Renewable energy is a mainstream issue as the Victorian election campaign officially begins. The writs have been signed and the state is now in caretaker mode.
On the first day of the 2014 Victorian election campaign, it’s worth taking a look at where the parties stand and where there’s room for improvement.
Removing Barriers to Renewable Energy
In 2011, the Coalition government introduced the world’s worst restrictions on wind energy development.
Minister for Planning Matthew Guy rewrote the Victorian planning scheme to introduce arbitrary ‘no-go zones’ for wind energy projects without undertaking any economic modeling or community consultation.
Decision-making powers to approve projects were transferred from the department of planning to local councils. Experience shows councillors have been susceptible to targeted scare campaigning by anti-wind farm groups. To give one example, fearing a political backlash the Mitchell Shire council blocked the Cherry Tree Range wind farm and spent an estimated $200,000 worth of ratepayer money fighting the project.
Perhaps the most controversial change is the introduction of a 2km right of veto.
In Victoria today, it is not possible to apply for a permit to build a wind farm within two kilometres of a home without written consent. There’s no appeal mechanism or accountability for those who refuse to give written consent. (Such a strict requirement does not apply to polluting fossil fuel generators, gas rigs, or the controversial East West Link toll road).
As a result the Coalition’s restrictions, Victoria’s once lucrative pipeline of wind farm projects has been blocked. Investment has fled to states with fairer laws such as South Australia (where wind power now meets around 35 per cent of its electricity demand).
Friends of the Earth analysis published in April reveals the anti-wind farm laws have cost Victoria 438 MW of clean renewable energy generation, enough to power almost a quarter of a million homes.
Scrapped wind farm projects worth up to $864 million have cost 490 construction jobs and 64 ongoing jobs, $10.5 million in economic benefit to regional economies, and over $2.1 million of drought-proof income for farmers each year. In terms of communities, the laws have robbed local government coffers of $516,000 in rate payments and community funds $806,000 of grant money each year.
As a result of a strong community campaign coordinated by Yes 2 Renewables, the Victorian Labor party has vowed to ‘rip up’ the Coalition government’s anti-wind farm laws. The Greens also support restoring fair laws for wind farms in the state.
The Coalition government has been united in its support for the anti-wind farm laws until recently. Cracks have appeared in the Liberal party’s anti-wind farm stance as the election looms.
Liberal candidate for the hotly-contested seat of Macedon, Donna Petrovich, has softened her position on wind energy as a result of a community campaign by the Macedon Sustainability Group with support from Yes 2 Renewables. Community members are unimpressed by the laws. A blanket ban on wind farms splits the electorate and killed off a community wind farm.
Victorian government MP, Andrew Katos, has publicly questioned the Napthine government’s anti-wind farm laws.
At a candidates forum hosted by the Torquay residents association last night, the Liberal MP for the marginal seat of South Barwon called for community wind farms to be exempted from the state government’s restrictions on wind farms. Mr Katos told the audience:
“After Donna Petrovich’s statement I want to look at supporting community wind farms and will discuss it with Matthew Guy” #SpringSt
— Chloe Aldenhoven (@caldenhoven) October 30, 2014
Mr Katos’ policy shift is in response to a community campaign by Geelong Sustainability Group and Surf Coast Energy Group with support from Yes 2 Renewables.
Most recently, the groups issued a letter to Mr Katos, calling on the MP to support lifting the anti-wind farms laws or an exemption for community energy projects. The Coalition government’s restrictions killed off Surf Coast Energy Group’s plans for a community wind farm.
With the Australian Industry Group now calling for the restrictions on wind farms to be removed, the Coalition is under more pressure than ever to dump its anti-wind farm laws.
Encouraging renewables by setting a Victorian Renewable Energy Target
The ACT has a renewables target of 90 per cent by 2020. South Australia’s target has been lifted to 50 per cent by 2025. Victoria doesn’t have a target and is falling behind on renewable energy.
Yes 2 Renewable have called on Premier Napthine and opposition leader Daniel Andrews to make a Victorian Renewable Energy Target a central plank of a state renewable energy strategy. The policy will drive investment in shovel-ready wind farm projects and encourage utility-scale solar farms.
A state Renewable Energy Target that works alongside a national RET scheme will unleash investment and create jobs in Victoria – which is something all political parties can support.
The Greens have endorsed our call for a Victorian Renewable Energy Target. The party calls for the establishment of a ‘for-profit’ Solar Bank owned by Victorians to help the state reach its 5 per cent solar target by 2020.
The Labor opposition has offered conditional support for a Victorian Renewable Energy Target. Labor’s Back to Work policy commits the party to “Establish a $200 million Future Industries Fund to drive the six high-growth sectors” including “new energy technologies.” The opposition also announced a $200 million Regional Jobs Fund that will support job-creating projects, including “companies investing in renewable energy.”
The Coalition has not revealed a position on a Victorian Renewable Energy Target. If the Napthine government’s submission to the Warburton review of the national RET is any indication (it called for a weakened target and for gas to be included in the scheme), it’s unlikely to back a policy that encourages more renewables. Yet with the government is facing the prospect of being voted out of office, a dramatic shift on renewables is not out of the question.
The parties with a pro-renewable energy stance will have an advantage on election day. Polling commissioned by the Climate Institute finds 71 per cent of Victorians support state government policies that encourage more renewable energy.
To date, it has been Labor and The Greens vying for renewable energy voters. However, recent moves by Liberals Donna Petrovich and Andrew Katos suggest some in the Coalition are catching on.
Four weeks is a long time in politics. Yes 2 Renewables will be keeping a close eye on the campaign as it unfolds and reporting on policy announcements. Stay tuned for more Victorian election coverage.
- Sign our petition calling on Premier Napthine to encourage renewable energy jobs by scrapping anti-wind farm laws and setting a Victorian Renewable Energy Target.
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