From the Portland Observer, 4 April 2011
Journalist: Bill Meldrum
Winds of change threaten jobs
THE cold, icy wind of government policy is once again blowing the fear of job losses through the factory of wind tower manufacturer Keppel Prince Engineering.
A raft of changes to state planning laws aimed at protecting landholders who live within two kilometres of a proposed wind turbine site, potentially scuttling wind farm projects, are being introduced into parliament.
It has the company’s managing director, Steve Garner, once again talking about the prospect of relocating the factory and jobs interstate to greener pastures, if Planning Minister Matthew Guy continues with his policies.
Keppel Prince business administration manager Neil O’Donnell fears a submission to be presented on April 26 to the company’s parent board, aimed at doubling the capacity of the Portland factory and providing more employment for the city’s residents, may be scrapped because of the lack of certainty within the wind energy sector, caused by the recently-elected Liberal-National Coalition government.
“There is 2200 megawatts of wind farms proposed for the state and we have 18 months of work ahead of us at the moment, until the work dries up again,” he said.
“We do tender for work interstate as well as Victoria, but transport is a major cost component for us and it does affect our competitiveness … if the Victorian market dries up, we have a developing competitor in Adelaide called RPG that manufactures towers.”
Shadow planning minister Brian Tee visited the Portland factory late last week, meeting with management and workers.
“My call to Mr Guy is to come to Portland, look the workers in the eye and tell them if they have a future in the industry,” he said.
Boilermaker Tim Otter and welder Jason Bannam, both long-term Portland residents with young families, said the lack of security was a major worry for them and their families.
Mr Bannam said it was particularly hard for workers who had been employed at the wind blade factory at Vestas, lost their jobs when it closed, but were picked up by Keppel Prince — only to face the current uncertainty again.
“Being Portland, it’s not easy to find jobs,” he said.
Mr Otter said the lack of certainty was preventing him from buying a house in Portland.
“I want to, all our social fabric is here,” he said.
“I can’t understand it, we have all be told renewable energy is good an d it is where the jobs are, yet we have a government that is holding us back and shutting us down.”
Member for South-West Coast Denis Napthine defended the state government’s actions, saying he did not believe the changes would have any major bearing on jobs within the wind sector.
“Mathew Guy has been to Portland, he has met with the Clean Energy Council … I’ve been in touch with the sector on a regular basis and was at the Macarthur wind farm site in the past few weeks,” he said.
“If Brian Tee was serious, he would be talking with his Federal Labor colleagues trying to protect the wind manufacturing companies from Chinese imports – Chinese imports are the greatest threat to companies such as Keppel Prince, not planning issues.”