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The answer is blowin in the wind


 
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In 2013 August was the month of wind records but this year it was July which set a new record. While this was partly due to windy conditions South Australia has also contributed by commissioning an enormous new wind farm, Snowtown2.
The amount of wind-generated energy produced by South Australia in July covered 43% of South Australia’s entire electricity demand, putting it on a par with European nations like Denmark, Spain and Germany.
The roaring forties are the trade winds that blow in an easterly direction and affect the area from the top of Tasmania to the south coast of Australia, making those areas very windy indeed. The planning laws in South Australia also encourage the development of wind farms. In Victoria, for instance, the present government introduced legislation which gave any landholder within two km of a wind turbine could veto that development whereas South Australian legislation allows for more negotiations. South Australia also has a sparser population, more favourable sites and a lesser demand for electricity compared with states like Victoria.
Indeed the July 2114 report from the independent body the Australian Market Energy Operator shows that in the 2113-2114 financial year South Australia generated 33% of their electricity needs from wind, meeting that states target.
The wind energy industry has been growing in Australia, as it has overseas but its current appraisal as part of a federal government review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) headed by Dick Warburton has been disappointing. Part of the mechanism of the RET is that clean energy produces renewable energy certificates, the value of which will drop if the target is reduced. Some job losses in the industry have already occurred. The RET was expanded in 2009, the target set at 41,000 gwh (gigawatt hours) of large scale generation, a result of calculating 20% of the estimated 2020 total demand for electricity. Since then, demand forecasts have reduced a bit. Australian manufacturing has seen reductions and energy efficiency in the domestic sector has been a big success, meaning the target of 41,000 gwh will be surpassed.
There are people within the federal government calling for the target to be a “real” 20%, which would lower the target and reduce certificate value, damaging confidence and the industry itself. Wind farms do create employment, especially in the construction phase when hundreds of people are required to build roads and electrical substations, trench cables, drive vehicles and cranes not to mention catering for all those workers on site. There are less jobs after construction but like any infrastructure, wind farms need ongoing maintenance by tradespeople, such servicing having positive flow-on effects for the local towns in regional areas.
Most of the steel wind farm towers (some 80%) are manufactured in Australia but most of the blades and machinery are imported from Europe and China. Most are built by big international companies that also have markets overseas. At the moment they choose to invest in Australia but any perceived investment risk will see them concentrate elsewhere, taking their money and their jobs with them. The review of the RET is far from an encouragement for investment in wind farms. As far as renewable energy goes Bob Dylan was right all those years ago. The answer really is blowin in the wind.

Alicia Webb was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Summary text by Victor Barry, September 2014.

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