On Tuesday May 6, Friends of the Earth’s fact-finding RET Review Road Trip visited Ararat in western Victoria.
By all accounts, Ararat is a community that proudly supports the wind energy sector. It is home to Pacific Hydro’s Challicum Hills wind farm which has been operating since 2003. Councillor Gwenda Allgood (recipient of our Renewable Energy Champion award) lauds the company for their exceptional community engagement. Add to this the drought-proof income for farmers who host turbines, and strong local support for wind energy comes as no surprise.
Yet there was another story we wanted to investigate in Ararat. With all the focus on budgets, we travelled to the region to find out from local politicians about how wind energy helps to keep the municipal budget in good health.
“Wind energy is the largest ratepayer in our shire,” Mayor Paul Hooper of Ararat Rural City told us. “It makes a significant contribution to the municipality—helping council deliver essential services for the community.”
The wind farm Mayor Hooper refers to, of course, is Challicum Hills. It has been paying rates to the local council for over a decade. Commissioned in 2003 to help Australia meet the Renewable Energy Target, local politicians have a keen awareness of the scheme is driving investment in regional economies.
“Keeping the Renewable Energy Target as it is will provide the certainty needed for more regions to benefit from wind farms,” said Mayor Kevin Erwin of the Northern Grampians Shire. “Wind farms create jobs and investment for regional economies,” added Erwin who governs an adjacent municipality that stands to benefit from wind energy projects.
Indeed, Ararat is close to having its second wind farm—RES Australia’s Ararat project.
“The Ararat Wind Farm will deliver a $450 million clean energy investment into a vibrant and forwards thinking local community, which has shown its full support for wind energy projects over the years,” said Annette Deveson of RES Australia.
“Throughout its construction and 25-years operating life the wind farm will bring permanent jobs and significant investment into the region, as well as take Australia closer to reaching the 2020 Renewable Energy Target (RET) by generating enough clean energy to power the equivalent of approximately 110,000 homes per annum.”
While access tracks and infrastructure for construction have been completed, uncertainty driven by the current review of the Renewable Energy Target has forced the company into a holding position. The company requires certainty on the 41 terrawatt hour Renewable Energy Target in order to proceed with the project.
“If the RET Review Panel makes a timely decision to maintain the current policy settings and allow investment certainty to return, the Ararat Wind Farm will be ready to enter full construction and contribute to the RET by 2016,” said RES Australia’s Annette Deveson.
“The RET is a very effective policy, resulting in the lowest cost renewable energy being deployed and reducing Australia’s reliance on increasingly expensive gas fired electricity and emissions intensive coal generation. It provides investment, jobs, growth and diversity in Australia’s energy mix.”
Mayor Paul Hooper supports the Renewable Energy Target as it stands and wants to see certainty restored:
“We welcome the construction of wind farms like the RES Australia project because we understand the local economic benefits.”
It is these local benefits that Friends of the Earth are seeking to highlight through our RET Road Trip.
Dick Warburton declined to join us and get an understanding of how the Renewable Energy Target affects communities on the ground. Rest assured, we’ll be telling their stories when we meet with the review panel in Melbourne on May 30. What we’ve found so far convinces us on the need to maintaining the 41TWh Renewable Energy Target.
The next stop in the RET Review Road Trip will be Victoria’s leading solar suburb. ‘Where’s that?’, you ask. Find out next week.
Source: Yes 2 Renewables. Reproduced with permission.