RET review road trip: First stop, Hepburn Wind farm

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RET fact finding mission kicks off at Victoria’s community-owned Hepburn wind farm, sans Dick Warburton. Here’s what it turned up…

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On Tuesday April 8, Friends of the Earth launched its fact-finding RET Review Road Trip at the Hepburn Wind farm—the birthplace of community energy in Australia.hepburn-wind-e1355276441254-150x150

The visit to the Hepburn Wind farm is the first stop in a three-month road trip to get a real understanding of the impact energy policy, and particularly the Renewable Energy Target, has on Victorian communities. We’ve invited Dick Warburton to join us.

As readers will know, the Abbott government has initiated a review of the Renewable Energy Target. The government appointed Dick Warburton, former Caltex chairman and self-described climate change sceptic, to chair the review.

With these credentials, it’s no wonder people fear the Warburton-led panel will recommend weakening the Renewable Energy Target.

A weakened Renewable Energy Target will set Australia back. Research by IES Advisory and RepuTex shows this outcome cost jobs, investment, and hurt Australian businesses. The Renewable Energy Target review threatens $10 billion dollars worth of investment, 3,556 construction jobs, and up to 600 full time jobs.

Friends of the Earth has invited Warburton to join our RET Road Trip so he can engage with communities and understand how they are affected by our energy choices. We’ll meet with people that have benefitted from renewable energy, but also, people who have endured pollution from fossil fuels. We believe our fact-finding mission can help Warbuton make an informed decision about the Renewable Energy Target.

While Warburton has not responded to our invite, we remain hopeful he’ll join us at scheduled events over the next few months. After all, strong community engagement is essential to making a decision about a policy as important at the Renewable Energy Target.

What did we find in Hepburn, where over 20 community members braved the rain to discuss the Renewable Energy Target?

“The unnecessary RET Review has created great uncertainty in the renewable energy market,” said Taryn Lane of Hepburn Wind. “We’re already feeling the impacts.”

The price of Renewable Energy Certificates has dropped significantly since the review was announced in February, explained Taryn Lane. This is due to uncertainty surrounding the future of the scheme.

Despite the challenges, Taryn Lane remains optimistic: “While fossil fuel generators are already feeling threatened,” said Lane, “our project shows that communities have much to gain from the move to renewable energy.”

One such community can be found in the Macedon Ranges. Peter Hansford from nearby Woodend is a member of the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group. This band of locals have attempted to follow the lead of Hepburn Wind, however their project was affected by the Victorian government’s arbitrary ban on wind farms in the region.

The Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group remains committed to the project, knowing that Ted Baillieu’s wind farm bans will eventually be removed.

“The Macedon Ranges would love to follow in the footsteps of Hepburn Wind,” said Peter Hansford. “The Renewable Energy Target is a key policy that will help us realise our vision of a local community-owned wind farm.”

Offering a broader perspective of what’s at stake was Andrew Bray of the Victorian Wind Alliance—a group representing farmers, workers and community members who support wind energy.

“Keeping regional centres and rural towns thriving should be the central focus of this panel but they won’t even acknowledge that it’s an issue,” commented Andrew Bray. “We’re very concerned that the panel will make recommendations that take away jobs and investment from country Australia.”

We kicked off the RET Review Road Trip in a Hepburn, a community who love renewable energy so much they build their own wind farm. Our next stop is Morwell, in the heart of Victoria’s coal and energy producing Latrobe Valley.

The health of Latrobe Valley residents was impacted from a fire at the Hazelwood coalmine which burned for 40 days. We’re be speaking with locals about how they were affected by the Hazelwood crisis, the ongoing operation of the outdated plant, and their vision for the future of energy.

For communities who put up with polluting coal power plants, I suspect the RET offers hope of a clean energy future.

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