South Australia is one of the largest producers of wind energy. The region hosts more wind turbines than any other spot in the country, but investments have fallen by nearly 70 percent in recent years, and Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull is looking to combine Australia’s energy and environment portfolios, a move that has led to widespread debate.
Ian Hunter, Australia’s present climate change minister, argues that wind energy is a valuable source of both environmental and economic stimulation. He says that wind facilities have created multitude of jobs over the years.
“They’ve taken people off the farms and out of the unemployment queues,” he says. “They’re investing in schools and sporting clubs. They’re underpinning the economy of a place that was really doing it tough.”
But his words seem to be falling on deaf ears. A massive anti-renewable attitude has taken hold in Australia due to lagging finances and rising energy prices. The Australian Financial Review is reporting that the nation’s recent venture into renewable energy was a certified “train wreck,” and that wind farms have consumed more electricity than they’ve actually produced.
Solar homeowners have also come under attack. Residents installing solar panels on their rooftops received a serious shock last month when it was announced that the subsidies they were receiving could be reduced by up to 80 percent.
“At best, they’ll cop a turnaround of about $1,000 or a bit more,” says energy policy manager Damien Moyse. “But if they’ve got a big system, their turnaround will be two or three thousand or even more next year.”
Wind energy is arguably the cheapest form of large-scale renewable energy in existence. Last year, wind produced over 33 percent of Australia’s clean energy reserves, along with nearly five percent of its overall electricity. However, several officials feel that open questions remain, and have joined sides with national coal companies that benefit greatly from the latest smear campaign.
Reasons for the country’s rising energy prices range from maintenance to recent cold fronts, which have caused several local residents to fall in love with their heaters. Gas in Australia has also reached record costs.
“There have been a lot of factors contributing, and people pick their own one,” says infrastructure consultant Hugh Saddler.
The Climate Institute’s Olivia Kember says that the national energy market is in desperate need of reform, and giving the evil eye to wind farms won’t help.
“It does no good to blame a single technology or a single policy for the situation we’re in,” she says. “Nor is there a single solution. We need to recognize that all of the moving parts of the energy system affect each other, and come up with a coherent strategy to ensure they’re all supporting the goal of secure, affordable, zero-emissions power… A key lesson from the South Australian experience is that we need a plan for the replacement of our old, inflexible coal stations. Leaving it up to the market will lead to disruption, electricity price spikes, and threats to energy security.”
Figures like labor spokesman Mark Butler are now working hard to fight the ongoing anti-renewable campaign and reverse the damage it’s done.
“To put the blame of this situation on renewable energy is fatuous at best, and downright misleading at worst,” he explains. “This is a push… by interests that have nothing more or less than an ideological bent against renewable energy. It’s a push that should not be underestimated, and it’s a push that must be overtly challenged.”