The subject of renewable energy just won’t leave Barnaby Joyce alone. On Wednesday, before delivering his National Press Club speech, the Deputy PM and member for New England was confronted by a group of NSW farmers, angry about the National party’s lack of support for renewables – wind farms in particular – and failure to protect the Liverpool Plains from fossil fuel miners.
As reported in the Guardian, farmer Charlie Prell from Crookwell asked Joyce if the Coalition would support wind energy across Australia, given he supports the $400 million White Rock wind farm in New England.
“There’s no support for wind turbines if they are not in the electorate of New England,” Prell said. “That’s really disappointing for me as a farmer because I know wind turbines can be the difference for me being a sustainable farmer who can survive long term and a failed farmer who is putting his hand out for the government support that Barnaby announced today.”
Certainly, Barnaby has come some way on wind energy. In fact, Joyce – who once asked Parliament “what this insane lemming-like desire to go to renewables” was going to do to Australia’s economy – has literally dug deep in an effort to show his support for White Rock.
And in answer to the farmer, he dusted off some of the stats on what that particular wind farm would do for the New England economy, adding that it was Turnbull government policy to support renewables… but not everywhere.
But perhaps he should dial up his enthusiasm. A media release from NSW-based community energy group Starfish Initiatives has claimed that renewables is now the largest single contributor of new capital works to New England, creating both jobs and growth for the region.
“Renewable energy is set to become the largest capital infrastructure development in the region’s history,” said Starfish spokesperson Adam Blakester.
“More than $1billion worth of projects are now confirmed, including the White Rock and Sapphire wind farms, and there is potential for so much more if the next Parliament backs the right policy settings,” he said.
And it is also popular with the voters. Around 200 locals and politicians turned up for the New England Candidates Energy Forum, which Starfish co-coordinated on Tuesday night, to discuss the issues of the current energy system, the impacts of climate change, risks of mining and rise of renewables.
Nearly half of those who attended said they preferred the Greens’ policy for 90 per cent renewable energy by 2030, zero net greenhouse emissions by 2040 and a strong support for community energy solutions.
The next strongest candidate was Tony Windsor, with nearly 25 per cent of the votes. Barnaby Joyce was a no-show.