Pollie Watch: Shadow energy minister brands Baillieu’s wind laws “extreme”

Lily_smallWind energy is quickly becoming a bread-and-butter issue for the Victorian Labor opposition. At the 8th Australian Wind Energy 2012 conference, shadow energy spokesperson Lily D’Ambrosio critiqued the Baillieu government’s “extreme” wind energy planning laws.

While the Labor opposition has been prepared to hit the Baillieu government hard for its regressive wind energy policies, it has been reluctant to release details of its wind energy policy alternative. Rest assured, Yes 2 Renewables will keep up the heat on the opposition until details are known.

The opposition energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio’s speech follows:  

Thank you very much for inviting me to make a contribution to the Conference. Wind Energy – A Bleak Future?

The answer to this question depends on where you live in Australia. If you live in South Australia where the development of wind energy generation now makes up 42% of all wind energy generation capacity in Australia, the answer can be met with an unequivocal NO, the future is not bleak.

But here in Victoria the answer is unfortunately an exasperated YES. The prospects for the industry are bleak. For now at least.

Everyone in this room will be more than familiar with the Baillieu Government’s wind energy planning laws. They are the most extreme in the nation, they are perverse, and they are a failure. They are extreme for several reasons including the fact that they afford a right of veto to individuals in certain circumstances and create arbitrary 2km buffer zones. They are perverse because they allow a totally clean and healthier energy source to be killed off with the power of a single opposing voice yet have no qualms about allowing dirtier power generation plants to remain subject to far less stringent requirements.

They are a failure because the Baillieu government has issued no new approvals since their policy changes were introduced. In the two years since the last state election, industry proponents have indicated that the Baillieu government’s policies  effectively spell the end for any new proposals in Victoria and will have negative impacts on employment and investment.

Contrast this to South Australia where the state government approved in the last financial year an investment pipeline of projects worth $5 billion, most of which was wind energy development. Nine wind energy projects were approved for development. Put another way, while South Australia is adding wind projects to their investment queues more Victorians are joining unemployment queues.

Let us reflect on the fact that we have gone beyond just talking about wind energy as predominantly a vital alternative electricity source in the fight to reduce harmful and world-changing greenhouse gas emissions. We are increasingly talking about renewable energy development – especially wind – as a normalised component of our economy now and into the future, presenting significant economic investment and job opportunities, no less so than for regional Victoria. It is expected that the National Renewable Energy Target will predominantly be met by wind energy generation because it is the cheapest of all the renewable energies. More about the NRET later.

The Great South Coast study also identified 60 major investment projects for the region over the next five years valued at over $11 billion, $9 billion of which are energy generation. $7 billion of the energy generation projects (or 80%) are wind energy developments producing 4,250 construction jobs and more than 300 permanent jobs for the region.

However, due to the changes in wind energy laws, the probability of almost half if not more of these projects proceeding is categorised in this study as ‘unsure’.

It’s with irony that I reflect on a media declaration made in 2002 by the Liberal State Member for South West Coast Denis Napthine supporting Portland to and I quote “become the renewable energy hub of Australia, which would bring major investment and job creation to the region”. (21 March, 2012 LilyD MR). The opposite is in fact occurring under his government.

It is clear that in Victoria where infrastructure investment has stagnated and jobs are being lost at significant rates and there is no state government plan for jobs and investment, the boost that wind energy development could bring to economic growth and jobs is coming into sharper focus.

In the Climate Commission’s report: The Critical Decade: Victorian climate impacts and opportunities released in July this year, wind energy accounted for just under half (or 43%) of Victoria’s total renewable energy of 5.5% in 2011. (p11).

And as acknowledged in the Critical Decade Report: “wind turbines can provide a useful second income source for Victorian landowners”. The report cites the Challicum Hills wind farm whose 35 turbines are situated across seven properties that each receives valuable rental income for the life of the farm. (p11).

In the Electricity Statement of Opportunities of 2012 released in August this year, the Australian Electricity Market Operator states that current investment is predominantly occurring in wind energy generation (more than 13,000 MW) with open-cycle gas turbine generation capacity at 11,000 MW. (p 2-1)

AEMO goes on to report that the large scale renewable energy target continues to be a key driver of investment in wind energy generation capacity in the national electricity market. (p 2-1). It is the cheapest form of renewable energy after all.

But, the Baillieu government’s extreme wind energy policy has already had an adverse impact on wind generation as reported by AEMO – though AEMO’s language is non-judgmental as you would expect.

“The scope and size of proposed wind farms has changed significantly over the past 12 months, with a total reduction of approximately 2,200 MW in the capacity of publicly announcement proposals (excluding the few proposed projects that are now committed)”.

Eighteen publicly announced proposals from the 2011 Electricity Statement of Opportunities report are no longer included in the report, as project proponents have advised AEMO that these previously announced proposals are no longer active. Of the 18 no longer active, an extraordinary 14 proposals are in Victoria.

14 Victorian projects with a total capacity of 700 MW approved under the previous state government’s favourable planning laws are now unlikely to proceed which I put down to the Baillieu government’s hatred of wind farms. The project proponents will have been beaten by the clock unable to commence construction before the expiry of their permits.

Victorian wind farms now unlikely to proceed include:

  • Baynton
  • Carrajung
  • Discovery Bay
  • East Creek
  • Mortlake East
  • Newfield
  • Sidonia Hills
  • Winchelsea
  • Bridgewater Lakes
  • Devon North (Synergy Wind)
  • Drysdale
  • Waubra North

AEMO goes on to report that despite ten new publicly announced wind energy generation proposals having been made in 2011, none are in Victoria. QLD, NSW, SA and TAS all recorded new publicly announced proposals in this same period as Victoria recorded none. Surely, there is something terribly wrong with the Victorian government’s wind energy policy for Victoria to have gone against the tide and recorded no new projects.

I mentioned the National Renewable Energy Target earlier and the fact that it is driving the development of wind energy. The NRET looks like surviving the current review that is underway and regardless of who wins the next federal election. So we can be confident that billions of dollars will still be available in renewable energy investment between now and 2020.

It stands to reason therefore that the Baillieu government’s position on wind energy will remain a policy of foregone opportunities for Victoria. They have no renewable energy plan and other states are likely to get more of the investment and jobs pie.

Whilst it has been criticised by some for lack of detail, the NSW government’s draft Renewable Energy Action Plan released in September highlights its desire to attract a significant portion of the $36 billion worth of renewable energy investment that a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report forecasts for Australia.

The draft plan also boasts the creation of 6,000 jobs through its renewable energy targets and investments.

It will be interesting to see how NSW will reach its own target of 20% renewables by 2020 given the possibility that they may follow Victoria in wind energy planning laws.

The New South Wales Minister for Resources and Energy Chris Hartcher understands the leveraging effects that having a state plan can bring locally.

He says:

“The Renewable Energy Action Plan will help us to continue attracting other renewable developments” (7th September 2012).

The draft plan also boasts the creation of 6,000 jobs through its renewable energy targets and investments.

It will be interesting to see how NSW will reach its own target of 20% renewables by 2020 given the possibility that they may follow Victoria in wind energy planning laws.

The race for dollars and jobs coming out of the large scale renewable energy target is only getting hotter. Only last week, Hydro Tasmania made a splash in the media with a plan to build a huge 200-turbine wind farm on King Island, with a potential to export electricity to mainland Australia. (Clean Energy Council MR 28 Nov, 2012). So not only do we have South Australia dreaming of a second interconnector to export more of its wind energy to Victoria, we may one day have Tasmania wanting to do the same.

So how is the Victorian government dealing with the increase in public discourse in wind energy arising from the unfolding negative impacts of its policies and maneuverings in other states?

Well from my perspective, there are signs that pressure is mounting on the Baillieu government though it shows no signs of a policy back-down. In a radio interview with Jon Faine on 21 November, the Minister for Energy Michael O’Brien was questioned over the negative impact that his government’s wind energy policy was having on the industry. His reply was to deny this and nominated the Mt Mercer wind farm project as evidence of his government’s support for the industry. What the Minister failed to mention was that this project was given approval by the previous government in 2008 and construction was able to be commenced under previous planning rules.

So what of the future? Can it be clear skies rather than bleakness? As far as the Labor Opposition is concerned, it can and will be better. We need a government that says Victoria is open for business, not a government that drives business and investment out of the State. We don’t want to see Victoria become the ‘backwater’ of renewable energy development.

Daniel Andrews released Labor’s Plan for Jobs and Growth two weeks ago. In that plan was a commitment that the Opposition would produce a Renewable Energy Plan before the next election in November 2014 and that we would have more to say on how we will promote new wind energy generation in Victoria.

We want to make sure that Victoria is once again open for business for the wind energy sector and for other renewable energies. This is the way of the future – a future with clean jobs, strong infrastructure investments, a clean and healthy environment.

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