On Monday 16 November, the Yes 2 Renewables team hit the road to the Macedon Ranges region to visit the headquarters of WestWind Energy with Victorian government MP, Mary-Anne Thomas (a longstanding ally of renewables).
We wanted to find out what led the firm to set up shop in Gisborne, and how the Andrews government’s forthcoming Renewable Energy Action Plan can make Victoria the place to be for renewable energy start ups.
WestWind Energy was born in 1999 in Germany where progressive policies to grow renewable energy have long been the norm. The Australian arm set up in Gisborne in 2008 thanks to Victoria’s policy settings at the time.
“Without a feed-in tarif in Germany West Wind would have never been established, neither in Germany nor in Australia,” explained Tobi Geiger, Managing Director of WestWind Energy.
“The policies that have helped us develop projects in Victoria were the federal RET and the initial VRET under the Bracks government. The VRET made the decision for us to focus wind farm development in Victoria and not so much in other states.”
The decision to set up in a regional areas was also a strategic decision, placing the company within striking distance of the city and wind farm projects that it was developing.
“I was running Westwind out of my home office for a couple of years,” recalls Geiger. “When we received a planning permit for our first project we started employing people and setting up offices.”
WestWind currently employs five people, though prior to the Baillieu and Abbott governments wreaking havoc amongst the Victorian renewable energy industry it employed 12 people in Gisborne and Ballarat. A familiar story to renewable energy companies across the country.
The prospects of the renewable energy sector creating jobs in Victoria now rests on the Andrews government. It’s the combination of federal and state/territory policy that’s building wind farms in Victoria.
Wind farms under construction in Ararat and Coonooer Bridge are going ahead thanks to the ACT’s ambitious Renewable Energy Target. A strong renewable energy policy from the Andrews government — with an ambitious VRET at its core — will send a signal to developers and investors. It will see the state’s backlog of approved wind farms get built.
Tobi Geiger said the Andrews government’s forthcoming Renewable Energy Action Plan will help WestWind build shovel-ready wind farms near Ballan–projects that would power over 250,000 homes and reduce the state’s climate change impacts.
“No matter which way you look at it,” Geiger explained, “our wind farms will reduce annual emmissions by over 1 million tonnes every year once they are operational. And we have more projects in the pipeline in Victoria that will be triggered by a strong committment of the Victorian government to renewable energy.”
Not only will the projects cut Victoria’s carbon emissions, but they will create job opportunities throughout the development, construction, and operating phases, as well as flow-on economic benefits to communities.
“Local economies will certainly benefit from the jobs created during construction and operation and a lot of local service providers will be needed. That ranges from catering, over fencing to road maintenance,” says Geiger.
“Every project that we develop will have a community fund to support important intitiatives for the local communities we operate in. And the initiatives we fund will be tailored to each communities’ needs and will be informed by what the locals think.”
Though Victoria is poised to benefit from the growth of the renewable energy sector, the sector’s fate rests on policymakers on Spring St–not only government MPs, but the opposition too.
“A VRET would be great and a VRET with bipartisan support would be even greater. But the Renewable Energy Action Plan should also look at ways how smaller investors, such as communities, private individuals and small companies could participate in the delivery and ownership of renewable power stations,” said Geiger.
“It’s fundamentally important for the success and acceptance of the energy revolution that it is carried by many shoulders.”
It’ll take all-hands-on-deck for Victoria to achieve state Renewable Energy Targets for 2020 and 2025. Industry, communities, and householders are ready to play their part. So must the government and opposition.