January was a banner month for renewables Down Under. According to an analyst at Rystad Energy, who shared the figures with clean energy site Renew Economy, three of Australia’s six states saw new records for wind and solar power production. In total, utility-scale wind and solar produced 3,628 gigawatt hours of power across Australia, a new record.
A full quarter of that power came from New South Wales, where wind and solar generated 995 gigawatt hours of energy. But there were standouts outside of NSW, as several wind farms saw great figures in what’s known as capacity output, or the percentage of time a power plant is actually used.
Badgingarra wind farm, a 37-turbine installation in the state of Western Australia north of Perth, saw a jaw-dropping capacity rate of 64% last month. That capacity rate makes Badgingarra, as well as five other wind farms that hit capacity rates of more than 50% in January, competitive with most of the country’s coal units. (In November 2019, Badgingarra’s capacity output was 70%, its best month.)
Wind’s wins are a big deal, because in Australia, coal is definitely still king. Coal-fired power plants still generate about 60% of Australia’s electricity, making it an outlier as other comparatively wealthy countries race to ditch coal and diversify their grids with wind, solar, and other renewables. Coal maintains an iron grip on Australia’s politics as well as the global economy: Australia was the world’s second-biggest exporter of coal in 2020. Coal has some powerful allies in the country, including conservative media mogul and native Australian Rupert Murdoch, whose various news products, including Fox News, have gone all-in on climate denial. A Greenpeace analysis released in 2020 revealed that Murdoch’s News Corp drove a “misinformation” campaign during that year’s devastating wildfires in Australia, spreading climate denial and sowing doubt about the wildfires’ causes as the government approved new coal extraction projects.
Because its fuel—and politics—are so dirty, Australia’s government has also made comparatively measly emissions reductions targets. Prime Minister Scott Morrison procrastinated all the way up to the beginning of last year’s UN climate meeting to issue a net-zero plan for the country. (That plan still keeps coal and gas significantly in the mix, so it’s pretty dubious.)
Australia isn’t the only place where dirty fuels are celebrated even as clean fuels are performing well. A month after Texas Republicans used the February 2021 blackouts to bash wind energy, wind was the number one source of electricity on the Texas grid last March.