Campaign Diary 2012: Southwest Victoria Trip, Day 1

In September, the Yes 2 Renewables campaign joined forces with Beyond Zero Emissions to tour southwest Victoria.

Situated on the coast, the area surrounding Warrnambool, Port Fairy, and Portland bares the full brunt of burly sea winds to hit the continent from the southern ocean. It’s no surprise that dozens of vessels shipwrecked on the southwest coast—due in no small part to the wind. Even when travelling in the modern-day convenience of a car, one could feel wind gusts push the car around the tarmac—the strength of the wind seemingly intensifying with each kilometre travelled.

With its vast wind resource, southwest Victoria is among Australia’s most important renewable energy regions. While this honour comes with several operational wind farms and manufacturing base, as we found out, it also means the area has been among the first to feel the impacts of changed wind farm planning laws implemented by the Baillieu government just over a year ago. The Portland-based engineering firm, Keppel Prince, has seen demand for its services drop off with the collapse of the project pipeline for wind farms.

The purpose of our trip was simple: Yes 2 Renewables wanted to gain a local perspective on wind farms, and update the community up about the Baillieu government’s renewable energy policies—particularly the impact anti-wind energy planning guidelines.

Stop 1: Deakin University Environment and Sustainability Club

Deakin University Students Association’s Environment and Sustainability Club arranged for Ben and I to present to students.

Representing Beyond Zero Emissions, Ben presented the award-winning Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan they published with the University of Melbourne’s Energy Research Institute in 2010. Every time I see the ZCA presentation, audience members are always surprised and excited about concentrating solar thermal power towers that are capable of producing zero-carbon electricity around the clock. ‘Why donsn’t Australia build these?’ is a common question you hear at a Beyond Zero Emissions presentation.

Complementing the broad national vision of Beyond Zero Emissions, the Yes 2 Renewables presentation looked at renewable energy on the state level, Victoria’s renewable energy resources and current renewable energy policies. Given the location—which has a history with wind energy—the Baillieu government’s anti-wind energy planning guidelines was discussed at length.

Audience members viewed the wind energy sector in a positive light. This reflects numerous public polls, such as those published for the Climate Institute and Clean Energy Council, that place public support of wind energy at 75 percent and above.

The 2 kilometre veto on wind turbines sounded reasonable to some in the audience, however, this sympathetic view changed once the measure was put into context. The presentation explained how the 2km veto policy unfairly targets wind farms. That similar powers are not afforded to householders for other type of infrastructure projects that could cause community concern (e.g: a freeway) struck some in the audience as a double standard.

The joint BZE/Y2R presentation sparked the interest of local daily, The Warrnambool Standard,who attended the event. You can view their report—‘Wind farm advocates combat loss of momentum’—here.

Stop 2: The Yambuk and Codrington Wind Farms

The first wind farms to cross our path were Pacific Hydro’s Codrington and Yambuk wind farms. Dairy cows satisfy their appetites in the presence of wind turbines placed on the hills protecting the lush pasture from the windswept beach.

The Codrington wind farm is a landmark project in the development of the national wind energy sector. When it was completed in 2001, it was Australia’s first privately funded wind farm and the largest in operation. Later in the day, a local community member commented that while there are 23 houses within 2kms of wind turbines there haven’t been any claims of adverse health impacts. According to this local, this fact the farm has been operating for ten years without complaint undermines the claims of a ‘wind turbine syndrome.’

The Codrington farm has since been joined by Yambuk—part of Pacific Hydro’s four-stage Portland Wind Energy Project (PWEP). Codrington and Yambuk wind farms are a case in point for the climate change benefits of renewable energy. Combined, the wind farms produce enough electricity to power 45,000 Victorian homes and avoid the emission of 149,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas each year—the equivalent of removing 47,000 cars of the road. And that is quite the impressive achievement.

Stop 3: Portland Sustainability Group

When it comes to local efforts to address environmental challenges, the Portland Sustainability Group would be among Victoria’s best. The group was formed in 2007 to help the community become more sustainable. The group now has a dozen successful sustainability projects under its belt, including programs to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and process discarded televisions.

Ben and I had the pleasure of meeting up with PSG coordinator Peter Reefman and several active members of the Portland Sustainability Group. Y2R gained an important local perspective on wind farms speaking with PSG about the wind energy sector in the southwest—discussing the full range of issues, from local manufacturing jobs to community acceptance of the wind farms.

The capabilities of wind energy are well known in the southwest, so PSG have set their sights on the sun. The group’s most recent proposal is an ambitious plan for a community-owned solar installation to demonstrate mid-scale solar in the Portland. PSG is seeking to raise $35,000 for to purchase a 30kW solar photovoltaic system. In August, PSG’s initiative was awarded a Sustainable Communities Grant from Pacific Hydro.

Stay tuned for part #2 of the campaign diary…

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