VRET ambition needed to secure central Vic wind farm jobs & investment

On Friday 20 November, the Yes 2 Renewables team hit the road up the Hume highway to visit the site of an approved wind farm on the Cherry Tree Range, 15kms or so from Seymour.

Members of community Strathbogie Voices and BEAM-Mitchell Environment Group joined us, as well as representatives of Infigen Energy and the prospective wind farmers.

We wanted to find out what drew Infigen to develop a wind farm in the heart of Victoria, and how the Andrews government’s forthcoming Renewable Energy Action Plan could help make the project a reality.

Infigen Energy is a developer, owner, and operator renewable energy generation across Australia. It currently has six wind farms and a solar project in its portfolio. The company has signed the UN’s Caring for Climate initiative and sees opportunity in decarbonising the Australian economy.

“Infigen aspires to be an Australia-wide company with operations and proposed development projects spread across four states,” explained Infigen’s Marju Tonnison.

“The more wind we can capture and wind farms we can build across a diverse range of locations, the less back-up plants are required to remain open and connected to the electricity grid.”

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Like most renewable energy companies in Australia, it was the national Renewable Energy Target scheme that allowed for investment in wind farms and larger-scale solar projects.

“The Renewable Energy Target (RET) is a mechanism that creates an incentive for additional generation from renewable energy sources, and has by far been the most successful policy for reducing carbon emissions in Australia,” said Tonnison.

“The mechanism of renewable energy certificates allows project developers to provide cash flow forecasts which is a key consideration for investors and lenders… [Increased renewable energy generation] consequently scales down generation from more expensive gas or more polluting brown and black coal fired generation.”

Despite the economic efficiency and environmental benefits of the national Renewable Energy Target, we saw it put at risk by the ideologically-charged Abbott government.

The review of the national RET initiated in February 2014 and subsequent uncertainty resulted in a 90 percent drop in investment in the sector. Over 2,500 people lost their jobs over an 18-month period.

The Coalition government’s decision to slash the national target by 20 percent has dampened the sector’s prospects and ignored the strong community support for growing renewables.

It’s for this reason Yes 2 Renewables has championed a Victorian Renewable Energy Target. With the federal government doing their best to sabotage the sector, it’s crucial for state governments to show leadership to secure the benefits of a thriving renewable energy sector.

The Cherry Tree Range wind farm is one of 15 wind farms approved in Victoria. It’s projects like this that the Andrews government can see built by setting an ambitious Victorian Renewable Energy Target. And if all 15 approved wind farms are built then the government’s baseline target of 20 percent renewables by 2020 would be smashed.

“The proposed Cherry Tree wind farm comprises 16 wind turbines and has a capacity of  around 50 megawatts. This is equivalent to powering 32,000 households a year–five times the population of Seymour,” explained Marju Tonnison. “In the state of Victoria, this is equivalent to saving 205,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.”

“…In regards to the VRET, it is only by choosing an ambitious target that it is likely to usher in a low carbon era sooner rather than later. We hope Victoria won’t be left far behind ACT and will be ahead of SA and Qld in setting their state renewable energy target.”

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The environmental benefits are just one part of the picture. The Cherry Tree Range wind farm is poised to create jobs and stimulate the regional economy during the construction and operations phase.

“During construction the local businesses benefit from the influx of workers and surveyors, who use local services and buy products in the local area,” said Tonnison.

“In the operational stage which lasts around 25 years, permanent jobs are created at wind farms. In addition, services related to turbine and site maintenance, environment management plan and community relations spur further economic activity.”

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Steph Ryan MP, Deputy leader of the Nationals.

The Cherry Tree Range farm is located in the seat of Euroa, where deputy leader of the National party, Steph Ryan, is the local member.

Steph Ryan can help ensure the wind farm is built by backing an ambitious Victorian Renewable Energy Target. With strong community support and local economic (and environmental) benefits to secure, we hope Steph Ryan will add her voice to the community’s call for ambition.

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