Do we really believe that Artificial Intelligence is harming whales in Australia? Of course not!
But there are people, possibly using AI, who are creating the impression that whales are being harmed. Early in November, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on a false article asserting that the proposed Illawarra and Hunter Valley offshore wind energy projects would kill 400 whales a year.
Supposedly published in the well-respected journal “Marine Policy,” the article popped up on social media. It seems to have caught the attention of parliamentarians who used it as ammunition in the argument against building new renewable energy infrastructure in Australia.
That article was not a published “Marine Policy” was designed to spread misinformation. How many people didn’t look further and simply believed the assertion because the article claimed to be from a scientific journal? How many spread the message because it suited their cause?
Deliberately misleading articles about offshore wind turbines are not the only problem; false images are also appearing.
During the consultation process for the proposed offshore wind development area off the coast of the Illawarra region in New South Wales, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) released visualisations of an offshore wind farm 10km and 20km off Bulli.
Before long, doctored versions appeared on anti-wind farm websites and social media. While those were often changed by people who disagreed with the official depictions, they seemed real because the images retained their DCCEEW labels.
Misinformation is influencing the public against the idea of Australia using offshore wind to achieve Net Zero by 2050 and ensure the country’s ongoing energy security.
Offshore wind farms are vital to Australia’s energy future
Australia has more than 100 operational land-based wind farms accounting for up to 30% of the electricity supply into the main grid. Offshore wind farms have some significant advantages over inland farms.
Most of Australia’s population lives in coastal areas, so industry and electricity transmission lines are based there. Consequently, the electricity from offshore wind farms will travel less than 50 km to connect to locations on the grid where demand for electricity is highest.
The second factor is reliability. Offshore wind can generate more energy than onshore wind with fewer turbines, as they are larger than those on land. They also have access to stronger and more consistent wind.
Time is critical
A heatwave described as an “underwater bushfire that can’t be extinguished” is predicted to affect Australia’s Great Southern Reef between December 2023 and February 2024. If it eventuates, it is likely to impact the reef’s kelp forests, soft coral gardens, and many endemic marine species that have evolved in temperatures that, until the 20th century, had been stable for millennia.
It could be years until the ocean returns to normal temperatures, but it won’t happen unless we . Building offshore wind farms will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, a major contributor to climate change, and is one significant step on the journey.
Yes, they may pose some risks to marine life. But those risks pale beside the likelihood of damage to many aquatic plants and animals — including krill — a food source for whales, penguins, seals and many fish species.
“Offshore wind farming is at an embryonic stage in Australia,” says Nick Graham-Higgs, NGH Founding Director. “So, education around the process is vital. Australia needs to be carbon neutral by 2050 – partly because of our international obligations but more because it’s critical to our survival.”
Building a wind farm takes a long time, and NSW is at the beginning of the process. At the time of writing, the DCCEEW has just finalised the zone consultations for Illawarra. Once the zone has been established, developers may apply for feasibility licences and begin extensive environmental and community impact studies and consultations.
Where to find the facts
“At the crux of all this false information is a play on people’s emotions,” says Nick. “We need to gain the community’s trust, and to do that, we need champions of the projects who understand the risks, the actual impacts, and the science.”
For those interested in obtaining accurate information about offshore wind farms. Nick recommends consulting resources like the Blue Energy Futures Lab at the University of Wollongong. This interdisciplinary research team is dedicated to emerging sustainable offshore industries. Their FAQ page is particularly useful, providing balanced and factual information about the potential risks and opportunities associated with offshore wind farms.