‘Policy an ill wind that blows nobody any good’

This article, by Paddy Manning, appeared in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on November 5, 2011.

Ted Baillieu’s draconian anti-wind laws render many promising energy projects impossible.

TODAY more than 500 people are expected in Daylesford to celebrate the launch of Hepburn Wind, a community-owned wind farm generating more than enough power for the 2000 local homes.

The twin turbines were commissioned a few months ago and the launch is the culmination of six years’ effort and a $13.5 million investment.

No matter how sunny the weather, a cloud will hang over the launch: Premier Ted Baillieu’s draconian anti-wind laws have hit the wind industry for six and, if in place at the time, would have made Hepburn Wind impossible.

Chairman Simon Holmes a Court says Hepburn Wind was ”never meant to be the first of many. It was a local project conceived by local people.”

But a non-profit consulting arm, Embark, was conceived as other communities nationwide sought to follow Daylesford’s example. At least four more community-owned projects are dead in the water. What’s killed them is amendment VC82 to the Victoria Planning Provisions, gazetted in August, which sets out extensive ”no go” zones and introduced a requirement that any new wind farm obtain the written consent of any landowner within two kilometres. Effectively, each neighbour has a veto.

It’s unbelievable. The planning system exists to resolve conflicts over land use and these happen all the time. Whatever gets proposed, someone is going to oppose.

In no category of development in any jurisdiction I can think of, has a right of veto been given to potential objectors. Nor can the Victorian division of the Planning Institute, whose vice-president, Brett Davis, says the current planning system of notifications and appeals is ”essentially sound”.

What a crazy precedent. Although it may form part of a pre-election platform, one expects a policy that is patently ridiculous to be softened, neutered, deferred or quietly dropped by an incoming government. Not this time. OK, some sort of promise was made to anti-wind climate sceptics, the Landscape Guardians. Tough. Do you trash the planning system for some stunt promise made in opposition?

Planning Minister Matthew Guy’s office says the new regime gives certainty and proponents will have to do their homework and get neighbours’ consents. But the only certainty, if they have a veto, is that you’ll never get anywhere.

Friends of the Earth says up to $955 million of wind projects in Victoria, costing almost 2000 jobs, have been lost or stalled since the laws came in. That situation will get worse in March, says campaigner Cam Walker, when a bunch of permits will expire. A spokesman for the minister said these figures were fanciful as some of the projects had been on hold for as long as six years.

But the Clean Energy Council, too, estimates $3.6 billion in investment might ultimately be lost to the state. Walker says the minister is in denial and refers to maps at baillieukillswindfarms.com.au to back his argument that VC82 has left the industry nowhere to go.

This is a national issue: Victoria’s wind resource is excellent and if its wind industry collapses, the country’s 20 per cent renewable energy target will be harder, and more expensive, to reach. Victorians, sharing the cost of the renewable energy target, will watch investment go elsewhere. On Wednesday a pro-wind group of industry, unions and community activists held its first meeting. The group wants the policy overturned and is considering a legal challenge.

Holmes a Court says Victorians are the highest per capita emitters in the developed world’s highest per capita-emitting nation. ”We currently don’t have a strategy for moving off brown coal. As the decade goes on it’s going to be harder and harder for that to stand.”

paddy.manning@fairfaxmedia.com.au

TWITTER: @gpaddymanning

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