Why Baillieu’s exit could be good news for wind energy

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Ted Baillieu was a one-man show, erecting roadblocks for the wind energy industry. His resignation could remove some of those roadblocks, but his legacy remains, with a tribunal implying it may be prepared to reject a wind farm because of ‘psychological’ impacts.

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It is deeply ironic that on the very day that Ted Baillieu made his shock decision to resign as Premier of Victoria, the latest economic data showed the state had officially entered a recession: the man who had turned his back on the burgeoning clean energy industry had left the state with a shrinking economy.

It’s a moot point whether embracing the wind industry would have kept Victoria out of recession – although Friends of the Earth estimates Baillieu’s anti-wind decisions cost around $887 million in lost or stalled investment, and the 650 direct jobs and a further 1,400 indirect jobs lost in the process would have been useful for a state suffering the highest unemployment rate in the country.

But Baillieu’s opposition to wind is a parable for our times. Economies are changing, whether politicians like it or not, or believe in climate change or not. The clean energy transition is a global phenomenon that has been embraced by nearly every company not dependent on fossil fuels, and is recognised as such by the leaders of the major economies – US, China, Japan and Germany.

Ideological opposition and the bestowing of favours to some rich landowners may stop a few turbines, but it is nothing more than just pissing into the wind. Baillieu was so entrenched in the past he even favoured digging up half the state and exporting the brown coal reserves. As Deutsche Bank pointed out this week, economies like China will likely soon not want our black coal, let alone the more polluting brown mud found in Victoria.

It is not clear how quickly Victorian’s wind energy laws will change, if at all. The anti-wind campaign was viewed very much as “Ted’s show”, to the point where other government ministers would pass off their responsibility: It’s not my call, it’s Ted’s”. Baillieu’s antipathy towards clean energy, and his attachment to old forms of centralised energy is shared by the other conservative Premiers in NSW, WA and Queensland, but at least in NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell is surrounded by people who have alerted him to the economic development advantages of going with wind and solar.

The choice of Denis Napthine as Baillieu’s successor is seen by some as placing faith in the “old guard”, but as the member for the seat of south-west coast, which includes the regional city of Portland, the home of one of Australia’s biggest wind tower manufacturers, Keppel Price, Napthine understands the job opportunities that can be brought by the wind industry, and the impact of jobs lost when it is stopped in its tracks.

Mark Wakeham, from Environment Victoria, says Napthine knows the wind industry and many Victorian wind jobs and has a track record of standing up for local manufacturing in the wind industry, and seeking to protect it from foreign imports.

“I think we can expect a more rational approach to wind industry, and more broadly renewable energy policy, whereas Ted Baillieu appeared to have a personal vendetta against renewable energy,” Wakeham said. Environment Victoria has a scorecard on Baillieu’s record on the environment and clean energy.

Friends of the Earth spokesman Leigh Ewbank says Napthine should move quickly to remove VC82, the regressive planning laws that have halted the wind industry in the state, and sent much investment to the neighbouring state of South Australia.

VC82 has four main components – a minimum 2km setback from all homes, a 5km exclusion zone around 15 regional towns, the establishment of several “no-go” zones, and handing responsibility on wind farm approvals to local councils.

Ewbank says job opportunities, investment and income for farmers and local Councils have moved west as a result of Baillieu’s “ideological opposition” to wind energy. “We urge the (new) Premier to reconsider this policy which has done little more than kill off investment and jobs in the renewable energy sector”.

Meanwhile, the wind industry is reeling from a request this week by VCAT, the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal, that wind farm developer Infigen Energy provide “proof” that wind farms do not have adverse health impacts.

This appears to put the onus on the wind farm developers to prove no harm, rather than on opponents to prove that there is harm. VCAT has suggested that further submissions should come from Infigen Energy within six months. Wind energy sources suggest such an approach could have “massive repercussions” to the industry.

The wind energy industry is also concerned because the tribunal has indicated that it may be willing to reject a wind farm planning application on “psychological” impacts only – even though the hearing has heard of no such impact from any “expert” witnesses.

“This is simply bizarre,” said one.  “Will VCAT now reject any development where neighbours turn up and claim the sight of the apartment building, or freeway, will make them psychologically ill?

They noted that no court in Australia, and possibly world-wide, had refused  planning permission for a wind farm based on health concerns, let alone psychological concerns. “We are going into unexplored territory here.”

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19 Comments
  1. Greg Barber 7 years ago

    Thanks for your article. Just one issue: its not a 2km setback from homes. It’s a requirement to get the permission of all homeowners within 2km before making an application to build a wind farm. In a lot of ways, that’s even more diabolical.

    • Anders 7 years ago

      Yes, diabolical. The policy will result in landowners being paid not to object. What’s the going rate for silence? This is Liberal policy?

  2. Ben 7 years ago

    “Meanwhile, the wind industry is reeling from a request this week by VCAT, the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal, that wind farm developer Infigen Energy provide “proof” that wind farms do not have adverse health impacts.”

    Maybe this is a bit naive, but isn’t this actually a great opportunity for the wind sector. My understanding is that this issue has been thoroughly researched, and there are no peer reviewed papers which support the existence of adverse health impacts. If this was put together the right way, and accepted by VCAT wouldn’t it open a back door to approvals?

    Or am I pissing in the wind too?

    • Tim 7 years ago

      Who pays the million dollars to put the consultant report together.

      That is like requesting an accused to proof that he/she is innocent. Presumption guilty unless proven otherwise.

  3. Harry 7 years ago

    But what if it was an application to mine coal seam gas? The proponents also say they’re innocent until proven guilty.

    • Phil 7 years ago

      “But what if it was an application to mine coal seam gas? The proponents also say they’re innocent until proven guilty.”

      The chemicals used are toxic, that is established fact.

  4. Keith 7 years ago

    Giles,

    I was a Councillor with the City of Greater Bendigo when this legislation was brought in. I arranged a meeting with Planning Minister Matthew Guy to expresss our council’s concern with the short sited approach the conservatives were taking to this issue. When I met with Minister Guy he proudly proclaimed this legislation to be his own. The issue of requiring 100% support from every house within 2km sets a new precedent in planning law as he was unable to advise of any other planning requirement for 100% approval – most issues are decided by majority vote, not requiring unanimous support.

    I wonder if this is constitutional, and if it is anti-competitive. I have not sought any legal opinion on this but wonder if that is an avenue to pursue.
    Finally, the VCAT ruling is concerning as it places the onus upon the proponent to prove innocence rather than the plaintiff to prove guilt. I wonder if VCAT have been influenced unduly by conservative prejudices.

    • Chris 7 years ago

      Keith,
      Thanks for that comment re Matthew Guy. I had been thinking exactly about the same issue. Guy has enormous planning powers and he remains a major barrier to the wind industry. If you have any doubt, have a look at his current proposals for totally upending the state’s planning laws in favour of real estate developers.

  5. Phil 7 years ago

    Is Ted Baillieu going to work full time for the fossil fuel industry?

    Perhaps in boardroom seat for accomplished deeds?

  6. James 7 years ago

    Requiring developers to prove the safety of their developments does appear to align with the precautionary principle, however, I think it’s unjustified in this case on two accounts:
    – it’s not typically required of developments
    – wind energy, with no known health impacts, is displacing coal fired energy which has substantial proven health impacts thus it seems prudent to reduce those certain impacts.

  7. Craig Thomas 7 years ago

    Wind power is cheaper per kWh to establish than coal or gas.
    http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Renewable-Energy-is-already-Cheaper-than-Coal-and-Gas-in-Australia.html

    Little wonder vested interests are influencing politicians to help them create underhanded handicaps for wind power.

  8. Bruce 7 years ago

    The wind industry will send Vic into depression not ression.

    • Louise 7 years ago

      Wind energy is clean and creates jobs.

      Fossil fuels create sick people who pay with their health.

  9. vacman 7 years ago

    Clean energy is one of the world’s fastest growing industries, and it employs millions of people in America alone. http://clmtr.lt/cb/pKC

  10. Bruce 7 years ago

    BLOODY wind farms make people sick, and there is a lot evidance coming out to prove it. Fossil fuel is a fuel not a food. If the noise infersound from wind turbines are making you sick you can’t just stop them. I have no problem wind farms if they are well away from were people are living like out in the ocean or in the desert were no one lives. Another thing wind farms won’t surive if they are not proped with tax payers money.

    • concerned 7 years ago

      Moot point?Calling it drawing a long bow.I hardly think less investment in windpower would make that much difference as most of the equipment is imported for a start,and it is only viable due to subsidies using taxpayers money.
      Anyway look at the figures.
      http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/fs/vic.pdf
      Victoria’s problems stem form the high dollar affecting manufacturing and the onset of the Dutch Disease due to Federal Government mismangement.
      Call it as it really is.

      • Giles Parkinson 7 years ago

        Perhaps you would like to name one gas or coal fired power station that uses turbines, generators and other equipment not imported from overseas by the likes of GE, Alstom or Siemens? Australia had a nacelle and blade factory for wind a decade ago before the Coalition killed the first version of RET – now there are only two tower manufacturers.

        • concerned 7 years ago

          I hardly see what that has to do with the article, regarding economic activity in Victoria if there is a possible slowdown in installation of wind turbines. However the real problem is the slowing of manufacturing and domestic construction. If they are competitive with coal and gas without taxpayer subsidy, then there will be no problem?
          I am aware that the equipment is imported. I was involved in a WorkCover audit during construction at Millmerran. Not only was the machinery imported, but so was the steel work, at such a price it shut down Evans Deakin’s workshops. After they had to rework most of it,it cost 27% more than the local price.
          Brilliant thinking. There is no long term thinking by governments at all levels.

  11. Warwick Johnston 7 years ago

    Napthine, true to his (almost) namesake, should mothball Baillieu’s dodgy policies.

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