Mixed Greens: Pro-wind groups call for change to Vic planning laws

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Petition calls on Vic Premier to amend wind laws. China taking climate lead; power privatisation flawed; ice manufacturer wins PV grant, Virgin considers ‘bio-port’.

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A coalition of pro-wind energy groups has called on the Victorian Premier to rewrite the state’s prohibitive wind farm planning laws and unlock investment and jobs in southwest Victoria. The coalition – which includes wind turbine tower manufacturer Keppel Prince Engineering, the South West Trades and Labour Council, Portland Sustainability Group, South West Environmental Action Group, the Victorian Wind Alliance, and Friends of the Earth’s Yes 2 Renewables campaign – delivered the joint statement to the electorate office of Denis Napthine this morning, calling for the removal of amendments to the planning scheme made by his predecessor, former Premier Ted Baillieu.

The letter alleges that Baillieu’s changes to the planning laws – which include a minimum 2km setback from all homes, a 2km right of veto to block new projects, a 5km exclusion zone around 15 regional towns, and the establishment of several “no-go” zones – have stalled the sector’s development, costing the region jobs and investment. It quotes a Friends of the Earth report estimating this cost at around $887 million in lost or stalled investment, 650 jobs lost or stalled in construction, 54 on-going jobs, and 1,408 “flow-on” jobs.

Napthine – whose electorate is home to Keppel Price Engineering and currently generates two-thirds of Victoria’s wind energy, being home to the recently-opened 420MW MacArthur wind farm (the largest in the Southern Hemisphere) – offered a ray hope to the local wind industry when he replaced Baillieu, with many believing he understood the importance of the economic and job opportunities wind farms held for the state. But the new Premier soon disappointed on this front, telling media in March that he thought the Baillieu policy struck “the right balance” between providing certainty to wind farm investors and protecting the local community and environment.

But the groups behind the joint statement believe Napthine’s attendance at the opening ceremony for the Macarthur wind farm signals a willingness to rethink the restrictive wind farm planning laws. “Now it’s time for the Premier to take the next step and restore fair laws for wind energy,” said Leigh Ewbank, Friends of the Earth’s Yes 2 Renewables spokesperson. “We look forward to receiving correspondence from the Premier and starting a conversation about how Victoria can reclaim its position of leadership in wind energy.”

In other news…

Australia’s Climate Commission released a new report on Monday showing that China is moving into the lead on global climate action, halving its growth in electricity demand, dramatically increasing its renewable energy capacity, and decelerating its emissions growth more quickly than expected. The new report, which assesses global climate action over the last nine months, reveals that the world’s energy giants are on the move, namely China and the US. Chief Commissioner Tim Flannery pointed to China’s efforts to put in place seven emissions trading schemes, covering a quarter of a billion people. “It is an impressive array of actions that will drive global momentum in the future,” said Professor Flannery. Beyond China, the report notes that there are now 98 countries committing to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, via renewable energy targets and national emissions trading schemes – of which there are now 35 globally.

New analysis by The Australia Institute has found that the privatisation of state electricity networks fails to deliver cheaper power or improve the sector’s efficiency. The analysis shows that since Victoria privatised power in the 1990s, electricity prices have outpaced inflation, increasing by 170 per cent compared with an increase of 60 per cent in the consumer price index. The Institute’s Senior Research Fellow and report author David Richardson said a productivity slump, as well as a huge increase in the number of management staff, in the sector had contributed to price hikes. “It seems remarkable that a sales force of 6,000 people is necessary to sell a product which everyone needs,” Richardson said. “Premier O’Farrell and Peter Costello might believe a power sell-off is the answer to New South Wales’ and Queensland’s budget problems, it’s unlikely to ease cost of living pressures and might even slug consumers with higher bills and worse service.”

Adelaide’s largest ice manufacturer, Adelaide Ice Services, has been awarded a federal government grant of almost $90,000 via the Clean Technology Food and Foundries Program, towards the installation of a 87.5kW solar PV system at its manufacturing plant in Regency Park. Federal climate change minister Greg Combet said the carbon price-funded grant meant the company would cut its energy costs by up to $20,000 a year. He also used the occasion to take a swipe at the opposition. “This support is under threat from Tony Abbott,” Combet said. “He will tear down the $1 billion grant program that is helping manufacturers like Adelaide Ice Services, he will cut up to $2 billion of crucial support for the automotive sector and he is saying no to the $1 billion Aussie Jobs package.”

Virgin Australia said it has combined with Brisbane Airport Corporation and sustainable jet fuel manufacturer SkyNRG to launch a feasibility study into the creation of Australia’s first “bio-port” at Brisbane Airport. The three parties said they agreed to enter a memorandum of understanding to work on a project that will enable aircraft to be fuelled with sustainable bio-jet fuel at the airport. The feasibility study will involve researching the locally available feedstocks in Queensland (such as woody weeds, crop residues and bagasse), sustainable and cost-effective methods for transporting them and the most appropriate technology for converting them into biofuel. It is anticipated that the feasibility study will take 12 months to complete.

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