BUSINESSES in the south-west tied to the fate of the wind industry have made a last-minute plea for the government to save the renewable energy industry.
More than 200 people packed a Portland meeting yesterday addressed by the major parties and former Liberal leader John Hewson.
Dr Hewson delivered a stinging attack on the federal government amid rumours Prime Minister Tony Abbott is poised to axe the renewable energy target (RET) that has propped up the industry and driven investment.
Business leaders warn up to 170 jobs will be lost immediately in Portland alone if the target is scrapped.
“The RET is so valuable to an area like this ... I look at the way the government has appointed a climate denier Dick Warburton to chair a committee to review the RET and make recommendations. You can’t play around with these things,” Dr Hewson said.
The government is expected to release the review findings soon on whether it will keep or water down the 20 per cent green energy target. Dr Hewson warned the world was at risk of a second global financial crisis driven by climate change.
“This is a government that wants to be seen as open for business but open for what sort of business? We’re making a transition from a resource based economy to what?
“Which sectors are going to create new jobs and business? Retail is flat, wholesale is flat, manufacturing is in terminal decline in most areas and domestic tourism is suffering from the high dollar. Where are the bright spots?
“One of the great bright spots is the renewable energy industry.”
About $20 billion has been spent on wind energy since the RET was introduced in 2001.
Victoria has 13 operating wind farms and another 19 pending, awaiting a RET decision. Almost all wind farm plans across the state have ground to a halt because of uncertainty over the review.
Former Portland mayor and MADE business network chairman Frank Zeigler said the region was still “in a wonderful position” to tap into wave energy technology after the recent collapse of the world’s largest wave energy project near Portland.
“We can be annoyed about that or we can do something about it. We intend to scope out a project with some very smart Australian manufacturing know-how ... and put together a proposal to assist nearby nations,” Mr Zeigler said.
He said Portland could design renewable “packages” of wind, solar and wave energy to help Pacific island nations.
Portland real estate agent and businessman Wayne Barrett said renewables could bring down the region’s six per cent unemployment rate, while Labor energy spokeswoman Lily D’Ambrosio said the sector could provide jobs to workers retrenched from the car industry.
Liberal MP Simon Ramsay, who appeared on the panel after initial confusion with organisers, said the government would remain firm on its setback laws that allow landowners to veto turbines within two kilometres of their homes.
Wind tower maker Keppel Prince again warned that 130 workers in the company’s wind division were at risk of losing their jobs after November.
Likewise, electrical group R and M Menzel Electrical said 40 of its staff would lose their jobs if wind contracts dried up.
“If the RET scheme goes, forget about it. There will be 40 guys looking for work. We’ve spent thousands of dollars training them,” co-owner Bob Menzel said.
Greens leader Greg Barber called for the government to revive the Victorian renewable energy target, to act as insurance if Canberra does scrap the RET.
There were some voices of dissent during the meeting, with residents from Cape Bridgewater complaining of health impacts and anti-renewable leaflets were put on cars parked outside.
One resident from Cape Bridgewater, living with two kilometres of a turbine, said he suffered no health issues and wanted to see a wind farm built between the cape and the South Australian border.