This article originally appeared in The Ballarat Courier, Wednesday, 17/7/2013
Victoria’s regional communities are doing it tough.
Across the country, the National Farmer’s Federation estimates 3000 farmers leave the land each year.
Heartbreaking images of fruit growers in the Goulburn Valley tearing up their fruit trees and drought affected dairy farmers in South West Victoria speak to some of the challenges Victoria’s farmers are currently facing.
As well, many farmers are worried about the changing climate and the variable weather conditions that come with it.
So its no surprise there are enterprising farmers thinking laterally about how to keep their farms viable into the future.
Increasingly, they’re looking to wind energy and benefits it can bring for their farms and their local communities. Wind energy is a cost effective and efficient way to not only provide renewable energy to our communities but also create thousands of jobs.
Manufacturing, a major employer of regional Victorians, has also been hit hard by the recent high Australian dollar, resulting in thousands of job losses across the country.
That’s why it was such welcome news last week when Keppel Prince Engineering - which manufactures wind towers in the regional town of Portland - signed a $15m deal with Taralga wind farm in New South Wales.
The deal will see Keppel Prince build 51 wind towers for the Taralga project giving its workers steady employment until at least the start of April next year.
What a relief for the tight-knit Portland community.
What’s so appealing about wind energy - aside from the clear environmental benefits - is the enormous potential it has to provide income to these regional communities. Both community groups and local farmers.
The town of Waubra is still the same proud farming community it was five years ago but hosting the Waubra Wind Farm has dramatically improved its regional economy.
Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts the wind farm will increase the Central Highlands gross regional product (GRP) by $346 million (or 6.0%) and increase employment by an average of 2.7% (1,680 FTE jobs) sustained over the long term.
The wind farm has become the largest rate-payer to the Pyrenees Shire and a community fund pays out almost $70,000 into community projects each year for organisations like the CFA, Landcare and the local community hub building.
While the current Labor Government supports a Renewable Energy Target to drive wind investment, the Coalition’s policy on wind is mixed. The Liberals support the RET but they have been unwilling to commit to retaining a fixed target or to free it from a cycle of endless reviews.
Worryingly, a number of Coalition members are openly calling for an end to support for wind energy - some of them speaking recently at an anti-wind rally in Canberra.
At the same time, vocal anti-wind campaigner, Maurice Newman, is slated to head a Business Advisory Council should Tony Abbott become the next Prime Minister.
This presents a real problem for self-confessed renewables-supporter and Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Greg Hunt. Will a future Coalition government be willing to boost wind energy to create jobs, grow prosperity in regional communities and cut Australia's emissions?
A first step would be for Greg Hunt to sit down with Victorian Premier Denis Napthine to sort out the anti-wind planning laws left behind by former Premier, Ted Baillieu.
The current lack of political leadership on the issue of wind energy to-date means that communities will continue to lose out as economic opportunities such as investment, income and employment are potentially lost in our regional communities.
Not to mention other communities who want cheap, clean and ever-lasting power.
These vulnerable communities need strong political leadership on this issue to ensure economic and environmental certainty in the face of considerable uncertainty.