The first time I came to Warrnambool in 1989 I walked into a bakery in Liebig Street and the wind was howling through the door so much that the fly strips were horizontal.
“It’s pretty windy,” I said to the young girl behind the counter and her immediate response was, “It’s always like this around here!”
That wind, that perpetual source of energy, is now providing work for people like me and many others across the western district and a recent report by the Climate Commission points out that we have hardly scratched the surface of the opportunities in front of us.
The wind farms that are already operating and those that are being built do change the landscape, just as Liebig Street has changed over the years, but the change that the wind farms bring is a change that represents a massive investment in the region.
The Macarthur wind farm alone represents a $1 billion investment — for towns like Macarthur this may be as close to a gold rush as they get — but it’s more than just a “flash in the pan” to borrow a gold-mining term.
These wind farms typically operate under contracts that run for at least 25 years.
That’s 25 years of training people, employing them and buying local services and supplies. At the Macarthur wind farm that’s 15 high-tech, full-time, well-paid positions for at least 25 years, filled by people living and spending locally. A quarter of a century!
I imagine that timeframe when I drive down the Princes Highway or Liebig Street and I look around at the businesses operating there now, and to be honest I can’t see any that are operating under those guaranteed timeframes.
Very few government departments survive for that long, let alone private sector companies.
So what the wind energy sector represents is not just a construction boom — it represents the very real chance to underpin the economy and prosperity of the south-west for decades to come.
Wind farms offer farmers long-term employment in communities where we have seen people and jobs gradually disappearing.
It’s no surprise then that the biggest wind farm in the region, and southern hemisphere for that matter, was actually initiated by the farmers themselves.