Offshore Wind Turbines: Becalmed

Peter Smith26 Jun, 2024 5 Min Read
Sailing into an uncertain future.

The advantages of offshore turbines are that the wind blows more often offshore than onshore; land is not defaced nor does rent have to be paid. The disadvantages are the extra cost of installation and maintenance and the need to run underseas cables. And, not forgetting the task that dare not speak its name. Eventually dismantling and disposing of rusted sea-strewn giant towers and blades. No worries the free market will take care of it. We can sit back and relax. But wait, there is no free market, is there?

Neither onshore nor offshore turbines would get within a cooee of being built in a free market. It is a rigged market. Rigged markets eventually collapse in disarray. Only for so long can reality be held at bay. In this case, until climate-besotted governments become unwilling to pay.

As it stands, many offshore wind turbines are spinning as we speak, and more are planned. How accurate it is I don’t know, but Wikipedia lists 14 large offshore wind sprawls, each over 600 megawatts in plated capacity. The U.K. heavily features. On my count, this number stretches to 45 when the cut-off is lowered to 400 megawatts, with another 17 under construction and 40 “proposed.” So the story has a way to run before it ends. However there are straws in the wind, so to speak.

Heading for the last roundup.

Search and you will find offshore wind projects being abandoned. A small sample: in June last year, Denmark reduced by 24 the number it had previously proposed, leaving only nine, for the time being. In July last year, Swedish energy giant Vattenfall canned a massive British offshore wind project due to surging costs. Ørsted, the Danish multinational energy company, announced in November last year that it was scrapping plans to build two wind projects off New Jersey. New York cancelled three contracts to build offshore wind projects in April. And, Siemens Energy’s world-leading wind-turbine division is reportedly planning to cut 4,100 jobs. Might be significant.

Another reason for thinking it’s the beginning of the end or at least the end of the beginning is that Australia is planning to get in on the act. “Australia is a lucky country,” Donald Horne has perceptibly proffered. One part of this luck is that our isolation and relatively small population means that we generally lag behind governments in North America and Europe; which, being governments, are prone to making mistakes. Fortuitously, this leaves Australia space to learn. True, slow to learn, but having an edge nonetheless.

So it is that Australia has no offshore wind turbines. Over fifty projects have been proposed but none, thankfully, are presently in a building phase or close to it. And, to the point, it is doubtful that any will ever be built in the face of ever-rising costs. Announcements of course are very much to the fore. If only announcements reflected reality, Australia would too be stuck with offshore turbines churning out intermittent and unaffordable energy.

Chris Bowen, Australia’s obsessive minister for "climate change" and energy recently announced another proposed gigantic offshore wind project off the coast of Illawarra. This coastline stretches about 200 kms south of the outskirts of Sydney in New South Wales. It has the remnant of a steel industry at Port Kembla but these days relies heavily on tourism.

Snake-oil salesmen never die.

The grandiose plan is to install turbines aplenty, 268 meters tall, at an estimated cost of $10 billion (fat chance), across an area of 1,022 square km, 20 kms from the shoreline at the nearest point. Originally it was to be 1,461 square km and 10 kms from shore. Supposedly it was reduced in scope and made more distant as a sop to those pesky locals objecting. They are not fooled. As I heard one leading spokesman say, the plan was always to oversize the project so that it could be reduced in an apparent concession. Those trying to sell ugly ways of providing intermittent and unaffordable energy have to be as cunning as sewer rats.

But look at its supposed “reduced” size. It has a plated capacity of 2,900 megawatts, which translates to over 190 turbines at a reference rate of 15 megawatts per giant modern turbine. It would be the biggest in the world, if it were operating. But, of course, it is a mere dream. It will never be built.

It has to jump environmental hurdles – whales, fishing grounds, tourism, Aboriginal sea spirits. All will stand in the way. And that’s if developers can be found through a tender process to build it and supply electricity at anything remotely close to an affordable price. Never mind, Bowen trumpets its centrality to Australia’s green future with a conviction that only those of obdurate and doctrinaire turn of mind can muster:

Even though we’ve made the wind zone smaller and further away, it will still generate up to just under 3 gigawatts, which is enough for 1.8 million homes. That’s a lot of energy, it puts the Illawarra at the centre of Australia’s renewable energy future.

When the wind don't blow.

Offshore wind works more frequently than does onshore wind. Still, global statistics point to it providing just 42 percent of its plated capacity. And, for the avoidance of doubt, that is an average. Sometimes it is close to zero. The sailing ships of old knew something about being becalmed, which climate cultists would do well to study. Bowen, interviewed outside the steel works at Port Kembla, particularly talked up the power that wind would supply to make steel. Intermittent power. Exactly what a steelworks needs.

Reality bites. The government of New South Wales is buying off Origin Energy, to the tune of $225 million per year, to keep the Eraring coal power station open for longer lest blackouts ensue. Eraring provides 2,900 megawatts of power 24x7. The never-to-be-built humongously expensive monstrosity of a wind sprawl at Illawarra would provide an average of only 42 percent of 2,900 megawatts and, often enough, nothing at all.

Meanwhile back in La-La Land, Bowen and his government colleagues remain intent on destroying Australia’s, dense, cheap, reliable power generation in the quixotic hope of replacing much of it with diffuse, expensive, fickle wind.

After a career in economics, banking and payment-systems management, Peter Smith now blogs on the topics of the day. He writes for Quadrant, Australia’s leading conservative online site and magazine. He has written Bad Economics, of which, he notes, there is much.


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One comment on “Offshore Wind Turbines: Becalmed”

  1. Hi Peter, at what price did NSW privatise its energy resources? I'm guessing we're buying them back for a lot more.

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