March 1, 2024

Reckless or reasonable? Verifying Anti-Renewables Activists’ Claims | Renewable energy

Community groups, activists and politicians gathered on the lawns of Parliament on Tuesday in opposition to the federal government’s plan for the energy grid to run on 82% renewable energy by 2030.

Dubbed the “Reckless Renewables Rally”, the protest featured well-known opponents of action on climate change, including National MP Barnaby Joyce, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, National Senator Matt Canavan and former Liberal MP Craig Kelly.

The anti-renewables movement has already been caught spreading disinformation. Guardian Australia reported in November how a false claim about wind turbines killing whales resonated with the group’s social media discussions.

Here are some of the key claims made during the rally and the facts behind them.

Claim: Renewables do not produce reliable power

A common myth spread by opponents of renewable energy is that solar and wind farms are unreliable because they can only generate electricity when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.

Solar and wind energy are known as variable sources of electricity because they vary depending on weather conditions. But that doesn’t mean these sources are unreliable.

Energy systems experts point out that these problems are overcome by connecting to the grid many wind and solar energy sources that are geographically spread across the country.

Excess electricity generated by wind and solar power will also be stored in batteries or used to pump water uphill at hydroelectric plants. This energy can be released later when needed, such as during periods of peak demand.

The Australian Energy Market Operator consults with the energy industry to produce a plan for the most reliable electricity system that will meet climate targets.

The latest draft of that plan says the power grid will need major increases in storage – such as batteries and hydroelectric projects. But there will also be an increase in the number of gas-fired plants that will act as backup.

A Victorian solar farm. CSIRO concluded that solar and wind energy are expected to be among the cheapest forms of energy by 2030. Photography: Charlie Rogers/Getty Images

UNSW power systems expert Dr Dylan McConnell says focusing on the reliability of a single generation technology is “missing the point”.

He said: “Coal power is also sometimes unreliable and [power plants] travel frequently. Reliability is actually a characteristic of the entire system. The idea is that we are building a system this is reliable.”

Claim: decommissioned wind farms will end up in landfills

Some rally attendees expressed concerns about how wind farms would be decommissioned, with some speakers conjuring up images of Mad Max-like wastelands filled with rusting machines. Others said wind turbines and blades will end up in landfills.

According to a Clean Energy Council report released last year, about 85% to 94% of a wind turbine’s mass is recyclable.

The report also discusses alternative options for wind farms expected to be decommissioned after an expected 25-year useful life, including a useful life extension or parts upgrade.

Leading global wind farm operator Acciona manages five wind farms in Australia and is building a sixth, with around 400 turbines and 1,200 blades in its portfolio. An Acciona spokesperson said: “The argument that projects would be abandoned and rusted is a fabrication.”

They stated that rather than power producers abandoning sites, in Europe – where the industry is mature – operators were “repowering sites” and replacing turbines to continue generating electricity.

In Spain, Acciona is building a turbine blade recycling facility that is expected to open next year.

“We are looking at options here in Australia to establish similar capability for ourselves and the industry,” the spokesperson added.

Claim: More than 60% of your energy bill are power transmission line costs that will increase substantially with renewable energy

A common claim, including from National MP Barnaby Joyce, was that 60% of the costs of an energy bill were due to transmission between a power generator and homes or businesses.

The claim then suggests that thousands of kilometers of transmission towers and power lines will have to be built to connect wind and solar farms to consumers.

But the claim appears to be exaggerated, according to fact sheets and reports from the Australian Energy Regulator.

In November 2023, it found that around 8% of the cost of a retail electricity bill is related to transmission, while 35% is related to distribution expenses. Together, the costs represent less than half of the average national energy bill.

McConnell said it’s possible the proportion of bills related to transmission costs will increase slightly, but added: “The flip side is you’re going to allow more low-cost renewables into the system.”

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Claim: Renewable energy deployment is a $121 billion threat to the economy

Another allegation centered on the “excessive” economic costs associated with the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. In a rally press release, it was stated that the implementation “poses a threat to our economy, costing more than $121 billion.”

The figure comes from a December report from the Australian Energy Market Operator, which stated that the annualized capital cost of all generation, storage, consolidation and transmission infrastructure on the “optimal development path” to decarbonize the electricity system had an updated value of 121 billion dollars.

These figures relate to the National Electricity Market, covering all states and territories except WA and NT.

About $16.4 billion of that amount was related to transmission projects, which AEMO said would “pay off and provide the additional $17 billion net market benefit mentioned above.”

But Alison Reeve, an energy expert at the Grattan Institute, said claiming the $121 billion was a “cost” was a misrepresentation.

She said: “It’s actually $121 billion in economic activity. That’s jobs and materials. It is not a threat to the economy. It’s part of the economy. The much bigger threat would be a non-functioning electrical system.”

Even if there was no need to decarbonize the electricity grid, Reeve said there would still have to be major investments in the electricity system.

“We would still have to replace coal-fired power stations – which are not cheap – and in any case we would probably be replaced by renewables and gas. Avoiding spending money would mean accepting that the lights would go out more often and would mean we couldn’t use more electricity than we do now.”

Claim: Australians will pay more for renewables rather than stick to fossil fuels

Another repeated claim was that there would be an increase in bills due to the 82% renewable energy commitment by 2030. For example, transmission lines and batteries would need to be built over the next six years, costing more than just sticking with coal and power. gas.

However, the latest figures from CSIRO’s GenCost report contradict these claims. The report concluded that even when the costs of integrating renewables into the system are factored in, solar and wind remain the cheapest form of electricity.

The CSIRO report found that the cheapest form of electricity for 2023 is still a mix of wind and solar power, costing between $94 and $134 per megawatt-hour. He predicts the price will fall to between $69 and $101 per megawatt-hour by 2030.

In comparison, black coal in 2023 is between $110 and $217 per megawatt-hour and is predicted to fall to $86 to $137 per megawatt-hour by 2030.

A wind farm near Wellington, NSW. The agriculture commissioner says less than 0.1% of the state’s rural land will be converted to produce renewable energy. Photography: Carly Earl/The Guardian

Black coal energy, using carbon capture and storage techniques, in 2023 costs between $193 and $364 per megawatt-hour. In 2030, it drops to between US$161 and US$256.

Small modular nuclear reactors have not yet been developed commercially, but are advocated by the Coalition and were promoted at the anti-renewables rally. The GenCost report concluded that even if they became commercially available, they would likely be the most expensive form of electricity.

Claim: Renewables will take over prime farmland

Some farmers at the rally complained that renewable energy was eating up “prime farmland,” threatening food production.

This is a variation on a claim promoted by mining magnate Gina Rinehart and the Institute of Public Affairs that up to a third of agricultural land in Australia was under threat from renewable energy.

But renewable energy advocates said this is a huge exaggeration. The NSW agriculture commissioner said the total area of ​​rural land to be converted to renewable energy production would likely be about 55,000 hectares – or 0.1% of the state’s rural land.

The Clean Energy Council has said that if we theoretically replaced all of the country’s coal-fired power plants with solar farms, it would require about 0.016% of the country’s land area, equivalent to 0.027% of farmland.

In a statement, Acciona said its projects were on agricultural properties “with the agreement and support of the host owner” and that typically only around 3% of a property was actually used, mainly via access roads.

The spokesperson said: “Farmers freely and happily use access roads to cross the property and round up livestock. Our owners have welcomed our projects to diversify their income and obtain better returns from their properties.

“We have never received complaints from turbine owners that the wind farm has compromised their existing agricultural operations.”

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