He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (2024)

Deep in coal country, a lifelong environmentalist and one-time Greens candidate is feeling the applause.

It's Thursday night at a Gladstone pub and Steven Nowakowski has won over sceptical locals.

His message is a simple one; he believes a wave of new windfarm developments threatens to smash hilltops and turn koala habitat into "industrial zones".

The green movement, he says, are in "la-la land" over windfarms, a comment that draws nods and knowing smiles from the audience.

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (1)

But its only when one local suggests building a new coal-fired power station does the crowd erupt in spontaneous applause.

This is the front line of Australia's latest climate war.

Nowakowski, a nature lover who says he's been arrested fighting for forests, shares the stage with ultra-conservative federal MP Colin Boyce, a man who claims burning fossil fuels creates "plant food".

"We're an odd couple," Nowakowski admits. "I shake my head in disbelief. I cannot believe that I'm in this situation."

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (2)

It's an alliance at the more extreme end of the political spectrum. But it's being replicated right across the country as vocal groups mobilise to frustrate Australia's already slow rollout of renewables.

It's estimated Australia needs to build one new wind turbine every day for the next six years to reach its 2030 emissions target. But it's a target that's proving difficult, and the next leg towards net zero by 2050 is even more challenging.

"Wind's a really important source of new electricity generation," says Simon Corbell, who's just stepped down as CEO of the Clean Energy Investor Group.

Wind, he says, is not only one of the cheapest forms of new electricity generation, but it complements solar as the wind often picks up as the sun goes down.

It's a fact that appears to hold little sway with the growing number of community groups opposed to windfarms.

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (3)

The pub presentation

At Gladstone's Grand Hotel, Nowakowski enlists a few more opponents.

He argues Queensland's streamlined approvals process will further erode koala habitat, bird sanctuaries and the states' last remaining wild places.

"We're going down the wrong path," he says. "We can't destroy biodiversity to save the planet."

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (4)

But as his presentation wraps up and the acclamation grows, Nowakowski shuffles awkwardly and looks towards the carpet.

There's a hint that his anti-windfarm pitch may be providing cover for those wishing to halt action on climate change.

An audience member urges Steven to look into whether there really is a link between carbon dioxide and changes in the climate.

"I'm just saying we could be on this whole train to nowhere for no reason at all," the man says.

Nowakowski allows the comment to remain unchallenged, saying he's "not going to talk about climate change", but does later concede it is a concern.

"I've got to grapple with this every day," he says.

"My information, my photographs, my love of nature could be weaponised against the rollout of renewables and decarbonisation. But what do I do?"

The Gladstone meeting's just the first of a three-night roadshow through Colin Boyce's electorate, for the "odd couple".

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (5)

Boyce, who has spent years campaigning against environmental regulations, is now fighting to save the environment.

Windfarms will cause "damage to flora [and] fauna", he says and will see "the industrialisation of what is literally high value wilderness".

The meetings also provide Boyce with an opportunity to push a topic he's passionate about. Once Nowakowski's presentation ends the Federal MP polls the audience: Should the federal government be having an "open discussion" about nuclear power?

He says an "overwhelming" majority were in favour.

Modelling released in May by the CSIRO found large-scale nuclear power in Australia would be around twice as expensive as renewables and would take a minimum 15 years to build.

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (6)

Nowakowski has also delivered his presentation to Coalition MPs in Canberra and has been embraced by conservative commentators, climate change deniers and nuclear boosters.

In April, Sky News host Andrew Bolt welcomed Nowakowski back to his program and thanked him for "fighting" to save the forests of Queensland.

It's a re-drawing of the political boundaries – a union of sorts between the hard left and the far right.

"We often say that the climate wars are over, but I'm not sure they are. I think they have a new focus and that's renewable energy," says Kelly O'Shanassy, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).


Nowakowski and his supporters had a big win last month when the federal government knocked back the Wooroora Station windfarm in far north Queensland over concerns it was too close to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (7)

But his fight is far from over. Nowakowski estimates there's around 50 wind projects in the pipeline for Queensland.

And he's not alone among conservationists in strongly opposing some windfarms.

It has O'Shanassy worried.

"I sometimes don't sleep at night because some people who love nature are becoming very strongly anti-renewables," O'Shanassy says.

This is the uncomfortable truth in the battle to build windfarms — the fine line between fighting for nature and wanting to see a more rapid decarbonisation of the economy by building large renewables projects.

People like Nowakowski accuse the conservation sector of being "completely asleep at the wheel" in the push for 100 per cent renewables.

Meanwhile, windfarm developers criticise them for being too slow to support projects. Groups like ACF provide high level support for renewables but largely stay out of local fights over windfarms.

ACF did get involved to oppose the Wooroora Station development, but it has never come out and supported a single wind project.

In an attempt to show unity, 14 environmental groups (including ACF, Greenpeace, WWF and Wilderness society) on Monday released a joint letter pledging support for renewable energy, but warning individual projects can't come at the expense of plants, animals, oceans or forests.

"There is absolutely no need, on our over-cleared continent, to knock down rainforests or irreplaceable wildlife habitat for renewable energy projects," the letter said.

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (8)

Corbell says in the development of renewables, "any loss of a natural native ecosystem is something that has to be treated very seriously".

"But we do need to think about what is the existential threat we face and that existential threat for threatened ecosystems, for threatened species is a warming planet and the devastating impacts associated with that … extreme weather events, drought, fire, flood."

While the sector wrestles with this dilemma, opponents of renewables have become emboldened, pushing a series of half-truths and misinformation about wind energy.

An offshore battle brews

One fight is playing out over Australia's next renewable energy frontier — offshore windfarms.

These turbines, which are more than 250 metres tall, will help get Australia to net zero by 2050.

Wind energy will need to increase six-fold by then to meet that crucial decarbonisation goal.

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (9)

"Offshore wind was seen as a real way of freeing up … what you'd call the human issue," says Andy Evans, whose company Oceanex is seeking to build turbines off the coast of Bunbury, south of Perth.

"They are out to sea, less visible [and] you won't hear them."

But long before a wind turbine is fixed to the ocean floor or a feasibility study has even begun, opposition groups have mobilised.

One group has amassed more than 6,000 members on Facebook in a few months.

They're fighting to stop the construction of up to 200 wind turbines near an area known as Geographe Bay, a picturesque breeding ground for whales and favourite of divers and recreational fishermen.

In February, the federal government proposed this spot – set back at least 20 kilometres from the coastline — as one of Australia's six offshore wind zones.

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (10)

Some of the group's leaders, including anti-windfarm activist Martine Shepherd, directly link offshore turbines to whale deaths.

"What we've done is actually support it with evidence that day after day whales are washing up on the shores on the United States," Shepherd says.

This has been debunked by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US, but posts linking whale deaths to windfarms sit on the group's Facebook page alongside everything from COVID conspiracies to climate change denialism.

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (11)

Earlier this year, Shepherd shared an image with the group about wind turbines that has been widely debunked, and it was subsequently blocked by Facebook for containing "information that has no basis in fact".

Shepherd does not believe her scepticism towards climate change needs to be disclosed as part of her opposition to the offshore windfarm.

"I think that focusing on reducing CO2 because that's the cause of climate change is very questionable," she says.

Her comments and posts echo those of another prominent member of the group, Alexandra Nicol.

She's a former Liberal party staffer, who claims renewables are "government-sponsored fraud".

Nicol's posts make no reference to her previous work with the Waubra Foundation, an anti-windfarm lobby group whose founder had a long career in the fossil fuel industry.

The foundation has since been disbanded and Nicol is no longer a director.

Despite being an administrator of the group, Shepherd says she has no responsibility to inform other members of Nicol's background or her history with the Waubra Foundation.

"What I'd like to acknowledge is her [Nicol's] courage for breaking [her] silence about the corruption and the fraud of this government."

Four Corners reached out to Nicol with questions but did not hear back.

Simon Corbell says he's "deeply worried" by what he's seeing play out.

"I think in many ways there are forces at work that are seeking to hinder the energy transition and are putting resources into doing that and aligning themselves with genuine community concerns," he says.

"But [they are] also exaggerating them and firing them with a level of misinformation, which is very difficult to counter."

Watch Four Corners' full investigation into the increasingly polarised fight over renewable energy tonight on ABC TV and ABC iview.

Subscribe to the Four Corners newsletter and follow Four Corners on Facebook.

Contact Four Corners here.

Posted, updated

He's the greenie fighting windfarms. In coal country he's found an unlikely ally (2024)


How many birds are killed by wind turbines? ›

In 2022, the US produced 434 TWh of wind power. 2 Taking the numbers above, that gives us a range of 200,000 to 1.2 million. The upper figure seems more likely since it tries to correct for the under-detection of smaller birds. Let's call it around one million birds per year.

Which of the following would be the best location for a wind farm with ten industrial turbines? ›

Expert-Verified Answer. The best location for a wind farm with ten industrial turbines would be option d: arranged uniformly on a local farm that has fields and pastureland for dairy and grain production.

Which country in the world produces the most electricity by using wind power? ›

Electricity production from wind globally 2023, by country

In 2023, China was the country with the largest energy production from wind, with some 885 terawatt hours. The United States ranked second by a wide margin, with roughly half of China's production.

What is the difference between coal and wind turbines? ›

CO2 Emissions from Different Energy Sources

Wind energy produces around 11 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour (g CO2/kWh) of electricity generated, compared with about 980 g CO2/kWh for coal and roughly 465 g CO2/kWh for natural gas.

How many wind turbines would it take to power the US? ›

It would take about 1.26 million wind turbines, covering about 0.01% of the land, to power the whole of the United States.

How much does a wind turbine cost? ›

The typical wind turbine is 2-3 MW in power, so most turbines cost in the $2-4 million dollar range. Operation and maintenance runs an additional $42,000-$48,000 per year according to research on wind turbine operational cost.

Where can wind farms or groups of wind turbines be commonly found? ›

They are often built in the ocean but also on lakes and fjords when wind speeds are strong enough. Offshore wind farms generally experience stronger wind speeds due to their location.

What type of location is most suitable for wind farms? ›

Favorable sites include the tops of smooth, rounded hills; open plains and water; and mountain gaps that funnel and intensify wind. Wind speeds are generally higher the greater the distance above the earth's surface. Large wind turbines are placed on towers that range from about 500 feet to as high as 900 feet tall.

Which state has the most number of the 10 largest wind farms? ›

Energy Transition

Wind power is the largest source of renewable energy in the US, generating nearly half of the total. Texas produces far more than any other state, followed by Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas. Just 10 states have no wind power capacity, all in the southeast.

How many houses can one wind turbine power? ›

At a 42% capacity factor (i.e., the average among recently built wind turbines in the United States, per the 2021 edition of the U.S. Department of Energy's Land-Based Wind Market Report), that average turbine would generate over 843,000 kWh per month—enough for more than 940 average U.S. homes.

What country relies most on solar power? ›

Key takeaways. China uses the most solar power globally, generating over 224 GWh of electricity using just solar, with a projected 370 kWh of installed solar by 2024.

Is gas cleaner than coal? ›

Natural gas is a relatively clean-burning fossil fuel

Burning natural gas for energy results in fewer emissions of nearly all types of air pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than burning coal or petroleum products to produce an equal amount of energy.

What is one problem with using solar panels or wind turbines to produce electricity? ›

Solar energy systems can generate electricity in any climate. One of the disadvantages of solar energy is that it's subject to temporary weather disruption. Cloudy days reduce the amount of electricity you produce.

How many wind turbines does it take to replace a coal plant? ›

So the first answer is that just over 350 wind turbines are required to replace a coal generation plant which likely has 2–3 generating units. That means that about 120–175 wind turbines are required to replace a single generating unit.

What is the leading cause of death for birds? ›

Bird Watch

Studies have estimated that as many as 1.39 billion birds die annually in collisions with human-made structures such as vehicles, buildings and windows, power lines, communication towers, and wind turbines. Mortalities from collisions affect some bird groups more than others.

How many birds are killed by solar panels each year? ›

In 2016, a first-of-its-kind study estimated that the hundreds of utility-scale solar farms around the US may kill nearly 140,000 birds annually.

How many birds are killed by airplanes? ›

There are over 13,000 bird strikes annually in the US alone. However, the number of major accidents involving civil aircraft is quite low and it has been estimated that there is only about one accident resulting in human death in one billion (109) flying hours.

Are wind turbines friendlier to birds than oil and gas drilling? ›

13 issue reported that a new study had found wind turbines are much friendlier to birds than oil-and-gas drilling. The researcher, Erik Katovich, an economist at the University of Geneva, had studied Christmas Bird Counts conducted by Audubon volunteers across the United States from 2000 to 2020.

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