that as a result of this excessive fuel consumption, that where wind installed capacity approaches 20 percent of total installed generation capacity (the Federal government’s renewable energy target), any resulting CO2 emissions saving is completely nullified by the inefficiencies resulting from the frequent, rapid ramping.

This result is due entirely to the prevailing meteorology: the frequent passage of large high-pressure systems cause occasions where the wind is not blowing anywhere across the entire grid [2]. As a result, increasing the wind farm fleet is no solution to the common-mode failure problem.

Indeed, continued increase in installed capacity would merely result in the increased risk of catastrophic grid collapse, as a consequence of the increased absolute magnitude of the swings in wind farm output.  Miskelly and Quirk [4] also address the impact of these wind-caused sudden variations in demand.

These findings concur with the empirical observations being made in both the UK and Germany, for example, where there is a new understanding, based on operational experience, that wind energy is both not decreasing CO2 emissions to any appreciable extent, but is also placing the continued operational security and reliability of those countries’ respective grids under increasing strain.

I respectfully suggest to members of the AAS that, in the light of these findings, it is time to give serious consideration to the possibility that the “greater good” to be had from grid-connected wind farms is not only minimal, but that it is indeed likely to be non-existent. Therefore, any noise impacts on nearby residents resulting from the operation of wind farms are totally unacceptable.

As a result of these findings the ethical issue raised by Steven Cooper takes on a new importance: given that it is clear from these findings that wind energy technology on the eastern Australian grid is a colossal failure in terms of meeting its stated objective, I suggest that currently-misguided policy strategies by governments require a robust response from AAS members. For example, in NSW, as a first such response, the present exemption of wind farms from the stringent requirements of the NSW INP now require, I suggest, that AAS members practising in that jurisdiction lodge objection regarding that exemption as a matter of urgency with the relevant departmental Directors-General.

Paul Miskelly
BE, MEngSc (both degrees in Electrical Engineering)

STT’s never been much of a fan of the ol’ “greater good” theory.  While its proponents often start off with all the very best of intentions – things can go completely off the rails every now and again: the “Great Leap Forward“, wasn’t really.

20 million corpses is a small price to pay for a glorious “revolution”.
It was – after all – for the “greater good”.

[1] M. Diesendorf, The base-load myth, The Drum, ABC, 2011 (last accessed July 2013)
[2] P. Miskelly, “Wind Farms in Eastern Australia – Recent Lessons”, Energy & Environment 23(8), 1233-1260 (2012)
[3] H. Inhaber, “Why wind power does not deliver the expected emissions reductions”, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 15(6), 2557-2562 (2012)
[4] A. Miskelly and T. Quirk, “Wind Farming in South Eastern Australia”, Energy & Environment 20(8)-21(1), 1249-1256 (2009-2010)

18 thoughts on “Paul’s Epistle to the Australian Electricity Consumer

  1. I’d like to provide some clarification as to my reasons for writing the letter to the AAS Journal. My intention most certainly was not, as Noel Dean asserts here, to “take a shot at” acousticians. Rather it was to inform AAS members that wind farm electrical performance, a matter that is normally outside of their competence to comment upon, a matter that they have otherwise to receive as accepted fact, is now shown by my analysis, (an analysis that I as an electrical engineer, am qualified to perform), to be of questionable value.
    My understanding is that, to become an accredited member of the Australian Acoustical Society, a person has to have, as a minimum requirement, a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical Engineering from an approved university, majoring in Sound & Vibration. As such, acousticians would not normally have any formal training in electrical engineering. They therefore have to accept that where the planning authorities ask them to assess any particular development, that they are required to do the important, (and often complex and difficult), task to try to find an acceptable balance between any likely noise impact and the provision of what they are told is an essential service. Remember that most of the time acousticians assess the noise impact of what are unquestionably essential service projects, whether they be airports, real powerstations, mining operations, etc.
    This matter of engineering competence can often be confusing to those who are not engineers. As an electrical engineer, I may properly comment on wind farm electrical performance, so long as I demonstrate that I have carried out an appropriate analysis. An acoustician may not. Similarly, I may NOT presume to provide expert comment on matters that are properly the domain of acousticians, such as noise “annoyance” (using the term in the strict sense that acousticians use), or the degree of impact on residents, because I am not a qualified acoustician. I trust that this explanation is helpful: in providing this information to the AAS, no disrespect to the AAS or any member was intended or implied.
    Finally, it is humbling to be receiving all this publicity for merely doing my job!

  2. Paul has done good work, but having a shot at AAS members, I think is out of order. This is because a member of the AAS and a group of international experts put together “The Dean Report”. This report identified the failings that had allowed badly designed windfarms to be built. These were poorly-enforced planning conditions and wind farm design rules. This report was released publicly, free of charge, by myself 3 years ago. The findings have not been challenged and are very damning of the placement of turbines so close together by wind farm engineers. The Acoustic people doing the predictions have not been trained to allow for wakes and turbulence coming from turbines being placed close together on steep hills. They have not been trained in using wind speed to assess noise with the turbines running at half power when there is no wind at the receptor to demonstrate the resultant lack of compliance.

    I strongly suggest that Paul challenge the engineering ethics of the people designing these wind farms because there has been 4 turbines placed in a area where only one turbine would have been required using best practice engineering. I think that these wind farms were not necessarily built to produce power, but more to produce income from subsidies.

    Noel Dean

  3. Unfortunately it seems Codes of Conduct and ethics mean nothing to people involved in this industry. From top to bottom of it such things are brushed aside under some mythical banner of ‘the greater good’. Mythical, because what actually does it mean? Who are the ‘greater’, shouldn’t it be you and me or are the ‘greater’ now those who can manipulate, lie and be corrupted?
    What ever happened to honesty, the rights of individuals and working to ensure a safe environment for all. When did the wholesale weight on fraud, misrepresentation and lies become the norm in this country?
    When did self interest above all become accepted as the only rule of thumb?
    When did these become the norm throughout the world infesting the UN and WHO?
    Where are the watchdogs we expected would ensure our safety?
    The sooner our new Government shuts the door on this behaviour the better, the sooner a moratorium is called to stop anymore turbines going up the better, the sooner those involved in this thoroughly corrupt industry are brought to account the better.
    The sooner the Australian’s suffering are given relief the better. The sooner our money is stopped from streaming into the pockets of those running this industry the better.
    It is possible all it needs is a determined Government who will not be swayed by the misrepresentative and fraudulent behaviour of its proponents.
    Keep at them Paul and all those others working to bring the truth to the for.

  4. Thank you Mr Miskelly for laying bare the insidious toxic Green lie that this industry has any significant low carbon energy benefit whatsoever.

    Add to that the lie perpetuated by acousticians with a clear conflict of interest, that there is no adverse acoustic impact on human health and wellbeing, in spite of the NASA/Kelley evidence to the contrary published in the scientific peer reviewed literature over 25 years ago. This was presented at an international wind energy conference in 1987, and Chief Scientist Kelley himself has recently confirmed that the scientific principles of that original paper still apply to contemporary turbine design.

    This corrupt industry damaging the economy and neighbours health and well-being has no-where to hide, except behind corrupt governments, corrupt elected representatives, and blinkered Green ideologues. And the odd Mafia investor.

    Time for Mr Abbott’s new Government to take a stand against this international crime, stop the rort, and launch an immediate Royal Commission into the Economic and Health Abuses of the Wind Industry.

    And before the Climate Commission, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and cronies shred any more documents.

  5. Thank you again Paul for a very succinct exposé.

    I am one of those who are unfortunate enough to live in the community known as the “greater good”. I also live as a host of the “greater good”. I guess I’m a rare beast.

    It might sound strange, but I can’t wait for my income to be cut by having the turbines in our area removed. It is becoming rather expensive having to go out of the district at least once per fortnight for a few days just to get some sleep.

    Just as an aside, we had overseas visitors stay overnight in our home a couple of days ago. Next morning, one of the guests asked us what was the pulsing drumming “noise” that kept her awake most of the night? We told her it was the same noise that keeps us awake or at least, disturbed every night. Wind turbines!

    Even if the wind industry does come to a halt, how do we deal with the current contracts on existing wind power installations? I suspect it will be a right mare’s nest of litigation. I wouldn’t be a wind weasel for quids!

  6. Miskelly writes that Burgemeister and Marshall Day make the point that there is a need to balance the impacts from any given technology on local residents, against its benefits to the wider community. Perhaps these gentlemen’s statements explain the inexplicable – why do many acousticians ignore the fact and magnitude of the impact?

    Now it is clear, they as believers (and well paid experts in the renewables crusade) have made the judgement of what is in the greater good (and incidentally in their own) and with magisterial arrogance, have condemned many families to permanent and cruel suffering.

  7. Well done Paul & STT, for continuing to state the obvious. One would hope that eventually the powers that be, will grasp the realities of this ludicrous scam & bring it & the suffering of so many, to an end.

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