Killing Australia’s Renewable Energy Target an Essential Economic Reboot

Combining climate with energy in a single policy setting is like combining a running child with super-sharp scissors: an unhealthy mix, prone to disaster.

The concept of cutting CO2 emissions from a system which is built (and continues to rely) on coal-fired power generation, has the necessary and inevitable result of killing that system. Wind and sun worshippers continue to claim that wind and solar will wholly replace what they’ve set out to destroy. Wind ‘powered’ South Australia stands as the perfect counterpoint to that nonsense.

On these pages, we have repeatedly advocated for nuclear power (the only stand-alone CO2 emissions free power source capable of providing baseload power) from a simple standpoint that if carbon dioxide gas really is ‘pollution’, there is only one solution.

Others, like The Australian’s Chris Kenny, approach the argument from another angle: by comparing Australia’s total CO2 emissions (1.4% of the global total) with those generated across the world, eliminating every trace of human activity, including power generation, would make no difference whatsoever to the world war on CO2. A mathematically sound argument, however it does not stare down the climate alarmist crowd in this country. Chris Kenny is right, though; the obsession with CO2 targets has led to the destruction of Australia’s once reliable and affordable power supply.

Dumping green folly will secure energy future, reboot economy
The Australian
Chris Kenny
16 September 2017

In the blink of an eye we are confronted by a national energy pricing and supply crisis. This is the cost of virtue signalling — that propensity for those on the political left, including moderates in the Liberal Party, to advocate policies aimed more at demonstrating their moral superiority than delivering practical results.

This nation’s most pressing economic challenge, it is also the most volatile political dilemma that threatens to derail Malcolm Turnbull’s career for a second time. (It cost him the Liberal leadership in 2009.) Climate and energy are set to define the next decade of ­national affairs just as they have plagued us since 2007.

To comprehend the politics we need a helicopter view; to examine first principles and the true aims of the policies. Far too much of the debate is predicated on gestures rather than results.

We are an energy-rich nation. Last year we exported 388 million tonnes of coal (valued at $35 billion) to supply affordable and ­reliable energy to countries such as Japan, China, South Korea and India. Our liquefied natural gas exports are doubling from 30 million tonnes a couple of years ago to almost 80 million tonnes (valued at $42bn) by 2019.

Australia also remains one of the largest exporters of uranium (nuclear energy is the ­silver bullet if we ever get serious about emissions) and, after a price and volume slump, trade will ­rebound to values of more than $1.2bn during the next few years.

While we happily export our energy advantage, we have deliberately sacrificed it at home. Households are paying some of the highest electricity prices in the world and manufacturing industries have been closing or downscaling because of cost pressures created in part by rapidly rising power prices. Energy bills are also creating commercial hardship for struggling retailers as well as hospitality and other sectors.

The largest single factor in the power crisis is the renewable ­energy target demanding 23 per cent of electricity be supplied by renewables, which are subsidised by consumers. When the renew­ables (mainly wind turbines) supply power they can do so at zero cost, thereby undercutting the viability of baseload generators and hastening their demise. The trouble is renewable ­energy can’t supply all our needs at any time and, crucially, is intermittent and unreliable. So we still need all of the baseload and peaking generation.

Under this formula we must ­either be caught short of supply or need to almost double our investment in energy so every megawatt of renewable energy is backed up by storage or thermal generation.

And just when we need more rapid-response gas generation to back up wind energy we have a gas supply/price issue courtesy of long-term export contracts and state restrictions on exploration and exploitation. What a mess.

What we don’t ever hear our major party politicians ask is why we are doing this to ourselves. We might also expect this would be a line of inquiry for media in fearless pursuit of their audiences’ interests. But no; incurious acceptance of the imperative for emissions ­reductions is universal in the public broadcasters and love media.

News Corp papers and Sky News are the only mainstream media likely to offer a plurality of views. Journalists who sail with this zeitgeist will justify their position by pointing to the political consensus on the emissions reductions targets set in Paris. But public and media debate should not be about accommodating convenient bipartisan compromise; it should be about reality and the public ­interest.

If the justification for our self-imposed energy crisis is saving the planet, then any reference to the facts will expose the futility. Australia’s carbon emissions make up about 1.4 per cent of global emissions and we are looking to reduce them by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030. Simultaneously, emissions are rising elsewhere by quantities that dwarf our total emissions, let alone our inconsequential reductions.

As this newspaper reported this week, China has 299 coal-fired power stations under construction and India 132. Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, The Philippines, South Africa and other nations also are expanding coal-fired generation so that an extra 621 plants are under way. Yet we disrupt our economy, surrender a natural economic advantage, shed jobs and reduce our standard of living to phase out a handful of plants.

On the first principle of whether our efforts do any environmental good — no matter the urgency or otherwise of climate action — the answer is our efforts are pointless. So we are then left with the diplomatic commitment to Paris that both major parties support.

Astonishingly, less than a day after Donald Trump won the US election promising to abandon Paris, Malcolm Turnbull announced Australia’s ratification. The Prime Minister thumbed his nose at the obvious opportunity to hold out, see if the US withdrew (as it has) and perhaps forestall our own commitment.

The accord is dramatically weakened without the world’s largest economy, especially given other powerhouses such as China and India will continue to increase their emissions. (Ironically, perhaps no country is making a greater contribution to emissions red­uct­ions than the US through its innovation in areas such as fracking and battery technology.)

The Paris Agreement is not binding, so we don’t need to meet our targets anyway. Yet the political-media class seems viscerally locked onto them.

Turnbull talks about the energy “trilemma” of affordability, reliability and emissions reductions. But even the Finkel review noted these objectives are at odds with each other.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel tried to prescribe “policies that simultaneously provide a high level of energy security and reliability, universal access to affordable ­energy services, and reduced emissions. This is easier said than done. There is a tension between these three objectives.”

Neither Turnbull nor Finkel or Labor are willing to compromise on the third leg of the trilemma. Their starting point is emissions reductions; and they accept that reliability and affordability can be compromised to meet the target.

Finkel says: “The uncertain and changing direction of emissions reduction policy for the electricity sector has compromised the ­investment environment in the NEM.” But his solution — and that of the Coalition and Labor so far — is to try to formulate a settled, preferably bipartisan, emissions reductions scheme.

So the aim is to provide investment certainty even if it locks in higher electricity prices. The obvious alternative of relegating emissions reduction aims in favour of cheap, reliable power is simply not considered, even though we know it would have no discernible ­impact on the global environment. (We can always run other carbon abatement and energy efficiency schemes if we feel the need.)

The only pragmatic argument against scrapping the emissions reduction imperative is that it, too, may fail to break the investment strike because potential investors will still fear a future carbon pricing scheme. The political temptation is to lock in expensive and debilitating long-term policy solely to deliver the certitude of bipartisanship. This is the ­antithesis of seeking bipartisanship in the national interest.

All the federal government has succeeded in doing so far is taking ownership of the energy mess from the states. The Coalition will not admit that the RET — which it has backed, along with Labor, out of political convenience — is the heart of the problem.

On present settings the government is doomed to fail at the next election and then we will see a Labor government lock in permanently higher energy costs through a carbon pricing scheme. Perhaps the only salvation for the Coalition — and the economy — would be to call time on this green folly in the interests of protecting consumers, boosting jobs and rebooting a competitive advantage.

It would be a risky gambit contested by the rent-seekers in the energy sector. But it would be a fight for the national interest. The question is whether Turnbull, who has always claimed to be as green as Labor, can find it within himself to make the case.
The Australian

Another pretty solid article from Chris Kenny, but he might like to run a fact check over the story that battery technology has made any difference in the United States: the largest battery in the world sits in California, and it delivers a risible 80 MWh per delivery cycle. In fact, most of California’s wind and solar power is wasted, simply because there is no storage available, at all (see our post here).

There is no grid scale battery storage of electricity, anywhere in the world: 80 MWh would power South Australia for no more than 2 minutes.

In another blow to the ‘batteries will fix it’ crowd, The Australian ran an article titled ‘Fears Musk deal a marketing con’, throwing serious doubt over SA Premier Jay Weatherill’s plan to plug into a $150 million Musk-mega-battery in time to prevent inevitable blackouts caused by wind power output collapses this Summer.

And Chris might also stop peddling the hackneyed tale that ‘wind turbines supply power .. at zero cost’.

What Chris probably meant to say is that wind power outfits can deliver power to the grid manager and happily receive nothing for it in the spot market. Indeed, wind power outfits in South Australia literally pay the grid manager to take their skittish wares.

What Kenny ignores is that the wind power outfit collects a Renewable Energy Certificate (currently worth $85) for each and every MWh delivered to the grid. That cost is added to retail power bills. In the majority of cases, the wind power outfit holds a Power Purchase Agreement with a retailer, under which it will receive a fixed and guaranteed price of around $110 per MWh, and it receives that amount irrespective of what it receives in the spot market. Hence the ability to literally give away electricity.

The REC subsidy is not zero cost: $85 per REC (under the LRET they are designed to trade at $93) compares with the cost of delivering coal-fired power to the grid of less than $40 per MWh. The cost of that subsidy to power consumers will top $2.6 billion this year alone and reach $3.1 billion a year from 2020 to 2030.

The insane cost of wind power subsidies to power consumers is not to be confused with the cost of running industrial wind turbines. These things have an economic lifespan of a little over a decade, simply because blades and bearings disintegrate; gearboxes and generators grind to a halt; and replacing any or all of these components costs serious money.

The long run marginal cost of wind power is around $55 per MWh.

Repairs, general maintenance, metal fatigue, wear and tear, blade and bearing failure all cost – and, together, help make intermittent, unreliable and intermittent wind power insanely expensive; and smash to bits the wind industry’s nauseating falsehood about wind power being “free”.

Wind farm operating costs are typically in the range of $25 per MWh dispatched to the grid. And due to the need for repairs to blades, gearboxes, generators, cooling systems, etc – or wholesale replacement thereof – that cost naturally increases over the life of the turbines used.

In its Energreen-like P&L Statement for 2013 (click here: Infigen Annual Report-2) Infigen set out the financial “performance” of its American and Australian operations. From page 26, here’s Table 16 relating to its Australian operations, where it reports “Operating Cost (A$/MWh) as $23.93 for 2012/13 compared to an “Average Price” of electricity sold of $96.57 per MWh.

Infigen operating costs

From page 29, here’s Table 20 where, on total operating costs of $36.3 million, $17.2 million is attributed to “Turbine O&M” (ie operation and maintenance); $0.9 million to “Balance of plant”; and $7.5 million to “Other direct costs”. Infigen’s US operations reported similar operating costs of US$24.18 per MWh for 2012/13 (refer to Infigen’s report at page 20 and Table 15 on page 24).

Infigen costs 2

In 2015, Infigen’s financials told much the same tale (and, ironically, included a veiled curse on the Wind Gods for its falling revenues):

Infigen 3

Bear in mind that wind farm operating costs of $24-25 per MWh compare with the ability of Victorian coal fired power generators to profitably deliver power to the grid at less than $25 per MWh.

The bulk of wind farm operating costs are taken up by maintenance and repairs: see Table 20 above (and see our post here for more detail).

Although some ‘repairs’ are more costly than others – if a ‘repair’ is possible, that is.

In this post we reported on a cluster of Suzlon S88s at a wind farm in Nicaragua that burst into flames and threw their blades to the four-winds – after which, one of them collapsed and hit the deck – all in spectacular fashion: the cause was said to be a “failure in their emergency braking systems”.

Then there’s the cost of a more mundane class of ‘repairs’.

The pictures below are of the bits and worn out pieces of Suzlon S88s taken at Suzlon’s yard in Jamestown, South Australia back in May 2016.

DSCN0644

The picture above is of the gearbox assembly of a Suzlon S88 that literally ground itself to a halt at (what was then) AGL’s Hallett 2 wind farm in SA. The main ring-gear in the planetary section split into multiple pieces, destroyed the housing and sent about 250 litres of gear oil – contained in the housing – raining down the inside of the tower.

The turbine in question was out of action for over 3 months: the replacement was under warranty, meaning Suzlon was liable to stump up for the cost of doing so. That it took so long is no wonder, as Suzlon – which suffered India’s biggest convertible-bond default in 2012 – was seriously struggling then and isn’t in any better shape now – even a name change to “Senvion” hasn’t helped.

As well as the gearbox self-destruction episode at Hallett 2, the 34 Suzlon’s S88s used there suffered a raft of generator failures, all requiring complete replacements.

STT’s SA operatives tell us that there are at least 3 of those 34 turbines that have not been operating for months now. The fact that there has been no attempt to repair or replace whatever is wrong with them suggests the cost of doing so is substantial and is not covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

DSCN0642

The photo above is of 4 ‘worn out’ generator assemblies from Hallett 2’s S88s that were replaced some time ago. The photo below is of a suite of new generator assemblies lined up to ready to replace other failed or failing S88 generators.

DSCN0645

The gearbox and generator failures in Suzlon’s S88s at Hallett 2 (a wind farm that only started operating in June 2009), stand alongside what was the wholesale replacement of blades at the Hallett 1 (Brown Hill) wind farm south of Jamestown.

There, 45 Suzlon S88s were used; commencing operation in April 2008. Not long into their operation, stress fractures began appearing in the 44m long blades; Suzlon claimed that there was a “design fault” and was forced by AGL to replace the blades on all 45 turbines, under warranty. A few of the stubs of the blades in question appear above: the main sections of the blades were ground up and incorporated in the concrete bases of other turbines near built near Jamestown (see our post here).

FYI, Chris Kenny et al, wind turbines are hardly a zero cost power delivery system.

Oh, almost forgot, they spontaneously combust, too!

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. We rightly complain about the confusion of issues in Green Environment Movement policy – in particular the confusion over the application of Renewables to the task of dealing with Climate Change, that attempts to hide the reality that Green proposals in practical terms come down to a fossil fuel generating structure guaranteeing baseload power, with a wind and solar intermittent generating structure hopefully able to partially or totally replace fossil fuel station output, some, or at least part of the time.

    As a means of eradicating CO2 and Greenhouse gas emissions it is a fraud. It is a fraud that places the avoidance of nuclear power utilisation ahead of rescuing the Climate

    In fact this policy is so ridiculous that it is the Achilles heel of the anti nuclear lobby that has usurped the Environment Movement

    We should not make the same error. Climate Change long ago passed out of the realm of uncomfortable and inconvenient theory into the are of “Clear and Present Danger” The role of fossil fuel use emissions, makes selling the fossil fuel industry, in all its incarnations rather like trying to sell a pork chop in a synagogue

    The main cause of Climate Change was the failure to respond to doctors warnings about respiratory, and other diseases, linked to fossil fuel pollution. The Scientific and technological solution has been there since the mid sixties – a rapid switch over in power generation to nuclear power, and a phasing out, where possible ,of the internal combustion engine, through its replacement with electric motors – especially in the realms of private motoring and public transport.

    Had that switch over taken place in the nineteen sixties, there would have been NO Climate Change threat. The real argument has ALWAYS been over the replacement of fossil fuels, as an energy source, by nuclear power. Renewables are just a blind alley in the main argument, a red herring. They can contribute in a very valuable way, but they cannot actually run the show

    The pressing need for affordable power, for clean air, for limiting or even reversing Climate Change is to get the argument back on track – exposing the real battle

    Renewables will prove of themselves, even to the dopiest Green Cultist, that they can’t do the job. A few blackouts and a few hospitals out of power, or people stuck in lifts, may get the message through. But getting back on track will take a long while if we do not start building the needed nuclear power stations and infrastructure now – To me that is where our efforts should be directed – cutting through the nonsense that the Environment Movement has swallowed from the remnants of CND Cold War propaganda

    The issue is fossil fuels versus nuclear power – it always was and will remain so until an entirely new mass power source is discovered. The only transformation in the argument has been that we now have a plethora of intermittent sources that can provide us with additional power particularly suited to local use where intermittency poses no problems – such as domestic situations , irrigation and agricultural use and items such as desalination and hydro pumping

    The future lies in a co-operation between renewables and nuclear power with a recognition that one renewable source – wind turbine power – has major problems of effect on residential areas, destruction of landscape and environment, and simple rotten design. They are largely junk. And that is really what is wrong with them – noisy, ugly, unreliable, badly designed medieval junk…

    • Nuclear makes wind and solar redundant, so why concede they have any place at all? Renewables rent seekers will never cooperate with nuclear generators. And in this country you have a long way to go to convince any political party to advocate for nuclear power.

  2. Son of a Goat says:

    In the twitter world Kenny is in many a battle royal with those rent seeking, prolific twitter jockeys such as Simon Holmes a court.

    Don’t let’m get to you Kenny, as a wise man I once knew observed of them,
    “there seems to be more steam coming out of their nostrils and wind out of their arse, than any of their projects.”

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