One bit of malarkey I see trotted out every now and then is that wind is too diffuse a source of energy and requires too much land to be practical. Well, if that’s the case then coal power must be even more impractical because the coal fueled Hazelwood Power Plant in the Australian state of Victoria produces less electricity per square metre than the state’s wind farms.
While wind turbines get spread out over a wide area, apart from the bases of the turbines and the roads built to service them, almost all the land is still available for its original purpose which is normally either grazing or cropping. In Australia wind farms only remove about 1% of their total land area from use. And this is a figure that will get even smaller as the average size of wind turbines increases. A site that uses two megawatt turbines might only remove 0.67% of land from use. And even that small amount of land is not a complete loss, as agriculture benefits from reduced wind speeds and the service roads can be used by farmers.
Wind farms vary a lot in the total area they cover due to local wind conditions and topography. The Bald Hills Wind Farm, which is under construction on grazing land in Victoria, will have 52 turbines over 1,750 hectares, have a total capacity of 104 megawatts, and is expected to operate at over 36% of capacity. Using the 1% figure for land removed from grazing, which may be too high as its 2 megawatt turbines are large for Australia, it will produce an average of 218 watts per square meter, which isn’t bad at all and is much better than Hazelwood.
Hazelwood Power Plant is a monster. I mean that quite literally. When they remake Silence of the Lambs they should cast Hazelwood Power Plant as Hannibal Lecter because I can’t think of anything scarier. It is the least efficient power plant in the OECD and the worst polluter in terms of greenhouse gases per kilowatt-hour produced. It is single handedly responsible for 9% of Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation. Due to exposure to hazardous substances it is estimated that over $400 million in health related insurance payouts will need to be made, and that’s just to former employees. It’s maximum output is 1,740 megawatts and it operates at an average of about 66% of that. The plant and its mine covers 3,554 hectares. Brown coal is carried to the plant on a forty kilometre long conveyor belt. The coal seam it comes from is 100 meters thick and large enough to power Hazelwood for over 500 years.
Per square meter, the Hazelwood Power Plant and mine produces an average of 32 watts. This means that at 218 watts, the Bald Hills Wind Farm will produce almost seven times as much electricity per square meter, utterly trouncing Hazelwood in the energy density sweepstakes. And while Hazelwood is horrible, it’s not the only coal plant that does badly. According to the Australian Wind Energy Association, Australian coal requires about 2.7 times as much land per unit of electricity produced than wind power. As the average capacity of Australian coal plants has been dropping, they are probably doing even worse than that now.
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