August 10th 2019


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Boris Johnson and the EU: Crash through or just crash

EDITORIAL When will Morrison stamp his authority on his mandate?

CANBERRA OBSERVED A quick peek into the security shadows

ENVIRONMENT When apex predators hit the turbines, think of the clean energy

HUMAN RIGHTS Unalienable rights can be recognised, not made up

SECURITY Australian Signals Directorate comes out of the shadows

RURAL AFFAIRS Distress, economic and societal, pervades Australia

GENDER POLITICS I was America's first non-binary person: It was all a sham

FICTION Mick and the Little Man

HUMOUR Japan G20: Donny meets Jenny

MUSIC Dire tonics: Departure from harmony has proved a flop

CINEMA The Lion King: Remake takes a deeper look

BOOK REVIEW Public enemy No. 1 and his twin, No. 2

BOOK REVIEW In the market with the Angelic Doctor

POETRY

ZEG'S PLACE

NSW ABORTION BILL Clear and present danger to women's health

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ENVIRONMENT
When apex predators hit the turbines, think of the clean energy


by Chris McCormack

News Weekly, August 10, 2019

 

  • Former Greens leader Bob Brown highlights wind farms’ deficiencies
  • Proposed Tasmanian wind farm will kill animals and ruin landscapes
  • International research shows the high death toll of solar thermal and wind farms

Do wind farms provide an environmental benefit or are they a hazard? Former Greens leader Bob Brown believes the latter, at least if they’re planned for Tasmania.

Brown has been variously described as a NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) and a hypocrite for opposing the $1.6 billion Robbins Island Energy Park near Stanley, in Tasmania’s northwest, despite having relentlessly promoted wind and solar energy for years.

Presenting an eyesore of gargantuan proportions, the development will comprise up to 200 wind turbines, each soaring 270 metres above the ground, and in so doing dwarfing The Nut’s prominence at Stanley, at 143 metres high. It would be one of the world’s (nominally) largest renewable energy projects, with a nameplate capacity of 400–1,000 megawatts, which may include solar energy and battery backup.

In reality, because wind and solar rely solely on favourable weather conditions for their electricity generation, and upon which battery storage’s capacity is also reliant, it is virtually impossible to calculate the level of electricity generation from these sources.

In an opinion piece in Tasmania’s Mercury newspaper (“Talking Point: A proposal to build hundreds of 270m-high wind turbines on Robbins Island should be worrying”, July 8, 2019), Brown wrote that “Tasmania already has more than enough electricity to meet its own needs” and decried the proposal to export power to the mainland.

This is rich, coming from someone who led a party relentlessly advocating for taxpayer funding of renewable energy and government policies penalising fossil fuels, which has hastened the closure of coal-fired power stations on the mainland, leading to a shortage of electricity supply.

Tasmania’s western half is blessed with high rainfall and mountainous terrain, making it ideal for hydroelectric power. However, in drier years it relies on imports of energy from the mainland to meet demand. In the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 financial years, it had to import more energy from the mainland than it exported, by a large margin, and even had to crank up its diesel generators in 2015-16 to meet demand.

Brown is patently wrong in claiming that Tasmania does not need any more electricity generation. The state’s energy shortfall is due in no small part to his efforts to prevent new hydroelectricity there, especially his campaign against the Franklin Dam in the 1980s. One could say, the renewable energy chickens Brown and his ilk have hatched have come home to roost as the mainland is now in need of more power generation, and northwest Tasmania now looms as the next “ideal” renewable energy location that will export its power north.

Brown wrote: “The world needs energy efficiency and renewable energy to replace fossil fuels, and fast.” Yet he then complains that the planned transmission lines from Robbins Island to the proposed Jim’s Plain Renewable Energy Park, and on to Smithton, will cut through the Tarkine wilderness area. This is the stark reality of renewable energy developments; their location is based on proximity to plentiful wind or sun, which can mean destroying a wilderness area and its wildlife in the name of “saving the planet”.

Brown is right to point out that the wind turbines will be a blight on the landscape, visible, he claims, for up to 50 kilometres out to sea and even further from elevated areas on land. He is right to voice concerns as to whether profits flowing from the project will remain in Tasmania or simply line the coffers of the Chinese-based multinational company, UPC Renewables, which will develop it. He is right to question how many birds, including endangered ones (he lists no less than 28 species that frequent the area, including large birds of prey), will meet a bloody end after flying unawares into spinning wind turbines.

But why was Brown mute in voicing these same legitimate concerns about the 94 wind farms that have been built and the dozens more planned or under construction around Australia? Many areas have had their natural amenity destroyed and bird populations affected after wind turbines sprang up. Their efficacy in producing continuous power is discredited, but their efficacy in destroying the natural environment is evident.

In India, researchers found that areas with wind farms revealed a 75 per cent decline in the number of buzzards, hawks and kites, compared with those areas without wind farms. Wind turbines act as the new apex predator, killing birds of prey and creating a ripple effect down the food chain.

A two-year study by wildlife charity Max Birdlife, partly supported by the Walney Extension Offshore Wind Farm Project, revealed a 40 per cent decline in the numbers of sea birds around the Irish Sea, which is home to the 189 wind-turbine Walney Extension, currently the world’s largest offshore wind farm, and Gwynt y Môr, the world’s fourth largest offshore wind farm, with 160 wind turbines.

In 2016, in the United States, the Obama administration created regulations to allow killing of the protected species of bald or golden eagles at a rate of up to 4,200 per company that operated wind turbines.

Tough: The environment loses to environmentalism.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation produced a paper entitled, “The Impact of Wind Energy on Wildlife and the Environment” and pointed to the problem in various jurisdictions where the protected status of landscapes did not extend to wind-farm developments in those areas, and the evidence of collusion between the wind industry and planners.

The foundation cites studies estimating that about 1,200 billion, or 5 per cent, of Germany’s migratory insects are killed by the spinning blades of wind turbines, and the fact that new technology had to be developed to clean the blades to prevent power losses. The German Wildlife Foundation’s ongoing research is looking into an estimated 75 per cent decrease in flying insects in the last 20 years. Germany averages one wind turbine every 2.6 kilometres, totalling 29,000 in number.

The paper cites a study by Smallwood (2013) that estimates 573,000 bird fatalities each year (including 83,000 raptors) due to collision with turbine blades for the 51,630 megawatts of installed wind-energy capacity in the U.S. in 2012.

A study of bird numbers on completion and 6½ years after the construction of a wind farm in southern Spain showed that the numbers of non-raptors had significantly declined, while raptors recovered to slightly lower numbers than pre-construction.

The Norwegian island of Smola boasted a large population of sea eagles. Despite ornithologists warning against constructing a wind farm there, it went ahead, and 60 sea eagles have collided with the wind turbine blades in the last 16 years.

The paper also references the case of the Altamont Pass, near San Francisco in California, U.S., where a wind farm was built, against the advice of ornithologists. Seventy-five to 110 golden eagles are killed by turbine blades at that location annually.

Birds of prey seem to be over-represented in a study of 46 wind farms in Germany in which researchers walked 7,700 kilometres underneath a total of 12,800 wind turbines over a three-month period. They found that, while birds of prey and geese accounted for only 2 per cent of live sightings, they comprised almost one-third of corpses sighted.

Bat mortality rates due to wind turbines range between 0.6 and 11 annual deaths per MW of installed capacity in Europe, the U.S. and Canada. In Germany, an estimated 10 to 12 bats are killed per wind turbine.

One calls to mind the widespread weeping and gnashing of teeth over the BP oil spill’s effect upon birds in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 2,303 visibly oiled dead birds were collected “within the Deepwater Horizon/BP incident impact area”. Why has there been no outcry over the estimated 2.9 million birds that have been killed by wind turbines in the U.S. since then?

The 392-megawatt Ivanpah concentrated solar thermal plant in California, the world’s largest in 2014, is said to be responsible for a bird dying every two minutes (up to 28,000 a year). They are being fried as they fly past the 427-degree solar rays focused on a receiving tower, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The world’s largest solar thermal plant was planned for Port Augusta in South Australia until it failed to secure funding in April. The birds of the northern Spencer Gulf can rest easy, for the time being.

Even if one ignores their infrequent electricity production, solar thermal and wind farms are not the “planet-savers” that vested interests and the media are perpetually telling us. Bob Brown’s outspokenness on the Robbins Island wind farm has drawn attention to their toll on the natural landscape and wildlife.

Lawmakers should put a moratorium on wind farms and solar thermal until they can be demonstrated to be both advantageous to the environment and a source of reliable power.




























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