Tuesday, 11 August 2015

You can now get 'wind turbine syndrome' from solar panels and batteries

As I've expected for some time, there's a new effort to create and propagate health fears around solar power, given the rapid decrease in costs, and the rising threat it poses to incumbent generators like coal and gas. It's going to take precisely the same shape as the campaign around wind farms, and unless we think deeply about the necessary ingredients for this type of techno-panic to flourish, it's going to last just as long, and cause just as much harm.


There's a looming and embryonic anti-solar campaign brewing. There's already an established industry of fear around electromagnetism, so I thought the campaign would centre around this. But, as always, the ceiling of ludicrousness sits higher than I thought: there are now 'concerns' about noise emissions, specifically infrasound and low-frequency noise, from.........solar panels.

Two proposed American solar projects, Tierra del Sol and Rugged Solar, have received expressions of 'concern' during the planning process, around the impacts of infrasound - very low frequency noise, inaudible to humans, allegedly the primary cause of 'wind turbine syndrome'.

Newberry solar farm 

A generic anti-renewable energy group (curiously named "Backcountry Against Dumps and Donna Tisdale") wield a broad array of documents explaining the dangers of solar power, and the Tierra del Sol project. This letter, penned in thick legalese, states that:

"The FPEIR’s amended discussion of the Project’s low-frequency noise and infrasound (“ILFN”) emissions still fails. FPEIR 2.6-59 to 2.6-60; FPEIR Response to Comments O10_63 35 to O10_65. The conclusion that “no health effects are anticipated to occur due to low frequency noise associated with the Proposed Project” is based entirely on a court decision that is currently being appealed and is therefore not final, and subject to change. FPEIR 2.6-60. The County’s reliance on this non-scientific conclusion ignores the growing body of evidence that ILFN impacts human health. 
Furthermore, the FPEIR completely fails to analyze the ILFN impacts from the newly added energy storage system that was not discussed in the DPEIR. FPEIR AIS.0-1, AIS.0-12 to AIS.0-14; FPEIR AIS 3 (Addendum: Acoustical Assessment Report), pp. 1-13. Acoustical engineer Rick James details additional County failures to analyze noise impacts from the energy storage system in his January 15, 2015 “Comments on Soitec Solar Acoustical Assessment Reports for Tierra del Sol and Rugged Solar Related to Proposed Energy Storage Facility,” which comments are incorporated fully by reference herein. In order to foster informed decision making, as CEQA requires, these impacts must be analyzed in detail, and the EIR recirculated for public review. CEQA Guidelines §§ 15088.5, 15144; Vineyard, 40 Cal.4th at 428"

These 'concerns' are included in the standard shotgun-scatter of complaints about noise, fire risk, visual impact, cost, and a vast array of other complaints. Donna Tisdale, of that same group, has a generic powerpoint presentation, which includes ominous warnings about electromagnetic radiation from solar farms:

So, there you have it. Concerns, and a response to concerns. A technical consultant was hired to measure infrasound and low-frequency noise at a comparable solar facility - the Newberry solar project, pictured earlier. The technical addendum can be read here, and the full report can be read here.

I made their infrasound measurements into two charts - the first is 'weighted' - ie, put through a formula to properly reflect the response of the human ear, and the second is 'unweighted' - just the raw measurements of sound pressure:

So, should anyone near a solar farm be quaking in fear? Well, no. The threshold of perception for infrasound is around 85 dBG (remember, that doesn't apply to the 'linear' version). As you can see in the first chart, no noise measurements go anywhere near that level. The report says:

"The G-weighted noise measurement data in Table 1 indicates that measured ILFN equipment noise levels ranged from 55 dBG (Xantrex GT500 Inverter measurement 9, at 50 feet) to 62 dBG (transformer and cooling cabinet at 25 feet). When normalized to a distance of 50 feet assuming an attenuation rate of 6 dB per doubling of distance, however, the expected sound pressure level would be approximately 56 dBG. Thus, even at a relatively near distance (far nearer than a resident or other noise-sensitive receiver would be located), the G-weighted noise levels were found to be well under the audibility threshold of 85 dBG used by environmental protection agencies in Australia and Denmark"

There's also the same exasperated, almost despairing repetition of the point that infrasound is basically everywhere:

"Virtually every piece of mechanical equipment emits infrasound, including traffic, air
conditioners, refrigerators, surf, our own hearts and wind. Typical infrasound exposure levels for people who live in cities are approximately 50-65 dBG most of the time due to traffic, air conditioning, heating fans, subways and air traffic"

And, despite the report, an acoustician (who's previously expressed concern about infrasound from wind turbines, and testified on behalf of wind farm opponents) has criticised the report, and is attempting to raise further concerns about infrasound from this solar project.

So why is the 'wind turbine syndrome' myth being applied to large-scale solar projects? The root cause is the same as with wind farms, and it has nothing to do with the technology, or actual measurements of noise. No quantity of measurements will ever be sufficient to convince solar farm opponents that the noise levels aren't a threat, and those who add a pseudoscientific sheen to the rhetoric of fear won't ever be required to bring forward evidence to support their claims.

Essentially, it's about sentiment, and involvement, and control, and psychology. We're complex, but in this regard, it's fairly easy to predict how we're going to respond to big projects that we feel left out of. What worries me here is that we let this pattern repeat, and that dedicated anti-renewable energy groups travel to projects, and fill them with fear and anxiety about renewable energy, whatever the type. If large-scale clean energy projects aren't build in a different way, we'll end up with a decade of 'solar power syndrome', filled with senate inquiries, stern and concerned health authorities, and a raft of public voices calling for more research.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Climate Denial and Wind Turbine Syndrome: The Inquisition's Rejection of Science

There's plenty of time to dive into the variety of curiosities (and astonishing mistakes) served up in the final Senate Select Committee into Wind Turbines report, and the excellent and comprehensive dissenting report from the sole Labor senator on the committee.

For now, there's a bigger story at work here, and it ought to freak us out a bit. There are reasons normally-rational people will angrily reject good science, and credulously believe bad science. We twist ourselves into awkward, dissonant ideological formations, and it seems people who wield the most power are most likely to engage in this proud rejection of reality.


I don't think I coined the 'inquisition' pun on the name of the Senate Wind Farm inquiry - curiously, it turned up in the only news outlet that's reported the findings of the senate committee in a positive light - The Australian:

It's interesting to note that the term 'inquisition' turns up a less positive context in The Australian, a few years in the past, around the topic of climate science: 

The clips critique those who accept climate science, and demonises those skeptical of 'wind turbine syndrome'. These aren't contradictory position. Hypocritical, perhaps, but within the worldview that's held so closely by the outlet, both positions are perfectly rational.

"Shouldn't we wait until the science is in on climate change, before we act?"


"We shouldn't wait until the science is in, before we act on 'wind turbine syndrome'"


Professor Simon Chapman, a public health professor at Sydney University, has taken a keen interest in the wind farms health issue, and managed to score a dedicated section in the final senate report, decrying his attitude and assertions. His responses to 'questions on notice' got some media attention, prompting the chair of the committee, Senator John Madigan, to respond

"Senator Madigan said Professor Chapman’s answers to his questions on notice, including whether he knew Ararat Wind Farm would be near a prison, were also ideologically based.  
“Professor Chapman’s responses to questions on notice put to him by the Committee reflect his broader attitude to the Committee’s work,” he said.  
“This appears to be informed more by his ideological position on the question of human induced climate change than a serious consideration of the questions the committee was formed to consider.”"
This seems to be a neat summary of the two presentations of the word 'inquisition' that we've seen presented above. Madigan consider's Chapman's views to be a symptom of his acceptance of the science of climate change. To accept the science of climate change is an ideological stance, and consequently, supporting technological solution to the threat of climate change is similarly tainted.


It would seem, then, that those who base their rejection and acceptance of scientific evidence on ideological drivers are bound to see other people as operating the same way, even when they're not.

This goes some way to explaining why the report also dedicates many, many words to criticising the Australian Medical Association, and the National Health and Medical Research Council, whose respective scientists and medical professionals have both failed to find any evidence for 'wind turbine syndrome'.

In the minds of the senators, this happens not because there is no evidence, but because the scientists are forever compromised by the acceptance of climate science. Their solution is simply to pick their own scientists, presumably ones who they feel haven't been compromised by the acceptance of scientific evidence around climate change.

"The Federal Government has been urged to sideline the nation’s peak medical research body and set up a stand-alone scientific committee to investigate the health effects of wind farm noise."

We seem desensitised to this dichotomy, in which hyper-skepticism and hyper-credulity happily sit side by side. There's no evidence that could convince the senators that climate science is real, and no evidence is required to convince them that wind turbines cause harm. 

This is the proud rejection of a technique we normally consider to be useful, in understanding the real world. It's anti-scientific only in the sense that evidence contradicting ideology is rejected. But it's the same cognitive machinery that causes people to rejection the science of vaccination, or the science of fluoridation, or to believe in chemtrails, or homeopathy. These beliefs actually hurt people.

We allow the rejection of scientific evidence to flourish in politics. This is why our PM happily rejects climate science, and furrows his brow with concern about wind turbine syndrome. We're only one ideological twist away from a fresh torrent of preventable harms, spawned by this puerile attitude. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Please stop making things up about renewable energy

Some people have a big platform, and they use it to criticise renewable energy. Opinion writers, shock jocks, journalists, senators - they've all got full-time access to a huge number of ears and eyes, and they use that to full advantage.

The thing is, when they say things they claim to be true things supported by numbers and evidence, they're often just.......not. I think it's weird, and interesting.

Alan Jones 

On rare occasions, those who loudly proclaim the children of their imagination as facts are questioned. During a debate on climate change, radio host Alan Jones nearly implodes with sheer outrage after he's asked if a paper he's brought up has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, below:

Last Monday, Alan Jones claimed on the ABC's Q and A panel show that:

"Eighty per cent of Australian energy comes from coal, coal-fired power, and it’s about $79 a kilowatt hour,” he said. “Wind power is about $1502 a kilowatt hour"

Mike Seccombe wrote a good explanation of precisely how wrong this in The Saturday Paper, as did Dylan Mcconnell in The Conversation, in which Jones admits to the error. To summarise, in a simple chart:

Terry McCrann

McCrann, a News Corp columnist, is growing more unique, as his level-headed colleagues quietly step back from angry dismissal of climate science. At some point, he'll be screaming his unintentionally comical diatribes at shoppers in Pitt St mall, but for now, he writes in The Australian:

"For the dirty little secret which nah-nah-nah denying Climate Change true believers refuse to face is that all renewable capacity has to be backed by continuing power stations which actually work: carbon-based coal or gas, or nuclear. Because when the wind don’t blow, and the sun don’t shine, the power don’t flow. Even across the vast span of southern Australia there are hours on end when we get not a single megawatt out of “all” those wind turbines"

He's usually more wrong than this, as I've written here before. Some remnant spark of self-awareness was forcing him to be not too specific about exactly which time periods he means. Even then, we can actually check his claim that there are 'hours on end' when the total output of South Australian wind farms is at zero. Let's first compare the total number of hours, in the past 1.5 years, where SA wind has been greater than zero, and compare it to the total number of hours it's been at zero:

Oh dear. In the past 1.5 years, about 0.12% of the time has been comprised of a total wind output of zero in South Australia, or about sixteen hours out of thirteen thousand, one hundred and four. Sure, some of those hours were 'on end' - the longest stretch of zero output was 2.5 hours in April 2014 - but these incidents are absurdly rare, and McCrann seems to genuinely hold the belief they're representative of normal operation.

Graham Lloyd

Lloyd's featured a lot on this blog, because much of his coverage of renewable energy sways towards misunderstandings, cherry-picking and factual errors. His piece from the weekend has several, but one caught my eye:

"In addition to guaranteed above-markets rates, intermittency helps explain why the addition of large scale renewables can lead to higher prices for electricity consumers. 
“When you study the states of Australia that have had dramatic increases in their household power bills in recent years you will find a direct correlation to the number of wind turbines that have been connected to the grid in those states,” independent senator John Maddigan told the Senate last month. “You will find the same correlation in European countries. 
This is irrespective of whether wholesale electricity prices fall as a result of additional renewable energy forcing its way into an already oversupplied market.
Indeed, Germany has some of the lowest wholesale electricity prices in Europe but some of the highest retail prices.

There's rather a lot to break down, even in this small section of Lloyd's article. The whole thing has an incredibly high concentration of misunderstanding and outright falsehoods - it would take weeks to debunk it. Simply, is there a 'direct correlation' between number of turbines, and high power bills?


So why is wrongness so prevalent in content that's churned out to be critical of renewable energy? And, is it just as prevalent in content that's out there to defend it? I can't really answer the second question, mainly because I'm responsible for a fair chunk of it, and so I wouldn't exactly be an impartial judge.

I honestly don't really have any theories. There seems to be an ever-present assumption that if we publicly declare something to be factual - as in, a thing that has been checked thoroughly and is likely to be true - that we won't be asked to support that claim with references or sources. I might just be over-attributing this to renewable energy, because it's my thing.

Sometimes, fact-checkers and wonks (like me, and Media Watch, and The Conversation and ABC Fact Check) tend to dive in and explain the wrongness. These media outlets have a decent platform, so I think they're doing good work. But I wonder if we should be encouraging a more wide-ranging shift in attitude: it's not okay to vomit out some numerical feelings-garbage, without expecting that you're going to be pulled up on it immediately.

Regardless, this is something that really happens quite a lot. For added fun, it's worth casually asking people to justify their claims. Really, it's great. I highly recommend it. Patrick Moore, who features in the video up top, is filmed here during the making of a documentary, being asked to stand behind something he's said. It's...fun. Watch it.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Panic stations: The renewable energy target fear campaign has already failed

For most of this year, The Australian has been publishing a near-weekly update on why people living near wind turbines ought to fear for their lives, and why they should seek scientific medical information from their environment editor, rather than from the medical community.

After opposition leader Bill Shorten announced his intention to propose an ambition for 50% renewable energy in our electricity generation mix by 2030, The Australian shifted from 'wind turbine syndrome' to new format of panic.

In today's paper, there were twelve articles, a cartoon, and a front page plastered with a headline that is literally the repetition of a primary-school-grade slur used by Abbott (who admitted the phrase was 'unparliamentary', but was defended by Speaker Bronwyn Bishop).

Here's a list of articles in The Australian today, with a word count and quote from each (if I missed any, let me know):

Renewable energy: Flings of desire do not soar over truth - Graham Lloyd - 427 words

Labor’s astonishing renewable energy target turnaround - Chris Kenny - 704 words

Labor’s loony turn on renewable energy target - Editorial - 671 words

Renewable energy: glut of supply will raise prices - Adam Creighton - 572 words

World turns different shade of green as costs bite - Graham Lloyd - 656 words

Bill Shorten didn’t take new energy target to cabinet - Joe Kelly and Rosie Lewis - 469 words

Bill Shorten doing best to forget burning RET issues - David Uren - 321 words

Carbon blunders continue, as do the risks - Dennis Shanahan - 503 words

Power prices ‘certain to rise’ under ALP’s increased RET Annabel Hepworth - 493 words

Labor power play: Bill Shorten’s carbon reboot - Stefanie Balogh - 927 words

I’ve got carbon tax to thank for my job: Michelle Landry - [no byline] - 452 words

‘Labor Party must remember coalworkers built it’ - Rick Morton - 378 words

So, that's a total of 6,573 words dedicated to building the argument that a renewable energy target of 50% is terrible.

Standing awkwardly in a bustling crowd of panic, fury and keywords like 'jobs' and 'billions' was a single admission of the actual price impact of a 50% by 2030 scenario, buried in Adam Creighton's article:

"Labor’s policy would increase an average household’s electricity prices by $4 a year in today’s dollars between 2023 to 2030, according to modelling by Frontier Economics."

Creighton's begrudging admission is mentioned in passing on page 6 of the paper. The issue here is the impost of updating our energy system on retail electricity prices, as subtly delineated by The Australian's nuanced front-page headline. So....what's this modelling that Creighton refers to?

Apparently, the modelling is by Frontier Economics. Their RET review modelling doesn't mention a 50% RE scenario. They mention a 50% renewable energy scenario in passing, in a study that models European energy:

"Our quantitative analysis shows that it is possible for single countries to pursue their own development objectives without unduly burdening energy consumers. For example, our analysis of the German market in a scenario where renewables reach a 50% share of gross power consumption by 2050 confirms that any additional costs will remain manageable"

The Minerals Council, Australia's chief industry group representing coal and gas, are perturbed by the suggestion, and warn, as they did with the current RET and with carbon pricing, that everything we love will be eviscerated, if we adopt new technologies for generating energy:

"It is not yet clear that the Opposition is proposing an increase in the mandatory target to 50 per cent. If it does, the subsidies to renewables will double or even triple by 2030, at extraordinary cost to energy consumers"

They're very carefully avoiding explaining exactly how much the 'cost' will be - instead using terms like 'extraordinary'. Analysis by Hugh Saddler in The Conversation estimates a small impact:

"If implementation of a 50% renewable electricity target is accompanied by policies like [consumption reduction initiatives], households could find themselves paying no more for electricity each year after 2030 than they are paying today"

" If you want to estimate how much extra Labor’s policy might cost you, look at the difference between the light blue and dark blue bars for your state" - Hugh Saddler

Tristan Edis, an analyst at Business Spectator, guesses around $6 per bill. He also compares his estimates to the impact of a 15% GST on electricity prices:

The reason these estimates differ so greatly with regards to the household impost of a 50% by 2030 renewable energy target is because we really just don't know what mix of policy mechanisms are going to be used to meet that goal (assuming it's agreed to at the Labor party's national conference on the weekend).

It may not take the form of an adjustment to our current Renewable Energy Target scheme. Whatever form it takes, it's understandably difficult to model something that doesn't exist yet.

Soon, we'll have another round of warring models. As we've seen today, media outlets opposed to new energy technology will use tactics like vague, non-specific warnings and declarations of total cost (rather than cost per household), in the hope of producing big, scary-sounding numbers.

But here's the thing - filling the void that will exist between now and when this ambition is fleshed out with the furious tornado of fear offered in today's Australian isn't actually going to work. Abbott has tried already - repeating endlessly, to this day, that renewable energy causes 'significant price pressure'. He came to believe it himself - the Prime Minister's office commissioned a RET review led by a climate skeptic. Even then, it found the RET scheme lowers electricity bills in the long run.

The arguments in today's edition of The Australian are weak and watery, and I don't doubt many of the authors felt a profound wave of awkwardness writing them. The opponents of renewable energy have thrown their cards on the table. But they've played this hand before, and they walked out embarrassed. Chances are, it's going to happen again. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Australian Clean Energy Summit 2015 - Science, Sentiment and Control in Clean Energy

My presentation for the 2015 Clean Energy Summit is below, including some words. There was some media coverage, too, which is nice.


I’d like to start with a quick anecdote I heard this morning. The Codrington Gardens B&B is Codrington’s #1 accommodation, and it’s about 2.1 kilometres away from the nearest turbine at Pacific Hydro’s Codrington wind farm.

A friend on Twitter told me about a story retold by the owner, about an irate guest who, in the morning after a stay at the B&B, issued a complaint about wind farm noise keeping him up overnight. In the morning, after breakfast, the owner went outside with the guest, who pointed out the noise. The owner responded by pointing out that specific noise was actually the sound of the ocean. Without missing a beat, the guest responded by saying ‘Well, if I’d known that, I would have been able to sleep”

Our reactions to the presence of wind farms is a little surprising, at times. When you tunnel into the history of our reactions to a variety of technological changes, it’s clear that the pattern we’ve seen so far with wind farms is precisely what you’d expect to materialise, considering the way we executed the development of these big, new clean energy machines.

I’d like to make a case for a developmental philosophy that pre-empts this pattern of response. One that assumes human reactions to technology are a certainty, not an anomaly. We’ve been stuck for so long in a world of discourse where ludicrousness has no ceiling. The claimed impacts of wind farms escalate into increasing absurdity, as you would have seen in First Dog’s talk. But when you listen with both ears to our detractors, as was suggested last night, we find there are answers and solutions that move past the endless scratching at the corners of scientific evidence, and into areas where both communities and clean tech providers reap enormous benefits.

Let’s dig into the tunnel of technological fear, and look some examples of human reactions to new machines that we live next to

Right now, we’re exposed a range of ultra high frequency and super high frequency wireless networks. There is a considerable range of individuals and groups across the world who consider this exposure to be a major risk to human health. The arguments are pretty consistent among these groups and individuals. ‘The science just isn’t in yet, we need to take a precautionary approach, and I feel sick near wifi routers’. Professor Ian Lowe at the Griffith School of Natural Sciences points out that

“Belief in electromagnetic hypersensitivity is the natural outcome of rational human behaviour. The human brain always looks for cause and effect relationships. If you get a headache while sitting near a router, you may attribute the headache to that router. Confirmation bias will see that belief grow over time, until the belief becomes so strong that it actually manifests a headache. But it's the fear of the router that's the problem, rather than the router itself”

When you test people who claim to be sensitive to wifi in a lab, they’re generally unable to detect the presence of WiFi signals when the experimenter switches the signal on and off. What we learn from this is that you don’t need a politically motivated fear campaign to see the emergence of health fears around technology. Wireless networking isn’t impacting the profits of political donors, no think tanks are pushing out reports against wifi, and conservative columnists don’t obsess over it. This is something that happens because we’re human. It’s inaccurate to say people who experience this are deluded, or irrational, or uneducated. This is how the electrified meat between our ears is geared to respond to technological change.

A similar phenomenon emerged around the mandatory rollout of smart meters in Victoria. There are now several examples of people claiming symptomatic experiences that are identical to the claims that exist around wireless networking. But in the case of smart meters, a political party was formed - called “People power victoria no smart meters”.

Part of their charter included pushing for the right for people to “to reject any object or technology being installed on or near their premises if they have reasonable concerns about its possible effect on their health, privacy or wellbeing”. They didn’t win any seats in the 2014 state election, but they won 1,375 first preference votes.

The backlash against Victorian smart meters, predicated on the theory that they’re likely to hurt human beings, is a clear example of the role of control in how we perceive risk. Research shows that the less control we have over a change in our environment, the more likely we are to overestimate the risk of a technology and see a bizarre, ludicrous mix of claims. The rollout of smart meters in New South Wales will be optional - my bet is that we will see a near-zero emergence of health fears in New South Wales.

Compare, on this slide, the purple bubble for plane crashes, and the light blue bubble for car accidents. If we got to hold the wheel when flying in a plane, would our perception of risk be more closely aligned to the actual danger? Conversely, will self-driving cars lead to a significantly higher perception of risk, alongside big improvements in safety?

On a side note, it’s worth comparing our collective perception of the risk of climate change versus the risk of terrorism, compared to the likelihood that either of these things are going to kill or injure us. Think about which risk has dominated media coverage and government priorities over the past year, and think about how wind farms might sit on this chart.

In 2009, a couple living near a planned wind farm in New York coined the term ‘wind turbine syndrome’, and paired the phrase with a self-published book detailing a self-selected sample of phone interviews, with no control group.

Since then, the phenomenon has been adopted by political and local wind farm opponents, but roundly rejected by a cluster of scientific reviews, acoustic studies, provocation tests, health authority reviews, legal cases and some preliminary large-scale epidemiological studies.

A cursory examination of ‘wind turbine syndrome’ tells us that we’re seeing the same phenomenon we’ve seen with wifi and smart meters. The actual symptoms are nearly identical, including many instances where complaints are issued despite nearby wind turbines being inoperative.

So the answer should be simple, right? Give people control, let them have influence over the project and the over-perception of risk should abate. This is the nexus of why the development of clean energy needs to incorporate community engagement and ownership schemes - people react badly when they’re left out of major changes to the environment. This needs to change.

It seems that some of this logic was at play when Pacific Hydro, one of Australia’s leaders in wind farm community engagement, let residents near the Cape Bridgewater wind farm nominate their own acoustician, to compare noise emissions from the wind farm to their own symptomatic experiences. I followed the release of this report, and subsequent media coverage, very closely.

The report’s conclusions, based on a sample of six residents already opposed to the project, void of any tests of statistical significance and not published in a blinded peer review scientific journal of any kind, was euphemistically labelled a ‘pilot study’, rather than a bad study, by the recent senate wind farm inquiry, and was explicitly used to justify the creation of a wind farm commissioner and new scientific bodies examining wind turbine syndrome, in addition to several months of media coverage in a range of local and national media outlets.

Why did efforts to restore control, in good faith, back to the community result in a bad outcome for the community, for the industry and for the scientific discourse? It’s because the myth of wind turbine syndrome survives through bad science - studies claim to detect the presence of a malicious disease, but are so ridden with confounders and bias that they could be detecting anything at all. We’re going to be in this position many times in the future, as we feel our way forward, but we can’t stop discovering and testing and exploring, because the future of the industry depends entirely on whether the technologies are accepted by communities. Anti-wind activism does impact investment, and has a real financial impact on the wind industry.

The people whose live next to economy-sustaining technology need to be deeply involved from the outset. Already, wind farm land owners speak up when the leader of the country expresses his desire to destroy an Australian technology due solely to his internal aesthetic machinations. Imagine entire communities rising to defend clean energy projects, when they come under attack from proponents of decades old machines running on dinosaur juice. We’ve already seen this phenomenon at work with solar citizens, who are very skilled at empowering household solar owners to speak up in defense of their technology. Benefit sharing schemes can be tuned and tweaked to suit communities. The financial benefits for clean energy companies will be realised through increased investor confidence in projects that don’t incur lengthy planning cases.

We’ve been living too long in a world where there is no upper limit to absurd, nonscientific medical diagnoses propagated by anti-windfarm groups and small pockets in the media. If open the doors to communities and let them become participants in this crazy world of decarbonisation, then we’ll find ourselves able to fend off the daily onslaught of attacks on wind farm investment.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Most sequels suck - "Carbon Tax Death Apocalypse 2" will probably fizzle

I was working in the operations room for Capital Wind Farm the day Julia Gillard visited. It was the same day a now-infamous anti-carbon tax rally was held on the lawns of parliament house, during which Tony Abbott proudly stood among a collection of sexist, conspiratorial, denialist signs, most of which ferociously attacked Gillard on a personal level.

Abbott would not have clambered into power had it not been the carbon pricing mechanism, and his successful campaign against the policy. His slogans worked; people hated the policy and rewarded him for his simplistic but effective campaign.


A few years on, and there have been some interesting developments.


- After the carbon price was scrapped, emissions rose quickly. This was partly due to hydro altering their generation initially, but the trend has continued. Brown coal is up, black coal is straight and renewables try their best to keep up. This was widely reported in the media, and people were vaguely embarrassed.

By Hugh Saddler at Renew Economy

- No one feels they got the $550 they were promised by Tony Abbott. The reduction in electricity price that came about due to the repeal of carbon pricing has already been dwarfed by the rising costs of network infrastructure, as shown in the AEMC's latest report - the removal of this little grey rectangle of lines is the thing that flung our PM into power. Dwell on that, for a second:

From here

- Climate change denial has weakened in Australia, alongside increased support for climate change policy and renewable energy, as shown in yesterday's Essential report:

Murdoch news outlets put their foot on the gas this morning when  Labor plans for an emissions trading scheme were leaked to News Limited:

Abbott's done the same, bringing his sloganeering skills into gear:

Tony Abbott attempted to use his anti-carbon-tax power-price-paranoia tactic with the Renewable Energy Target, repeating consistently that the RET causes power prices to rise. When he commissioned a review by a climate skeptic, the modelers found that scrapping the scheme would actually result in higher prices for households and businesses.

I don't think Abbott has the magic mix of ingredients needed to get the same frothy brew of panic that carried him into power in 2013. The sexists are presumably less enraged by Shorten than Gillard, so they're out. The climate change deniers have grown small in numbers, and fallen out of favour with the media - Abbott's less likely to be seen in front of Agenda 21 New World Order signs than back in 2013. If he is, he'll get called out on it, this time.

I suspect, at the very least, this won't work as well as they hope. As with most sequels (except for Terminator 2 and Aliens), this one is going to try and recreate the same magical mix that brought success for # 1 - it'll probably work a little bit, but nowhere near as well as the original. With any luck, it'll be more Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 than Terminator 2:Judgement Day.

For a great explainer on this, read Tom Arup's piece in the SMH, here. And join me in hoping that the sequel really does suck.

Monday, 13 July 2015

The clean tech revolution comes to luxury chaffeur services...

I'm recently back from a brief holiday in New Zealand, and our last stop was in Christchurch, a city damaged quite badly by an earthquake in 2011. It's five years on, and the streets of the central city are  relatively quiet at night, save for the occasional pop-up disco platform and a sea of silent, bright orange cones.

The gap-filler disco, near our hotel

The rejuvenation of the city's centre is focused on public transport, walking and cycling, but for now, a whole stack of businesses are located just outside the city - not walkable, but very easy to access by car. 

At the Quake City museum

I think it's an important reminder of the need for a diverse range of machines we can use to transport ourselves from one spot to another, but also the importance of ensuring none of them link us to a reliance on carbon-intensive fuel types. 

My wife and I very graciously accepted an offer for a complimentary trip back from the airport to our pad in a limo service called Evoke. Our driver, Justin, was great. Evoke rely solely on a fleet of truly incredible Tesla Model S spaceships running on clean energy:

"To reduce our carbon footprint, Evoke vehicles are charged using Tesla’s supercharger network in Sydney, which is carbon offset. When we are not supercharging, we use 100 per cent GreenPower"

Electric vehicles will obviously play a big role in transport, in the very near future. That there's already limo services that capture the market springing up from real excitement around this technology makes me really happy.

The car is such a pleasure to ride in, but I also know that the electricity it's running on has been offset through generation from clean energy sources. In the near future, it'll come directly from black panels pointed at the 'handy nuclear fusion reactor in the sky' (Elon Musk's description of the sun). 

I recorded a short Periscope from the inside of the car, too, including some smooth jazz:

...and a ridiculous Vine

We're going to see electric vehicles trickling in to our line of sight with increasing regularity. There will be a point when seeing one in a queue of cars isn't interesting or curious - it's the norm. Evoke cleverly captures our excitement about what is a genuinely incredible piece of engineering - the sheer excitement of rocking around in a spaceship is enough to justify the occasional trip in a Tesla.

But for me, it's a pretty clear sign that the electric car is starting to slot neatly in to the gaps in our transport systems. Blended with stuff like self-driving cars, it's going to change the way we move ourselves from one place to another. You become hyper-aware of how important this change is, when you visit a city that's in a constant state of flux, like Christchurch. And, it means we don't need to carry around a carbon-intensive, super-heavy explosion machine in the front of our cars.

Cheers to Evoke and to my wonderful wife for taking some splendid photos. And if you get a chance, book a Tesla. It's...really quite something.