RET pressures Keppel Prince to sack 100 workers at Portland

Keppel Prince boss Steve Garner confirmed the company would close most of its wind division.
Keppel Prince boss Steve Garner confirmed the company would close most of its wind division.

PORTLAND wind tower maker Keppel Prince has been forced to sack 100 workers because of paralysing delays in the federal government's review of renewable energy.

The company, which is Australia's largest manufacturer of wind towers, broke the news to shocked staff yesterday morning that it would need to shed nearly a third of its 360-strong workforce because of dwindling contracts.

Keppel Prince is the second-largest employer in the city behind the aluminium smelter.

Devastated general manager Steve Garner said the decision was a direct result from uncertainty caused by Canberra's review of the renewable energy target (RET).

"It's devastating. In my forty years of involvement in this company it's the biggest decision I've had to make," Mr Garner told The Standard.

"This government has come in and it's the Tony Abbotts and Joe Hockeys of the world who have made a decision to destroy the renewable energy industry and they're doing a damn good job of it.

"No investor has been willing to invest while there has been so much uncertainty around the RET."

The RET mandates a 20 per cent green energy target of 41,000 megawatt hours by2020 but the policy has been under review for the most of 2014 and is unlikely to be finalised before early 2015.

The government has rejected a review led by businessman and climate sceptic Dick Warburton to abolish the target.

However, on Wednesday it revealed it will seek to lower the target into the mid-20,000 megawatt range, to a “real” 20 per cent target that reflects falling electricity demand.

Keppel Prince had not received any new wind tower orders in the past 14 months.

Mr Garner said the company would keep 30 workers still trained to manufacture towers in the hope the industry again picks up. 

It will offer voluntary redundancies until October 31, after which it will be forced to assess staff.

“I still believe that there is a future in this business. There’s still three hundred odd turbines that need to go in the air for the next three years to meet whatever renewable energy target is put in place,” he said.

The job losses in Premier Denis Napthine’s home South West Coast electorate come as the Coalition government promises to deliver 200,000 jobs over the next five years if re-elected.

Dr Napthine blamed the Victorian wind industry for using imported towers, saying developers should “hang their heads in shame”.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that the industry have been using imported towers,” Dr Napthine said.

“Those people would be employed today if the wind energy companies kept their promise to use local production for wind towers.”

Wannon MP Dan Tehan also blamed cheap imports.

“This is devastating news for those who have lost their jobs. The government is seeking to provide certainty on the RET by doing away with the two-yearly reviews which have caused such uncertainty. It demonstrates once again the need for us to get a sensible bipartisan outcome on the RET,” Mr Tehan said.

Australian Wind Alliance co-ordinator Andrew Bray said Keppel Prince had already won an anti-dumping claim against cheap imports this year and that overall investment had ceased.

Dr Napthine said his government backed the RET, although controversially had told the review to include natural gas in the target.

State Labor energy spokeswoman Lily D’Ambrosio said the Premier had not done enough to challenge Prime Minister Tony Abbott over the RET.

“It’s clear that this is a result of Tony Abbott wreaking havoc on the RET, Denis Napthine must bear some responsibility for this,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.