It is almost inconceivable that another inquiry on wind farms could be held in Australia, but the fact that there is probably accurately reflects the weird politics of clean energy in Australia right now. After eight separate inquiries over the last three years, a ninth one has just been established by the government and 6 cross bench senators, including SA Senator, Nick Xenophon.
Shortly after this stunt was announced, a group of supporters gathered on short notice in front Senator Xenophon's office to let him know their views on the subject.
That afternoon, Xenophon called and offered a more cosy chat.
We also wrote to Senator Xenophon in more detail, outlining why we think this inquiry is a waste of time and would be better looking at how regional Australia can benefit from wind farms.
November 24, 2014
Dear Senator Xenophon,
I write to express deep concern about your proposed Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines. The Terms of Reference focus largely on issues that have either been exhaustively investigated by previous inquiries or are simply furphies. As such, the Committee would be an unproductive use of taxpayers’ money whose end result, either intentionally or not, would be to put a further handbrake on the development of renewable energy in Australia. A more productive use of the Senate’s time that would support renewable energy development and regional communities would be to focus on issues around the sharing of economic benefits of wind projects.
I urge you not to proceed with the establishment of the Select Committee on Wind Turbines.
The Australian Wind Alliance represents community voices on wind power. Our membership of around 450 includes farmers, wind workers, environmental supporters and small, local businesses and is predominantly based in regional Australia.
Of course, these views were expressed to you in person on Friday when some of our supporters visited your office. We would like to take you up on your offer to "have a cuppa" and discuss the issue. While I understand you have already spoken with Tim Kelly, I would appreciate it if you could please contact me directly to organise a time for this to occur.
Wind farms have been operating in Australia since 1999 providing significant levels of jobs and investment to regional Australia. In many communities, wind farms have been one of the main sources of new economic activity for decades. They have been supported by a federal Renewable Energy Target scheme that has seen the proportion of the nation’s electricity demand supplied by wind power rise to 4% in 2013. This change to our national generation system has brought significant change to regional communities. Like all major land use change, this has caused some local friction. It is also true however that some early developments were not well executed, particularly in regard to community engagement. The imputation, however, that the planning and compliance system is not operating correctly is not one we share.
Rightly, companies who plan, build and operate wind farms are closely scrutinised at all stages, through a variety of bodies including local councils and state planning departments. Several of the issues raised in the Committee’s terms of reference are regularly tested in these forums. These include fauna, aerial operations around turbines, firefighting and crop management. Findings are often retested on appeal to state based planning and environment tribunals. Further examination by Senate committee is unlikely to shed further light. The “energy and emission input and output equations from whole-of-life operation of wind turbines” is a simple matter of public record.
In instances where planning impasses have occurred - the ongoing uncertainty around the compliance status of the Waubra Wind Farm is an example of this - we question that a Senate committee is a useful tool to solve the problem. Delays by the Victorian state government have been unacceptable and an opportunity to rectify this may soon present itself with the election of a new government. More often, such as when the South Australian EPA reexamined the noise conditions at Waterloo Wind Farm, original compliance was reinforced by later testing.
The proposed Committee is merely the latest in what has become a cumbersome succession of inquiries into aspects of wind farms, including a Senate Inquiry into “The Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms”, concluded just 3 years ago in 2011. These are in addition to inquiries in other countries that have also addressed these issues.
In particular, the primary area of investigation, “the effect on household power prices” was exhaustively investigated by the Warburton Review, which largely confirmed a range of other studies. These showed that the introduction of significant quantities of wind power with a low short run marginal cost were reducing wholesale prices and largely cancelling the RET component of consumer bills. This would be true for all consumers, regardless of whether they own solar panels or not. It is almost inconceivable that a further inquiry at this time would discover anything not already on the public record.
The Warburton Renewable Energy Target Review itself was expensive and unnecessary, costing taxpayers $500,000, for the sole purpose of providing cover for the federal government to deliver savage cuts to the target. Another review by the Climate Change Authority, which is the one actually required by legislation, is taking place now.
The greatest danger posed by this Inquiry is that it introduces further uncertainty at a time when wind energy investment has all but dried up because of the federal government’s attacks on renewable energy. This directly threatens billions of dollars of future investment in regional Australia and for many of our farmers and local business members, cancellation of wind projects they have been waiting on for many years. Already 100 wind tower manufacturing workers at Keppel Prince have lost their jobs. While I trust that damaging the wind industry is not your intention, this would be result of proceeding with this inquiry.
As currently proposed this inquiry is more likely to damage the development of renewable energy in Australia than improve it. There is one issue, however whose investigation could improve how wind farms are built in regional areas. It is AWA’s view that a perceived inequality of economic benefit among residents is at the heart of much of the difficulties around wind farm development. We would like to see improvements in the fairness of distribution of benefits so that when a neighbour feels their amenity is changed, they receive a benefit that is proportionate to that change. We believe that making new developments fairer for all residents will help local communities benefit more fully wind farm development.
While this is a potentially difficult area with many complexities, one approach we consider is worthy of discussion is “A practical shared-benefits model for wind farms – The Proximity Rent model” which I attach for your consideration.
Regardless of whether or not this Inquiry proceeds, I would like an opportunity to discuss this model and its implications for future wind farm development with you.
As the United States and China lead international momentum to develop renewable energy, there is a clear economic advantage for Australia in making the most of our world-class natural wind resources. However, we believe this Committee will hinder our capability to do this and I therefore urge you no to proceed with the establishment of the Committee.
Australian Wind Alliance