Federal RET review a disaster for south-west

The south-west's boom industry of recent years - renewable energy, particularly wind farms - has been thrown into a spin by the review.

The south-west's boom industry of recent years - renewable energy, particularly wind farms - has been thrown into a spin by the review.

THE south-west’s renewable energy industry has been thrown into turmoil after the release of a review calling on the government to dramatically scale back its green energy targets.

Australia’s largest wind tower manufacturer in Portland has warned no new wind farms can be built under the recommendations of the renewable energy target (RET) review panel report tabled yesterday. 

“What’s been put forward is going to destroy my business,” Keppel Prince general manager Steve Garner said yesterday. 

The expert panel, chaired by self-described climate change sceptic Dick Warburton, released 15 recommendations for the government suggesting either winding back or “grandfathering” parts of the RET that mandate a 20 per cent green energy target by 2020, or 41,000 gigawatt-hours a year.

They include:

  • abolishing the RET by 2030;
  • closing the RET off to new wind or renewable projects;
  • cutting the target by up to 50 per cent by tying it to electricity demand;
  • that projects already under the RET be denied other clean energy subsidies to help them; and 
  • rapid closure or slow phase out of the small-scale renewable energy scheme (SRES), including rooftop solar. 

The RET has been the main support beam policy for wind farms, including the hundreds of turbines now operating across the south-west. 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott now has several weeks to decide what parts of the report to adopt, but with most of the report calling for the target to be either reduced or phased out, the industry is planning for the worst. 

There are some 300 wind turbines ready to be built at sites including Hawkesdale and Mortlake south and another 600 awaiting permits in others areas such as Penshurst, Willatook and Dundonnell.

The south-west also has as-yet unharnessed reserves of wave energy in Port Fairy and Portland and geothermal energy in Koroit.

Mr Garner said “unless the government doesn’t accept them” or the changes are blocked in the Senate by the Palmer United Party, the wind industry would be doomed. “I don’t have a business the way I read it, there is no good news in this for us,” Mr Garner said.

“Who is going to invest now? I can’t see any new wind farms being built.”

Despite pleas from Keppel Prince, up to 130 jobs could be lost this year as well as another 40 at different businesses in Portland.

“I’m quite disturbed at where Portland is going to be with all of this,” Mr Garner said. The review panel found RET subsidies for projects like wind farms “contribute to higher retail electricity prices” and had increased household electricity bills by around four per cent in the last year and even more for businesses.

But the panel said extra RET power on the market was “also exerting downward pressure on wholesale electricity prices”. 

Friends of the Earth said the changes could also cost up to another 750 future jobs in south-west Victoria.

Clean Energy Council acting chief executive Kane Thornton said the changes would “bankrupt” the industry and called for an inquiry into the review process.

Pacific Hydro, which operates wind farms in Yambuk, Codrington and Cape Bridgewater, said the report’s recommendations would result in higher energy prices for consumers, a substantial increase in greenhouse gas emissions and the rug being pulled out from communities “who need this investment most”.

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