THERE are growing fears the south-west’s multi-million-dollar renewable energy industry will be decimated unless the federal government locks in green energy targets.
Workers in the region are making a final plea to South West Coast MP, Premier Denis Napthine to pressure Canberra into protecting to the Renewable Energy Target (RET) that mandates a 20 per cent green energy goal by 2020.
But Dr Napthine is so far resisting calls to back the RET, despite other Liberal state premiers supporting the policy.
Tasmania and New South Wales are vocally supporting the RET as well as South Australia’s minority Labor government.
One academic told The Standard that removing or downgrading the target could potentially wipe out the industry.
Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets Associate Professor Iain MacGill told The Standard that “even the most advanced wind farm projects aren’t proceeding”.
“If the RET is significantly downgraded, a lot of projects won’t get through,” Associate Professor MacGill said.
The University of New South Wales expert said retailers weren’t signing power purchasing agreement (PPA) deals to buy electricity because of the uncertainty.
The commonwealth review of the RET is expected to be finished by September.
“Ideally it’s something that’s above the political cycle ... with the RET review coming out of the office of Prime Minister and Cabinet, it’s clearly political,” Associate Professor MacGill said.
Up to 76 workers at Portland wind tower maker Keppel Prince sent letters to Dr Napthine last month warning their jobs were at risk and to urging him to join the other states in their support.
The south-west MP offered little assurances.
“The RET is a decision for federal government, however as the local member and as Premier, I have always maintained that it is important to have a mix of energy sources in Victoria,” Dr Napthine said.
“It is important that we continue to have baseload energy supplied through our coal-fired plants in the Latrobe Valley complemented by gas-fired plants and renewable energy sources.”
Keppel Prince welder Jason Bannam said he was disappointed by the Premier’s stance and said it was “worrying times” for workers in the wind division.
“We are all very concerned that if the RET is reduced, our jobs are at real risk of being lost,” Mr Bannam said.
“I really enjoy working at Keppel and I’d like to retire there ... but if they don’t do something about it they’ll be 200 blokes out of work.”
“I don’t want to have to move out of town.”
Keppel Prince is coming under assault from cheaper imported towers and there is feeling in government the wind industry has shot itself in the foot by not supporting Australian manufacturers in the first place.
Moyne Shire mayor James Purcell said there had been “huge” benefits from wind farms across the shire. “They contribute $1 million a year in rates. I don’t know where else we’d find $1 million. They’re good corporate citizens and it’s created ongoing jobs,” Cr Purcell said.
“The only negative is the possibility of health impacts.” Out of six approved wind farms in the region, construction is only going ahead at Pacific Hydro’s Portland wind farm project.
The RET issue also took up question time in Spring Street this week.
Western Victoria MP Simon Ramsay said he doubted the efficiency of wind farms.
“All the wind farm generators do is whack in portable huts with a fence around them and claim there has been some development work going on in relation to the requirement under the permit,” Mr Ramsay said.
“The reason is because the numbers do not stack up ... they cannot sell into the grid because wholesalers will not buy and they produce only intermittent energy without storage capacity.”
Labor energy spokeswoman Lily D’Ambrosio called on Premier Napthine to join other states in protecting the RET.
“Those premiers know that without the renewable energy target, thousands of jobs in their states and millions and millions of dollars of investment opportunity will simply not occur,” Ms D’Ambrosio told Parliament.
“Yet Victoria’s Premier is idling standing by, despite direct appeals from workers at the Keppel Prince factory, who have personally written to him, pleading with him to stand up and publicly fight for continuation of the renewable energy target.”
Wannon MP Dan Tehan told The Standard earlier this year he supported the RET.