Monday, September 03, 2012

Hopes of slashing greenhouse emissions just blowing in the wind

The early signs are that a $23 carbon tax has displaced some marginal high-cost generation in South Australia and Queensland, but it is too soon to say whether this is a trend or coincidence.

But any gains are swamped by the findings of a two-year analysis of Victoria's wind-farm developments by mechanical engineer Hamish Cumming.

His analysis shows that despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from green energy schemes driven by the renewable energy target, Victoria's wind-farm developments have saved virtually zero carbon dioxide emissions in the state.

A forensic examination of publicly available power-supply data shows Victoria's carbon-intensive brown-coal power stations do not reduce the amount of coal they burn when wind power is available to the grid.

independent energy analysts who say it is more efficient to keep a brown-coal power-station running than turn it down and then back up.

Without gas or some other form of peaking power supply the Victorian electricity system is not equipped for the vagaries of wind power.

Even in SA, which uses gas, not coal, for base-load power and makes much greater use of wind, Cumming estimates the cost of greenhouse gas abatement at $1484 a tonne.

Cumming used data published by the Australian Energy Market Operator, which tracks power sector generation every five minutes.

The results showed fossil fuel generators, in the same periods when wind turbines had been operating, fluctuated their output to match demand but did not reduce their rate of coal consumption.

In an email to Cumming, electricity generator IPR-GDF SUEZ Australia confirmed his findings.

"Given that the power stations mentioned are all 'baseload', their generation output is relatively constant 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, other than due to minor fluctuations depending on market demand and/or shutdown of generation units for maintenance or repairs," a company spokesman said.

Cumming says his investigation demonstrates how green energy theories do not always match the facts.

A two-year email exchange between Cumming and energy companies and government regulators shows how the industry would prefer to rely on models than real-world data.

In response to questions from Inquirer, the AEMO admits that wind power presents some "challenges" but says it does displace greenhouse gas emissions from coal and gas.

"When wind is blowing and generating electricity it displaces coal and gas-fire plant in the dispatch merit order," AEMO principal media adviser Melissa Baldwin says. "As a result, fossil fuel fired plant burns less coal (or gas)."

In theory, maybe.

Cumming references an AEMO presentation to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission where the AEMO showed that for the wind farms in SA in 2009 the greenhouse gas abatement was only 3 per cent of the total capacity of the wind farms installed.

This equated to a 0.6 per cent reduction of greenhouse gases for the entire state's electrical generation from fossil fuels.

Since then Cumming says he has established that even with the continued expansion of wind farms in South Australia, the AEMO figures show the abatement has risen to only about 4 per cent of the installed capacity, or just more than 1 per cent greenhouse gas abatement.

This is the same figure that was established in the past three months in The Netherlands and presented to the Dutch parliament. The Netherlands report suggests the greenhouse gas used to build and maintain a wind farm will not be abated even across the total life of the wind farm.

Cumming says this is exactly what he has been telling the state and federal government for the past three years.

He says the greenhouse gas savings in Victoria are even less.

In a letter to Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark, Cumming said the owners of Yallourn, Hazelwood and Loy Yang power stations had confirmed in writing that the power stations combined consume about 7762 tonnes of coal an hour.

"They have confirmed that the power stations do not change the coal feed intake 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The coal consumed by these three power stations alone makes base-load power available at a rate of 6650 megawatts," Cumming wrote. "Victoria also burns coal powering an additional emergency standby of 630 megawatts, according to Sustainable Victoria documents that were presented in your Mortlake Planning Panel. Victoria's demand only exceeds 6650MW generally for less than 10 hours every 72, and rarely exceeds 7200MW.

"AEMO five-minute data shows that peaks are picked up (ones that exceed base load) by Hydro or fossil fuel generators."

Cumming has called for Victoria's wind developments to be stripped of public subsidies.

"I have now confirmed that Acciona is not abating any GHG at all, nor has it ever nor will it during the life of the project," Cumming wrote to Clark. "Can you please arrange for a full forensic carbon audit to be performed on Acciona Waubra, and when you also conclude that it is not abating GHG, make it repay the RECs (renewable energy certificates) and other subsidies it is claiming, and ensure Acciona is charged a carbon tax of approximately $15m that it owes."

Hugh Saddler, managing director of Sustainability Advice Team Pty Ltd, says brown-coal power stations in particular are designed and built to operate on a continuous load basis. "You can see that in the longer term, in term of emissions policy, you would get a better outcome from closing down one of the brown-coal power stations altogether and using some more gas for the load following," he says.

In response to Cumming's findings, David Clarke, senior manager, community relations for Acciona Energy, which operates the Waubra wind farm, said a SKM report commissioned by the Clean Energy Council found "a 100MW wind farm operating at 35 per cent capacity factor would each year on average reduce emissions by 26,700 tonnes in the National Electricity Market." And a Sustainability Victoria commissioned report in 2006 found "abatement of between 0.25 and 0.31 million tonnes per annum for the 100MW".

However, Cumming said the reports on greenhouse gas abatement did not take into account the continuation of burning coal during the time the wind farms were operational.

"The reports you refer to are theoretical abatements, not real facts. Coal was still burnt and therefore little if any GHG was really abated," he told Clarke.

"Rather than trying to convince me with reports done by or for the wind industry, or the government departments promoting the industry, I challenge you to give me actual coal consumption data in comparison to wind generation times data that supports your argument.

"The AEMO data for this clearly shows Waubra is not abating any GHG, nor has it since the first day it began operation."  


New effort to deter illegals

FOOTAGE of a rickety fishing boat being battered by waves is part of a new multimedia campaign outlining Australia's tough new stance targeted at asylum seekers.

As authorities intercepted a boat carrying 81 suspected asylum seekers off the West Australian coast yesterday - the 10th boat to be intercepted since August 22 - the federal government will today launch its "No Advantage" strategy in countries such as Afghanistan, Sri Lank and Indonesia, telling people that they risk processing in Nauru or PNG, may not be resettled in Australia, and cannot sponsor family members to join them.

Videos show unsafe fishing boats and no-frills offshore processing accommodation while imploring refugees to not deal with people smugglers. It comes after the drowning deaths of up to 100 last week when their wooden boat sank in the Sunda Strait, and the arrival of two boats carrying 145 at the weekend.

The 54 Afghans rescued from the sinking are now in Indonesian immigration detention, along with 50 Sri Lankans whose boat was found floundering on the Sumatran coast.

Brochures, posters and YouTube clips in Farsi, Arabic, Tamil, English and other languages tell people their claims will be heard no faster if they risk their lives and they should instead "do the right thing" and apply for visas, which have been increased to 20,000.

"The people smugglers' trade must be stopped to save people drowning at sea," the video says.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the message was "there is no advantage to risking a dangerous journey in a people smuggler's boat".

"They could be processed in Nauru or on Manus Island, and will wait just as long as they would in a refugee camp.

"They will not be able to sponsor family members under the humanitarian program, and there's no guarantee of resettlement in Australia."

Meanwhile, the Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Australia should begin sending Sri Lankan asylum seekers home immediately, as most were economic migrants.


I will boost school rankings - PM

Empty promises.  Ever if she were to survive the next election, pouring money in is a tried and failed strategy.  Better discipline is what is needed

THE Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will pledge today to elevate the international standing of Australian schools so they rank among the top five systems in the world by 2025. The plan is part of the new school funding system her government intends to make law before the next election.

In the government's response to the Gonski review of school funding, Ms Gillard will announce a plan for an ''Australian Education Act'' to enshrine the new funding model, meaning an incoming Coalition government would have to repeal the law if it wanted to return to the present model, its preferred system.

''By 2025, Australia should be ranked as a top-five country in the world for the performance of our students in reading, science and mathematics and for providing our children with a high-quality and high-equity education system,'' Ms Gillard is expected to say in a speech setting up school funding as a key platform for the next election.

Ms Gillard will outline what she says are the three main deficiencies: that although four of the top five schooling systems in the world are in our region, Australia is not among them; that poor Australian children have disproportionately low educational performances; and that as a country we are ''failing'' indigenous students.

The review called for $5 billion in extra funding but the government has so far refused to detail how much money it will tip into the new system. It and the Coalition have promised that no school will lose money.

But the government, unlike the Coalition, is committed to the funding principle the Gonski report recommends, where a base amount for each student is topped up if the student is disadvantaged or disabled.

While Ms Gillard will argue today that the new model ''strips away all the old debates about private versus public'', in essence it means public schools will receive more funding because they educate more disadvantaged children than private schools do.

The present funding model, under which each school gets money based on the socio-economic background of its students, will expire next year. The new model will begin in 2014. At present, funding is indexed at about 6 per cent a year.

The transition to the new system will not be complete until 2020 and will depend on the co-operation of the states. The government has not said what indexation the funding will attract.

The NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, said yesterday the states had a limited ability to raise revenue and would not support a new system unless the Commonwealth provided most of the extra cash.

''Any significant increase in schools funding has to be largely funded by the Commonwealth,'' Mr Piccoli said. ''That discussion hasn't begun. We are in a pretty tight situation as it is.''

The Commonwealth now provides 30 per cent of schools funding and states give the rest.


Where's the money coming from?

As the election clock begins sounding its metronome-like cadence, the promises are beginning to fall from the sky. There'll be pork in every barrel and a chicken in every pot.

There'll also be a filling in every dental cavity thanks to the scheme announced by the Federal Government last week.

We can only presume that Treasurer Swan has hit paydirt with his metal detector, stumbling upon a mountain of gold in the hills around Canberra.

He should get a shovel and start digging quickly because he has about 10 weeks in which to find almost $4 billion for the dental scheme just announced, with Health Minister Tanya Plibersek vowing that the source of these funds "will all be accounted for" in the Government's mid-year economic forecast due by November 8.

Will the new scheme be funded by cutting back on existing health services? No comment from the minister on that score.

Some money will be saved by scrapping the present Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, dumped, Plibersek said, because it was being rorted by "millionaires".

In the interview I heard, Plibersek was fixated on her "millionaire" theme.

Apparently millionaires around the country are driving about in their Bentley convertibles flashing pearly white smiles, all paid for with funds rorted from the tax dollars contributed by little Aussie battlers.

To listen to Plibersek, you would have been hard-pressed to find a vacant seat in a dentist's waiting room in recent years, these being filled to overflowing with millionaires lining up for free crowns and veneers. Bastards!

She didn't mention that the scheme also provided vital dental care for low-income earners who will now be deprived of any assistance until the new scheme starts some time in 2014, well and truly after the federal election.

Should Swan's earnest shovelling unearth $4 billion, there will be no rest for the Treasurer, there being barely time for a few quick choruses of Born in the USA - Nambour in his case - before resuming the search for further billions. 

These will be needed to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Once it is up and running, it is estimated the scheme will cost $14.5 billion a year, including the $6.5 billion the states are already spending so someone - Hello! Mr Swan! Are you there or just Dancing in the Dark? - has to find an extra $8 billion a year.

By the end of the decade, the Productivity Commission estimates, the NDIS may have consumed $50 billion.  Dig, dig, shovel, shovel!

This does not take into account that other political pie now floating through the electoral sky, the Gonski education review, which will cost $5 billion to implement.

Increased spending on asylum-seekers and the provision of facilities on Nauru and Manus Island will soak up another $2 billion, a figure certain to balloon.

The Government might have shelved increases in defence spending until 2016-17 but this merely postpones the inevitable and means massive catch-up funding will be required, with estimates putting this figure at around $10 billion by 2020.

Fortunately, there's no cause for concern.

There'll be a Budget surplus and all these funds will be found through savings and the schemes - NDIS, dental care and Gonski - unfunded and promised for after the next federal election, will all come to fruition.

Of course they will.


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