If we could bottle hypocrisy and turn it into electricity, we would never have another blackout. Hypocrisy would be the ultimate renewable energy.
I learnt this week of another example. There are high quality deposits of coking coal in New Zealand. A small company, Bathurst Resources, produces two million tonnes of coal a year, including the thermal coal for New Zealand’s five coal fired power stations.
The New Zealand Prime Minister has made a big deal of being committed to action on climate change including by enshrining in law a commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2020. A little fact that New Zealand has done well to hide though is that Bathurst Resources has exemptions from NZ’s net zero target.
Unfortunately, Australia is not as good as talking out of both sides of its mouth. Unlike New Zealand we have actually met our Kyoto targets to reduce emissions by 2020, and we are going further. This week the New South Wales government has proceeded with plans to shut four coal fired power stations over the next 15 years.
Those four coal fired power stations have a combined total of 8500 megawatts of capacity and produce 70 per cent of New South Wales’s electricity.
To produce the same amount of electricity from solar panels would cover 130,000 hectares. In more visual terms, the entire urban Sydney area would need to be covered with solar panels. To replace the lost electricity with wind farms, over 600,000 hectares would be required, an area twice the size of the ACT.
Building renewable energy helps inner city people sleep at night but it keeps the rural people that have to live near wind farms stay awake. Inner city people seem guilt ridden by their steel and concrete dominated, planet harming lifestyle. But I won’t be holding my breath before I see wind towers cropping up on Manly beach.
Modern wind farms are large industrial units. This week I met with concerned residents of the small northern New South Wales town of Ben Lomond. There, a company plans to build over 20 wind turbines, each of them reaching to a height of 250 metres, just 50 metres shy of Centrepoint Tower in Sydney.
Some of these towers will be within one kilometre of people’s residences, closer than the guidelines suggest to protect people from the noise impacts of wind farms. I have met with
people that have had to sell their homes because they could not sleep through the infrasound waves emitted by wind farms.
There are other contentious wind farm developments in our area near Clark Creek. But wind farm operators too often get a free kick when it comes to regulations because they are viewed by many as angels who can’t do no wrong.
The most recent studies put the number of birds killed by wind farms at over 500,000 per year, and the risk to birds recently caused Bob Brown to oppose a wind farm in Tasmania. And, one wind turbine required 900 tons of steel, 2500 tons of concrete and 45 tons of plastic.
All of this environmental destruction won’t even properly replace the electricity from reliable coal fired power. In theory, we could generate as much electricity as those NSW coal fired power stations, on average, by blanketing a massive area with wind and solar.
But no one wants their fridge to only have enough electricity on average. If we want reliable power that does not just depend on the weather, renewable energy is not yet mature enough, nor environmentally safe enough, to provide it.