Renewable energy is blowing in the wind

Posted on December 4, 2012 by

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Published by the Geelong Advertiser

Breamlea Wind TurbineGeelong and the Bellarine Peninsula have played a pioneering role when it comes to wind energy in Australia.

25-years ago this month, the blades of Victoria’s first wind turbine started spinning in Breamlea—transforming the steady sea winds into clean electricity for Victorians.

The State Electricity Commission built the Breamlea turbine in 1987 to demonstrate the viability of wind energy in Victoria. We now know the SEC was onto something.

Today there are nine operating wind farms in Victoria. These farms tap the state’s vast wind energy resource to power tens of thousands of homes and businesses without the adverse health and environmental impacts caused by fossil fuels.

Unfortunately the blossoming wind energy sector came to an abrupt halt last year when the Baillieu government introduced heavy-handed planning laws that unfairly targeted wind farms.

The VC-82 amendment to the Victorian planning scheme, effectively bans wind farms from large swathes of Victoria and allow just one objector to veto wind turbine within 2 kilometres.

Meanwhile, no such restrictions apply to coal and coal-seam gas exploration and development. A local example many will be aware of is in Anglesea, where residents have no say over the coalmine and power plant less than 2 kilometres from their town.

Thanks to Premier Baillieu and his Coalition colleagues, Victoria is no longer the place to be for wind energy. Not one single wind farm has been approved in over a year—costing the state thousands of jobs, billions of dollars worth of investment and one of the best tools available for community action on climate change.

The Coalition’s anti-wind energy stance has localised impacts. Geelong, with its strong manufacturing base, is well positioned to gain a slice of jobs associated with the sector. But without a pipeline of major wind farm projects, the incentive for procuring locally made turbine towers is diminished.

The Coalition government is preventing communities from investing in local energy production and taking control of their own energy security.

The ‘no-go zones’ Premier Baillieu imposed on the Geelong region, Bellarine Peninsula, and Great Ocean Road has thwarted proposals for community-owned wind farms. Ironically, the restrictions scuttled the Surf Coast Energy Group’s proposal to follow in the footsteps of Hepburn Wind—a community wind farm that received Premier Ted Baillieu’s Sustainability Award in 2011.

So where does the local member Andrew Katos stand on the issue? To date, Mr Katos has claimed these areas are ‘off limits’ to protect local tourism. Yet, the government’s amendments were not based on independent assessment on the how wind farms might affect the region’s tourism sector (wind farms might actually have been a tourism drawcard).

It’s time for Mr Katos to stand up for Geelong’s manufacturers and community-owned wind energy enterprise, and make the case for scrapping the VC-82 amendment in the Coalition party room.

Failure to repeal the anti-wind farm laws comes with political risks. Polls show that wind energy is popular with the electorate. Wind energy is many times more popular than the Baillieu government, which would be swept from office if an election were held today.

Politicians who adopt pro-wind farm policies will be rewarded at the ballot box. The Greens have a clear pro-wind energy position. And the Labor party’s public statements on the topic are increasingly bullish. ‘(T)he evidence is in on [wind energy],’ said opposition leader Daniel Andrews in a recent address to the Regional Press Club. ‘It’s efficient, it’s effective, it’s part of the future. And it ought to have been supported.’

The Baillieu government had the good sense to amend its wind energy guidelines before. The original iteration of the anti-wind energy guidelines prohibited small-scale turbines—such as Austeng’s Eco Whisper Turbine manufactured in North Geelong—for residential and industrial use. Recognising the importance of small-scale wind energy and value for the manufacturing sector, the state government changed the law.

The Coalition can follow its own example and immediately exempt community-owned projects from stringent wind farm planning guidelines. It would allow projects with community backing to get ahead. Ultimately though, it’ll take the full repeal of VC82 for Victoria to regain a leadership position on wind energy.