One of the most frequently cited arguments by electric vehicle sceptics questions the relevance of battery-powered cars if their energy is produced by dirty coal-fired power stations. “What’s the point of a zero-emissions car if its tailpipe is in the Latrobe Valley?” they say.
I’m disappointed if you need me to explain why this is a naïve, soon-to-be-superfluous perspective. Sure, Australia’s energy production is among the most archaic, primitive and polluting in the modern world, but the fossil fuels that account for 85 percent of our electricity, including seams of filthy, inefficient brown coal will one day be gone. What then?
Renewable energy is not a question of if, it’s a question of when and, put simply, clean electric cars are ready and waiting for the imminent advent of clean power.
But this story is not about that undeniable inevitability. It is about the bloody-minded and perplexing resistance to clean, renewable power and widespread ignorance that still surrounds the subject – something that was recently and unexpectedly brought to my attention in spectacular clarity.
The day started like many other shoots. We had selected a location to film a short video highlighting one of the virtues of Porsche’s plug-in hybrid Cayenne and set about finding the ideal backdrop at the Mt. Mercer Wind Farm.
Ignoring a ‘no access’ sign between a public track and very similar-looking track was the difference between a good shot and an excellent shot unobscured by a fence and, since it was just a few metres through an open gateway, I assumed we wouldn’t cause any fuss.
It’s fair to say I was wrong on this occasion.
A ute arrived and before I had chance to apologetically explain our intentions, the driver had dispensed with more expletives and profanities than a Goodfellas monologue.
He was angry - really angry. I’m not talking reasonably angry and the kind of anger that is expected when someone parks a car on an innocuous patch of lifeless dirt that’s ten feet from an identical patch of useless dust the other side of a fence. I’m talking 28 Days Later anger, rabid possessed anger, looks-like-he’s-going-to-punch-me anger.
I might have argued that if he was really that passionate about deterring trespassers and preventing strangers from straying onto private land, he might consider not leaving gates wide open and perhaps using the lock that was currently doing nothing. But this was not a man who could be reasoned with and there was something more complex going on other than a little light unauthorised parking.
Fortunately, the site manager showed up before the irate Queenslander did something he might regret, and the only thing that was thrown was some light on the situation.
Since the farm became fully operational in 2014, the site has been hounded by a multitude of groups claiming the wind farm is a blight on the land for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the protesters show up in the day with big signs, other times they show up in the night with matches and petrol, and other times they turn up with cameras and tripods.
After a morning of answering insurance company questioning following a recent destructive bushfire, and months of interfering do-gooders, an uninvited film crew was the last straw.
On a scale of one to Gordon Ramsay, the fuming Queenslander’s diplomacy skills were ranked somewhere around Genghis Kahn, but I was able to explain our motives and that we were, in fact, on his side.
I popped open the charge port of the E-Hybrid and the situation was immediately clear, even to a man who was so amped he could have powered Ballarat by himself.
Here is a hard-working farmer enduring all the challenges and struggles that farmers are faced with all over Australia – drought, crippling supermarket powers, rising fuel costs – who had taken a risk and embarked on a venture that might just prevent him having to abandon his livelihood, whilst benefiting the environment.
And the thanks he gets on a weekly basis is a barrage of meddling weekend warriors trying to stop the turbines. Why?
For a start, animal welfare organisations claim animals living immediately under the turbines are unhappy and the blades that rotate at 15 rpm can pluck birds out of the sky.
Digest the various sources of information available at your will and make up your own mind but, for the record, the livestock that quietly went about their business under the turbines seemed among the most deliriously happy porcine examples I’ve encountered, and videographer JP and I were not dodging a constant hail of bludgeoned eagles.
Noise is another nuisance commonly cited but, in our time on the farm, distant vehicles produced a more intrusive din than the all but completely silent vanes. No trees had to be cleared for this particular wind farm and don’t even get me started on the other frankly absurd theories relating to human health.
Whatever the legitimacy of these arguments, I extend the respective proponents an invitation. Come with me to another of our favourite film shooting locations - the Haunted Hills overlooking the Latrobe Valley.
I challenge anyone to stand under the stinking yellow plume that rises from the Yallourn power station 24 hours a day, listen to its screaming turbines and behold the massive black scar left on this once beautiful part of Victoria by extensive open-cast mining, and tell me that is better than power generated by the wind.
Tell me the torrent of acid rain dumped on surrounding areas is better than the odd concussed chaffinch. Tell me the children with respiratory complications in Moe, Morwell and Traralgon are easier to ignore than a mildly disgruntled cow. And tell me, whether you would prefer your electricity to cost a handful of residents the odd sleepless night or more than 200 million tons of CO2 belched into our environment each year.
Back at trespassgate, rather than being covered with soil in a shallow hole as had looked highly likely at one point, JP and I were following the team back to the site office where we met representatives from renewable energy retailer Powershop.
They had arrived earlier in the day aboard their Tesla Model S, which was now plugged in and charging - the automotive equivalent of barbecuing a trout on the banks of the river you just caught it in.
Zero food miles, zero carbon, 100 percent renewable and 100 percent feasible. Beneath the graceful sailing of wind turbine vanes, here was the exact formula of perfect emissions-free motoring at work and irrefutably proven.
But there is still much work to be done most notably in the area of public perception. While there are single-minded, splinter groups working tirelessly to derail the cause of wind power and all other non-renewable energy alternatives, it is the job of the government to raise awareness and provide the support that green power so badly needs and deserves.
Sadly, the recent election result is likely to be reverse gear for electric vehicles and their supporting infrastructure. Nonetheless, the day’s unexpected developments had been incredibly insightful providing a fascinating cross-section of the status quo.
Interestingly, some of the team at Mt. Mercer refer to the interfering do-gooder organisations including PETA and animal activist groups as ‘greenies’. In fact, earlier in the day one of the engineers had asked if we were ‘vegans’ given the previous unwelcome attention from animal rights lobbyists.
I was pleased to point out that the t-shirt I was wearing recreated the decoration of the 1971 Porsche 917/20 “pink pig” – a livery that represents a butcher’s various delicious cuts of pork.
Perhaps my own naivety lead me to believe that all groups concerned with environmental action and progress were united under a ‘green’ blanket and in agreement that wind power is the future, but it seems the industry has many more enemies than I had realised with little hope of winning them over.
Given the tense political climate surrounding climate change and our government’s own agendas, the path from combustion power to alternative energy is going to be hard and fraught with contradiction and irony. Critically though, the stakeholders can decide if it’s a smooth unobscured path or potholed and uncomfortable.
Unlike my brush with death at the hands of a red-faced farmer however, the destination is inescapable.