Furious Keppel Prince boss Steve Garner has hit back at sitting member and South West Coast candidate Roma Britnell’s claims the Victorian Renewable Energy Target has not made any difference in the region.
Mr Garner said he was “ropeable” about Mrs Britnell’s comments in the Portland Observer on Wednesday, where she said VRET “hasn’t made any difference to the amount of renewable projects”.
"I'm just shocked at her comments," he said.
"How could she possibly make a statement that the renewable target hasn’t made any difference?
“For a start without the VRET the Keppel Prince wind business would be non-existent. The reason I say that is because the VRET has local content rules and that drives work for us. Without that everyone imports the work from overseas. We can’t compete with that, which would lead to the loss of 150 jobs at our facility.”
Mr Garner said Keppel Prince had spent millions on upgrades in the past year due to the security VRET provided for wind projects to continue.
"Without the VRET our board of directors would have never given us approval to spend $2.5 million upgrading it,” he said.
“We need certainty around policy to do investment. That investment has led to this year alone 61 new people and it's still growing.
“For her to not understand the second-largest employer in Portland and one of the largest businesses in south-west Victoria in her region, and the opportunity with our business when I’ve had many meetings with her, is just amazing.
"I am ropeable."
In the south-west the Dundonnell and Mortlake South wind projects have won VRET contracts.
They are located in the Polwarth electorate.
The Dundonnell wind farm is a $560 million project. It will employ 200 staff during the three-year construction period.
Stage one of the project will create 67 construction jobs including 24 traineeships.
The Mortlake south wind farm is a $350 million project.
It will have 92 construction jobs, including 13 traineeships.
Each project is also committed to placing advanced orders of wind towers with Keppel Prince.
“We would not have secured those contracts without VRET,” Mr Garner said.
“They would have been imported from overseas.”
Mr Garner said Western Victoria MP James Purcell had provided the casting vote to introduce VRET.
“The Keppel employees cannot thank him enough for giving them certainty in their jobs,” he said.
Mrs Britnell did not back away from her comments when contacted by The Standard on Thursday.
“We have a national energy market, so there should be a national approach to such targets. The Federal Government has a Renewable Energy Target which is aiming to ensure 33,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) is coming from renewable energy by 2020,” she said.
“In South Australian, even though RET certificates are soaked up, there is still a healthy appetite for renewable projects and they are still going ahead – they are still being built and people are still being employed on renewable projects.
“It proves you do not necessarily need to set state-based targets, if renewable energy projects stack up then companies will still want to, and should build them.
“I am under no doubt renewable energy is the way forward for energy generation, but we need to ensure we have the balance right, people want and need to be able to flick a switch and turn on the lights.”
On Thursday afternoon Mrs Brintell moved to clarify her comments.
“When I said there had been no impacts, I was refereeing to South Australia and the fact that new renewable projects were continuing, irrespective of the fact RET incentives have dried up,” she said.
“This example shows there is still a strong appetite for renewables in Australia and state based targets are not necessarily the main driver of investment in the renewables sector.
“I remain committed to developing renewable energy in a responsible and balanced manner that retains affordable and reliable energy supply.
“I recognise that renewables have and will continue to make a significant contribution to the South-West Coast region.”
Labor candidate for the seat of South West Coast Kylie Gaston said Mrs Britnell’s comments were “irresponsible”.
“Keppel Prince and dozens of associated renewable energy reliant businesses in our region will again have to cut staff and may have to close down as a result of Roma Britnell and the Liberal/Nationals plan to abolish the VRET,” she said.
“Roma Britnell and the Libs show absolutely no appreciation for the impact of the VRET on the lives of workers and businesses in the south-west region. Renewable energy is mainstream now, it creates jobs and through Labor’s solar and battery programs for households, reduces energy prices. The Libs have promised to dismantle all of this.
“I am appalled this successful legislation has become politicised. The irresponsible comments made by the local member actually affects people’s confidence, it affects real jobs and livelihoods and she shows a profound lack of understanding of the business of one of the largest employers in south-west Victoria.”
Mr Purcell said an elected Liberal government would “slaughter jobs in the south-west” Victoria following Mrs Britnell’s revelation that she did not believe the VRET generated jobs.
“A Liberal government will cost Portland, Warrnambool and surrounds thousands of jobs if they are elected and how on earth the local member thinks this is acceptable I have no idea,” Mr Purcell said.
“It was my vote that passed the VRET legislation and this was only after considerable work with Keppel Prince’s Steve Garner to ensure there were components designed to economically benefit south-west Victoria, such as local content.
“I really have no idea how a local member can think this is acceptable – it’s our job as politicians to protect jobs, create more and help our communities, not heap more challenges on top of them.”
Mr Purcell said the issue was much bigger than Portland.
“If the Liberals wreck industry in Portland it will become a ghost town,” he said.
“Wipe out the south-west’s second largest town and the repercussions will be felt in Warrnambool, Port Fairy and further.
“What will happen to house prices across our region? It is going to be a hard sell to get businesses and further industry to invest in our region when one of our major centres has collapsed.”
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