OPINION: Auswind chief executive, Dominique La Fontaine

THE recent decision to disallow a proposed windfarm at Bald Hills, Victoria has created national debate over wind energy, but it seems there's one thing that almost everyone now agrees on – climate change is real. By Auswind chief executive DOMINIQUE LA FONTAINE*
OPINION: Auswind chief executive, Dominique La Fontaine OPINION: Auswind chief executive, Dominique La Fontaine OPINION: Auswind chief executive, Dominique La Fontaine OPINION: Auswind chief executive, Dominique La Fontaine OPINION: Auswind chief executive, Dominique La Fontaine

Climate change is the crucial fact we need to consider when we talk about Australia’s energy future, and many of Australia’s most respected business leaders nowree that the time for action has arrived.

The Business Roundtable – including CEOs from BP Australia, Insurance Australia Group, Origin Energy, Swiss Re, Visy Industries, Westpac and the Australian Conservation Foundation – recently agreed that taking early action to reduce our greenhouse emissions through renewable energy is necessary and affordable.

Westpac CEO David Morgan said “The facts on climate change and its potential costs were now clear”.

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell said last week that “wind power is an excellent source of renewable energy” and acknowledged it was a readily available source of renewable energy that uses mature technology that can be implemented right now.

That doesn’t mean we expect wind power to be the answer to all our energy needs. But it should and must be part of the answer - the part we can implement in the short term.

Every day we delay is another day of growing demand for electricity and at the moment that means creating more pollution and leaving more problems for future generations to deal with.

So, by all means, let’s have a debate about nuclear energy and let’s start investing some serious money in other renewable energy technologies, but while we talk and research we can also be generating clean, pollution-free power out of nothing more than air.

Auswind’s member companies are sensitive to the community’s wishes and conduct extensive consultation with all interested parties on any new development.

Of course, some people will oppose any infrastructure development in their area, but when they have a chance to consider the facts, rather than the myths, about wind farms they often reconsider.

The beauty of this technology is that in our vast continent we can be flexible with its placement, and when that process is done well, as set out in Auswind’s Best Practice Guidelines, environmental considerations are paramount and the views of everyone involved can be addressed.

Meanwhile, other countries are already overtaking us in the adoption of wind energy. China has a binding target of 15% of its power to come from renewable sources, including wind, by 2020 (and only 5% from nuclear power).

India is a world leader in wind power; the US and Canada are turning windward to help reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

And the technology is improving all the time. That is why European predictions show more than eight times as much electricity coming from wind power by 2030 (23% of Europe’s total power needs) with just a 90% increase in the current number of turbines installed.

In case you’re wondering how much energy it takes to produce a turbine, that same amount is usually produced in the first six months of its operation, which isn’t bad for something that will keep pumping out the megawatts, using absolutely no fuel.

Modern electricity management systems are well equipped to cope with the sometimes intermittent nature of wind-generated power. Existing power stations are constantly having their output adjusted to suit changing demands, so adding more wind power to the grid makes little difference.

All the available polling shows the vast majority of Australians not only like the idea of wind power, they want to do something about halting the greenhouse effect, and will support reasonable proposals that allow them to do so.

That means incentives for investment in renewable energy, the addition of a climate change trigger to the Federal Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, and the adoption of Auswind’s Best Practice Guidelines as the industry standard.

It requires the political will of governments at all levels to show that wind and other renewables are part of their plans for the future. That will create investment certainty to help us cut our world’s-highest levels of greenhouse emissions and bring down the price of clean energy for all users.

*Auswind is Australia’s peak industry body for the wind energy sector. In partnership with the Global Wind Energy Council, it is hosting this year’s premier international wind energy event, GLOBAL WINDPOWER 2006. The conference is being held in Adelaide from 18-21 September 2006.