How a Band of Criminals, Shysters & Chancers Conjured Up the Wind Industry in Australia
Now and again you just get lucky. STT makes no bones about its mission: to destroy the wind industry. So it was with more than just a little delight, that we received a bundle of highly incriminating documents from one of our top-level operatives.
At the risk of sounding a little like the showboats behind WikiLeaks, this stuff is ‘dynamite’.
What we set out below is a few pages from the first tranche of documents sent to us (that entire 47 page bundle is available here as a PDF). And what was sent to us is just the tip of a very stinky iceberg: our operative has secured thousands of pages of documents linking (and showing the dealings between) wind industry lobbyists, MPs and their staffers.
Before we kick off though, it’s both helpful and necessary to identify a few of the characters involved.
First, there’s the convicted criminal, Timothy J Flato.
Back in the 1990s, Tim was a practising attorney and partner at Latham & Watkins. Later on, a number of its partners had a few “billing difficulties”; and were disbarred and/or sent to prison as a result.
But they weren’t the first from the firm to earn a little ‘form’.
Tim, then head of the firm’s project finance practice, admitted to falsifying hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of expense reports over a three-year period. Tim’s little billing ‘difficulty’ involved him purchasing airplane tickets, cancelling them, and then submitting the receipts to clients for payment, augmenting his salary by over $100,000 per year. Tim’s accounting fudge amounted to somewhere between $300-400,000; saw him disbarred; and slapped with 6 months home detention for his efforts.
Having polished up his CV perfectly for the wind industry, Tim Flatohelped set up National Power Company in the US; then headed Downunder and set up another with the mantle ‘National Power Australasia Inc’.
Then there are the shysters and chancers.
Babcock & Brown was absolutely full of them; people like Warren Murphy, Miles George and Adrian Rizza.
Check out the CVs of the characters in these links here and here and here– a fair number of them brag of ‘solid’ backgrounds with Enron, later lobbed at Babcock and Brown and – when it went into melt-down – scurried off like indestructible cockroaches to hide elsewhere in the wind industry. No surprises there.
During Infigen’s first incarnation as Babcock and Brown, Miles & Co helped to fleece investors and creditors of something like $10 billion (while its directors pocketed – and somehow managed to retain – 10s of $millions at creditors’ and investors’ expense).
Having spectacularly crashed and burned, Babcock and Brown then shamelessly phoenixed into Infigen – which is about to do it all over again: its losses continue to pile up, it continues to bleed cash and, unable to cut any deals with commercial power retailers or to obtain the finance needed to build any of its threatened projects, it has no hope of surviving its growing mountain of debt (see our post here).
But shysters and chancers like Warren, Miles and Adrian rarely get far without greasing-up helpful political enablers.
In what follows, keep a lookout for the names Patrick Gibbons and Ken McAlpine. Back then, Patrick and Ken were offering up political favours on behalf of Victoria’s Labor Minister for Energy Industries & Resources, Theo Theophanous.
These days, Patrick Gibbons spends every waking hour protecting his mates in the wind industry from inside the Federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt’s office; while his best mate, Ken McAlpine heads up struggling Danish turbine manufacturer, Vesta’s Australian operations (that’s when he’s not spreading malicious falsehoods about Dr Sarah Laurie, or acting like a total prat in front of Federal Senate Committees).
Anyway, that’s probably enough background on the villains.
Let’s take a look at how they cooked up the greatest economic and environmental fraud in history, by first targeting South Australia’s dimwitted Labor government. Oh, and if the images below aren’t so clear, click on them, they’ll pop up in a new window, clear as crystal.
Now, at the risk of sounding overly critical, what appears above suggests high level ‘imagination’. The protagonists clearly seem to be making it up as they go along.
The ‘XX’s that pepper the document have that second-hand car salesmen’s “pick whatever figure suits you” kind of feel about them. Scratching out the figure of $800 million and replacing it with $1 billion, was clearly aimed at hooking the more gullible fish in the political pond.
However, South Australians (who, as a result of this Memorandum of Understanding and what followed now pay the highest power prices in the Nation – if not the world, on a purchasing power parity basis – and suffer daily power interruptions and even Statewide wind power blackouts) can only wonder what happened to the promised Vesta’s “blade manufacturing facility”, and the hundreds of ‘groovy-green’ jobs supposed to have been attached to it?
Although we note that the ‘promise’ to establish a blade factory was no “no strings attached” offer; being conditioned on South Australian taxpayers providing “some assistance in establishment costs” with the figure nominated of “XX to cover establishment and other initial non-construction costs associated with” it.
Why beat around the bush with solid XXs? Why not just demand taxpayers hand over an open cheque-book?
Then there’s the fiction about “high winds speeds” at Babcock & Brown’s target site, Lake Bonney.
At Lake Bonney (situated near Millicent in SA’s South-East) winds might occasionally reach ‘high-speeds’. However, the breezes at Lake Bonney are as fickle as anywhere. Infigen’s Lake Bonney operations have a pitiful capacity factor of around 23-25%: Lake Bonney 3 struggles to hit a capacity factor of 23%; and its neighbours produce meaningful power a risible 25% of the time – on AVERAGE.
While Lake Bonney’s performance stats hardly set the world on fire, its Danish-built deadlys have been known to set the ‘country on fire’:
Then there’s the furphy about “community support” for wind farms. In fairness, in mid-2002 there weren’t too many South Australians aware of what trying to live with incessant turbine generated low-frequency noise and infrasound is like. That soon changed, once Lake Bonney was up and running.
Far from enjoying community support, Babcock & Brown and later Infigen have spent years trying to deny, ridicule and dismiss constant complaints about turbine noise made by two of its very own contracted turbine hosts, David and Alida Mortimer.
David and Alida (farmers and turbine hosts for Infigen at Lake Bonney) have spent the last few years taking every opportunity to tell the story of their self-inflicted acoustic misery – and to warn rural communities around the globe about the very real impacts on sleep and health caused by incessant turbine generated low-frequency noise and infrasound (see our posts here and here and here).
While the Memorandum of Understanding is littered with waffle and deliberate uncertainty, there can be no uncertainty that the whole rort was premised upon massive taxpayer funded subsidies – as clear as crystal with the statement that: financial assistance by the South Australian government (read ‘taxpayer’) is required in order to facilitate the development of the wind farm proposed by BBWP” (ie Babcock & Brown).
As it always was and continues to be:
The next item is an effort by Tim Flato to brush aside Babcock & Brown’s perilous financial situation in this letter to the grid operator, ElectraNet SA:
Audacious and arrogant, the boys at Babcock & Brown were, quite apparently, aware that they would never be able to present financials capable of earning an “acceptable credit rating”. Probably the only honest statement that ever came out of Babcock & Brown.
When your ‘business’ requires fleecing taxpayers for $billions, there’s the critical need for political endorsement, that has to be ‘engineered’ with a winning mixture of pressure and ‘grease’.
In the next email, note the who’s who cast – including the boys from Babcock & Brown, Pacific Hydro, Patrick Gibbons and Ken McAlpine – all clearly chuffed with their victory in obtaining just such an endorsement in the Communiqué from State Ministers for Energy, that follows.
With hindsight, for South Australians, at least, that Communiqué now reads like an economic suicide pact.
The next email exchange shows these boys at their manipulative best, as they set out to scuttle the bid by Forestry Tasmania (referred to as ‘FT’ in the emails) to have the use of forest wood-waste to generate power included in the RET.
Note that the reference to ‘Hill’ is a reference to then Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Robert Hill.
While Forestry Tasmania’s bid to include wood waste in the RET had apparent appeal with the Coalition government, Babcock & Brown and the gang were clearly having none of it.
In a piece of ‘astro-turfing’ extraordinaire, the boys from Babcock & Brown set out to have the Greens do their dirty work, correctly anticipating that once they were pointed to the “relevant statutory clauses” they would “go off from there”. And “go off” the Greens most certainly did, mounting a full-scale campaign against inclusion of wood waste in the RET that continues to this day.
The next set of papers are extracts from a powerpoint presentation that details the manner in which Tim Flato’s National Power and Babcock & Brown sought to gloss over its shaky financial footing, while pushing a self-serving strategy built on ever increasing wind power targets and subsidies.
Again, pretty vague on the details, but the critical requirement for massive and endless subsidies in Babcock & Brown’s favour couldn’t be clearer.
If you have ever wondered how the greatest economic and environmental fraud of all time got started in Australia? Well, now you know.