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All about the spin on wind turbines

Newcastle Herald, 29 July 2014

WIND turbines make wind, apparently. At least, that’s what I think the spokesman for state treasurer Andrew Constance was trying to say, when he commented on the government banning wind turbines from the now-privately-owned port of Newcastle.

You will be aware, I’m sure, that the lone turbine on Kooragang has to be shifted because its foundations are in the way of some kind of shipping thing the coal industry might need some day.

Until this week, however, you might not have realised that the government wrote into the sale contract for the port that there must be no more wind turbines built in the vicinity.

You might have thought, as I might have too, that this was just another way for the state government-coal industry axis to do every little thing it can to suppress and destroy alternative energy technologies.

But we’d have been wrong. The treasurer’s spokesman helpfully pointed out that the whole idea was to avoid the risk of wind turbines spreading coal dust across Newcastle. (I swear I am not making this up.)

Apparently the coal just sits comfortably in its gigantic mounds on Kooragang, holding its dust close and doing all it can to be a good citizen.

But put a wind turbine close by and it all turns sour, because the turbine whips up the placid air, hurtling tornadoes of carcinogenic particles up the noses of Novocastrians.

This is one of those times when I slap myself on the forehead and recognise my foolishness. Because until now I had thought that wind turbines just harnessed passing breezes, spinning some kind of electrical gizmo that sent out streams of electrons to power the laptops of greenies.

Now, corrected by the government, I realise that just as steel mills make steel, windmills produce wind.

I gather that, on a good day, your average wind turbine can make as much wind as one house of parliament. Given the right conditions it can spin as much as a government PR spokesman.

How they would have loved these in the grand old days of sail! And what a boon one of these could be to kite flyers.

But alas, like much technology, the harm has been shown to outweigh any possible benefits.

To save us from coal dust, wind turbines must be banned.

And you thought the government didn’t care about coal dust. You thought it was too pathetic and gutless to even make the multinationals cover their railway wagons.

Now you know the truth.

Don’t miss next week’s state government newsletter: “How solar panels are warming the planet”.

Still on the subject of energy, the federal government was obliged to report the results this week of the “Smart Grid Smart City” trial its Labor predecessor had launched.

The idea was to work out whether and how an intelligent power grid could pare back electricity usage, cutting peaks in use and reducing the need for excessive investment in “gold-plated” poles and wire infrastructure.

Back a few years ago this seemed like a good idea, but times have changed.

Now the feds are pushing the states to sell the poles and wires, and if the “gold-plating” provisions are dropped that might affect the price the privateers will pay for the network.

After all, it’s the income stream that makes these assets valuable, and if we interfere with the potential income stream we damage the up-front value, right?

Maybe that’s why Newcastle Herald environment reporter Matthew Kelly (who went to Sydney for the unveiling of the results), noted a distinct lack of enthusiasm from politicians, even though the study found huge savings could be made.

And did you read the letter to the Editor in Tuesday’s Herald from Whitebridge power consumer Martin Epstein, who’d noticed something interesting about the latest round of electricity price rises?

You know that many lucky consumers have been forced to accept “smart meters”, designed to encourage households to shift power usage from peak to off-peak and shoulder periods.

Well, peak period power has just gone up 1.5 per cent, but off-peak and shoulder power has gone up 3.5 per cent, Martin wrote.

No matter what you do, they’ll get you.