Reviving Victoria’s Renewable Energy Target and putting a wind turbine blade in Portland parkland as a tourist attraction were proposed at a candidates’ byelection forum in south-west Victoria on Wednesday.
The Australian Wind Alliance-organised forum in Portland included nine of the 11 candidates in the South West Coast district, including front-runner, Liberal Party candidate Roma Britnell, and focused on the renewable energy as well as unconventional gas policies of the candidates.
The candidates are vying for the seat held by former Liberal Premier Denis Napthine, who retired recently. The district has some of Australia’s best wind resources, including Australia’s largest wind farm, the 420MW Macarthur project.
There have also been overtures from companies on unconventional gas, but this has faced a popular backlash in the region, so many people were keen to hear what the candidates had to say on this issue.
The scene was set for the night's discussion by Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University Professor in the Department of Law, who spoke about the risks of unconventional gas extraction and the over-regulation of renewable energy rollout in an era when combatting climate change is imperative.
Interestingly, all the candidates rejected the drilling of unconventional gas in the region, providing a range of responses on how they would stop the new fossil fuel industry setting up in the region.
The candidates' views differed more when it came to policies on how to grow wind energy in Victoria and therefore the host town, Portland, where Keppel Prince Engineering builds wind towers (and other companies have developed their wind farm expertise).
Whoever is elected in the October 31 poll will need to fight hard for their policy ideas because they won’t be a part of government. The ALP-led government decided not to put forward a candidate.
A Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET) was prominent with former ALP member and now independent candidate Roy Reekie, telling the audience of 60 people he was behind a (VRET), as did The Greens’ Thomas Campbell.
Nationals candidate supportive but not specific
National Party member and candidate Michael Neoh was strong in his support for wind, telling the audience he supported wind farms and wanted them to expand in Victoria, but this expansion was dependent on bipartisan support for wind energy, as investors needed certainty.
“We have private investment crying out for support, and communities advocating for wind energy. But there is no liason between all the agencies.”
Wind Alliance south-west organiser Angela McFeeters said the appointment of an independent Renewable Energy Advocate in a role similar to that in NSW would help knit such objectives together.
This appointment was suggested in the Victorian Government’s recent Renewable Energy Roadmap discussion paper.
That paper also called for feedback on what level a VRET should be set at.
The AWA recommended it be fixed at 30% by 2020 and 50% by 2025. Wind power would form a large portion of this target because it is readily deployable and generates substantial amounts of electricity.
New ideas from new candidates
Independent candidate and Portland newcomer Pete Smith suggested the wind turbine blade on the Portland foreshore, and said the town could also benefit from a Renewable Energy Resource and Research Centre.
Mr Neoh put a similar recommendation forward, calling his facility “a new age energy centre of excellence,” while Independent Candidate Michael McCluskey encouraged spending on more research into renewable technologies more generally (not necessarily in Portland).
Who could wind win with?
Ms McFeeters said she was most impressed with the forward thinking of candidates Mr Reekie and Mr Campbell when it came to wind policy.
“Supporting a VRET will help improve companies’ confidence in their investments, and encourage the rollout of new renewable power faster. While I applaud the concept of the renewables research centres, we also need to see policies like a VRET that can see renewable energy continue to be deployed right now. We need to start transitioning away from fossil fuels faster than we are now because the climate is warming rapidly. And farmers in windy places are often crying out for clean, green investment on their properties which they can also continue to farm on once a wind farm has been built there.”
A blow to wind success?
AWA believes wind developers should be responsible and genuinely consultative when engaging with communities, and should share financial benefits as equitably as possible across host communities. This is a key to avoid the sort of community division raised by candidates Roma Britnell (Liberal) and Rod Van De Hoef (Independent).
However, politicians also have a role to play in encouraging wind energy rollout, not entertaining unscientific and scare-mongering sentiment whipped up by organisations such as The Waubra Foundation and expressed by the leaders such as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and former Treasurer Joe Hockey.
Australian Country Party candidate Jim Doukas rallied directly against wind farms in the south-west, and Mr Van De Hoef said he wanted a return to veto rights of any residents within 2km of a wind farm.
The theme of the evening was summed up neatly by Animal Justice Party candidate Jennifer Gamble, who said it was important for Victorians to move away from dirty coal towards renewables, including allowing more wind power.
For more information about positive models of wind farm development contact AWA National Coordinator Andrew Bray, firstname.lastname@example.org