Australia’s Clean Energy Future – Well, No! – Macarthur Wind

Posted on Fri 10/14/2011 by


On the same day that the CO2 Tax, sorry, the Carbon Tax, sorry the Price on Carbon, sorry the ETS, sorry, The ‘Clean Energy Future’ Legislation raft of 18 Bills was passed narrowly through the House of Representatives in Australia, their mouthpiece fair and even handed ABC TV network’s Current Affairs program 7.30, ran with a story on one of those ‘Clean Energy Future’ power plants currently in planning.

Gee, wasn’t it lucky that this story was planned to go to air on the same day the legislation was passed.

The article was ostensibly about the impact on a sheep farmer in the area where this new Plant was going in, and while that thrust of the article was indeed real for that family, the thing that should be concentrated on here is the fact that Wind plants (all of them) fail absolutely to deliver the electrical power that is claimed.

One part of the article showed a representative of the Company constructing the towers saying that this wind plant will have a total capacity of 420MW, making it sound like this really is a large scale outfit, and in fact he also proudly mentioned that when it goes in, it will be the largest wind plant in the Southern Hemisphere.

However, that’s not the whole story. In fact it’s clever spin on only part of the story, so let’s then look at this Plant and see the real truth of the matter.

This plant is called The Macarthur Wind Farm, and notice how they call these things Wind Farms, almost as if they are doing something altruistic, as in comparison to real farming, the production of something we can all use in its totality. Subliminally, people are led to believe that the addition of the word Farm somehow makes this a good thing.

This is the link to their Home Page: The Macarthur Wind Farm

The location is near a small town called Macarthur, in South Western Victoria here in Australia.

The project will have 140 towers, each topped with a Vestas V112 nacelle, capable of generating a maximum 3MW, giving this plant an overall total Nameplate Capacity of 420MW.

This link titled The Project takes you the page with the relevant data, which is in that small chart at the bottom of the page.

Notice how they quote the maximum nameplate capacity there, but they don’t detail the amount of power that this plant will actually deliver.

Well, in fact they do, but 99% of the population has no way of working that out, so while the data there looks ‘impressive’, that real truth is hidden in plain sight, so if the real truth about the Plant’s inability to deliver power is ever to become known, the Plant’s operators can effectively say that they published those details ‘up front’ right from the outset.

So then let’s decipher what that really means.

See that line on that chart which says ‘Average Houses Powered Each Year’.

Well, that is the area that details the total power delivered from this plant.

Well, in a way it does that I suppose, because that total is only a theoretical total power delivered.

That ‘theoretical’ total is calculated at the best case scenario of power able to be delivered on average if the tower was to operate at its optimum. The ‘theoretical’ total is 38%, and this is called the Capacity Factor.

What it means (and here I’ll work on the overall total rather than for a single 3MW nacelle) is that if all the towers were to work at their optimum, then the plant can deliver its power at the rate of 38% of maximum, which is 38% of that 420MW or 160MW. Some days may deliver more, and most will deliver less, but that 160MW is the best case theoretical scenario extrapolated out over time. That 38% delivery can then be referred to time that this plant delivers its power, and on average that equates to a little over 9 hours a day.

Now, what is known is consumption figures for actual household power consumption, so what is done here is now they have that theoretical figure, they divide the average residential consumption figure into their total, and that gives them a number of households powered by this plant, hence in this case that 220,000 homes supplied.

At no stage will this plant ever be connected to those 220,000 homes directly powered by this plant, as the Plant only supplies its power to the overall grid only, and that power is delivered to three sectors, the Residential sector, which consumes 38% of all power, Commerce 37% and Industrial 24% across that whole grid which has a number of plants providing power to it.

Even so, if that plant can only deliver its power for 9 hours a day on average, then it stands to reason that it can never supply all residential power consumed for a full 24 hour period.

So, while that figure of 220,000 homes supplied looks impressive, what it actually translates to is a clever manipulation of the truth.

Keep in mind that I have said this is a theoretical total.

Nearby to this Plant now in construction is a similar wind plant, the Challicum Hills Wind Plant. This has been in operation for a few years now, and it is delivering its power, not at that 38% theoretical level, but at an actual delivery rate (Capacity Factor) of 27% which is just more than six hours a day on average.

So that delivery figure quoted there (well not really quoted) of 38% looks to be quite a sanguine outlook for delivery of power.

So then, let’s look also at another important point from that fact sheet where it says this plant will have a yearly Greenhouse Gas saving of 1.7 Million tons.

Now that really is impressive. But how much truth is there in that quote.

Let’s construct a new technology coal fired power plant of the same size as this wind plant, 420MW, which is in fact a small to medium sized coal fired power plant, considering a large scale coal fired plant is around 2000+MW.

That small to medium coal fired plant would in fact emit around that 1.7 Million tons, so by constructing this Wind Plant INSTEAD of the coal fired plant, then there is a saving of that 1.7 Million tons of CO2 being emitted.

However, the probable translation here is that with the construction of this plant, then there is the possibility that existing CO2 emitting plants will be cutting back on the power they provide, hence not burning as much coal or Natural Gas, hence emitting less CO2. See that point.

However, and it always comes back to this, this Wind Plant provides only variable amounts of power, so those other plants will either need to be running and supplying their power or running on spinning reserve, still burning and turning, (and emitting) ready at a moments notice to take up power delivery when the wind stops blowing and the Wind plant stops delivering its power.

So, while this plant claims a reduction in GHG emissions of 1.7 million tons, then this again is also only a theoretical amount, and something that can never actually be verified.

Say, let’s do a quick exercise and compare the power delivered from this wind plant with a theoretical new technology coal fired power plant of the same Nameplate Capacity 420MW.

This wind plant can deliver its power (and let’s use their theoretical maximum of 38%) at the rate of 1400GigaWattHours (GWH) each year.

The same sized coal fired plant can deliver its power at around (at the 80% CF, the standard for 24/7/365 for coal fired power) 3000GWH per year, well more than double the power delivered from this wind plant.

Another thing worth considering here is that this wind plant has an effective life of only 25 years, which again is the theoretical maximum for all wind plants.

A coal fired plant, which is considerably more robust than these 140 wind towers has an average life span of 50 years, which can even be extended if needed.

So, the Wind plant can deliver a lifetime power of around 35,000GWH.

The Coal fired plant can deliver a lifetime power of around 150,000GWH, 4.3 times as much power. Now if we were to take the probable real delivery amount of that 27%, then the result is that the coal fired plant will deliver 6 times as much power.

So, while ‘wonderful looking’ data for this wind plant makes people think that this really is something that is worthwhile, the real fact is something altogether different.

As is the case with every one of these wind plants, and for that fact, every renewable plant proposal as well, the reality is considerably at odds with what is quoted at the outset for each of these proposals.

The cost for this Macarthur wind plant is estimated at around $1 Billion, and that I also suspect is quite an understatement.

The Australian Government, in passing this ‘Clean Energy Future’ legislation, has as its vision for our future, the future of every Australian, this one wind plant of many as their plan for the supply of electrical power.

If this is the case, then we are in for a very bleak future indeed.

In what can only be termed the ultimate irony, this following chart starkly shows what that ‘Clean Energy Future’ looks like.

This chart shows the total power output of the 24 Wind Plants currently supplying power in Australia, and this is that power delivery chart for the same day that the legislation was passed through the House of Representatives., the 12th October 2011.

The X axis shows the hours in that day from Midnight through the day and back to Midnight.

The Y Axis shows the total power output in MegaWatts. (MW)

Those 24 Wind Power Plants have a total Nameplate Capacity of 2003MW. (which is around the same size as ONE large scale coal fired power plant)

The coloured lines along the bottom of the graph show the output from each wind plant, and the black line shows the total power for all 24 of those wind plants.

Note how the greatest power delivery is from Midnight to around 8AM when it drops off dramatically. That power bumps along at around 100MW to 150MW until until it slowly rises again after 5PM.

During the period of greatest demand from around 9AM until 4PM that power delivery is barely 100MW, which is 5% of the total power for every wind plant.

For that same period the actual total demand for the 5 States where all those Wind plants are situated was 25,000MW from 6AM until 9PM, so for the period when all 24 Wind Plants were supplying only 100MW, then every Wind Plant in the Country was only supplying 0.4% of that total power requirement.

That must surely be the greatest irony of all on the same day legislation was passed for a Clean Energy Future’ for Australia.

The full data is available at this link.

If this is an indicator of the vision for a ‘Clean Energy Future’ Australia is in for some troubling times.