Renewable energy is gaining traction as an election issue in Victoria just days before the poll, with this week’s pledge from the state Labor Party to set up a $20 million fund to encourage investment in renewable resources like wind energy and solar.
Details of the fund were released as part of Labor’s rather understated environmental platform (the Coalition is yet to release one at all), which also included a pledge to reinstate Victoria’s emissions reduction target if the party, led by Daniel Andrews, was elected on Saturday.
Victoria’s 20 per cent by 2020 emissions target, introduced in by Labor in 2006 and wound back in 2009 after the federal RET was extended, was removed altogether from the state Climate Change Act by the Coalition in 2012.
While the state opposition’s green plans could be described as modest, their release did manage to coincide with news of yet more job losses in the local wind industry, landing a hit on the Napthine government.
Last month, Portland-based wind tower maker Keppel Prince Engineering – a once-promising company located in Premier Denis Napthine’s own electorate – announced it was mothballing its wind division and axing dozens of staff; an outcome largely credited to renewables market uncertainty generated by restrictive state planning laws and the federal government’s dithering over the national RET.
This week, the ABC reports that Portland-based (again) R and M Menzel Electrical, another Portland-based company which provides internal wiring in wind towers, has cut its workforce by around 50 people to fewer than 20 in around three months, due to a general lack of wind farm construction work.
Victorian environment spokeswoman Lisa Neville said a Labor government hoped to transform the state from one of the worst performing on renewable energy, to one of the best, as well as a leader in tackling climate change.
“[The fund] will co-invest with the private sector to drive wind and solar energy, and new technologies,” Neville said.
“We’ve also said that we’ll use the planning laws to actually encourage and promote renewable energies like wind farms in Victoria.”
But according to Deakin University Associate Professor of Environment, Geoffrey Westcott, Labor’s focus on “undoing the most destructive of the Coalition’s environmental actions of the past four years” is not good enough.
“Victorians have been short-changed by both sides of politics on environmental policy,” Westcott wrote on The Conversation on Tuesday.
“There is no visionary, hopeful, long-term view of the future, nothing bold for the younger generations to enjoy and be excited by and nothing around the new frontiers — private land conservation and marine national parks,” Westcott said.
Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber was a little less diplomatic, describing Labor’s environment policy “worth the paper it’s written on”.
“The ‘policy’ contains nothing on coal, nothing on coal seam gas, nothing on forest logging and nothing on a Victorian Renewable Energy Target,” he said.
Barber, who described the Portland job losses as a tragedy, said it was “an even bigger tragedy” to see billions of dollars of renewable energy investment on hold indefinitely while the two major parties negotiated about how deeply they would cut the Renewable Energy Target.
“Wind farm construction has ground to a halt. Victoria needs its own target to get approved wind farms into construction, which will create jobs and unshackle investment,” he said.
The Greens, meanwhile – as reported here last week – have pledged to shut down some of Victoria’s dirtiest coal power plants if they manage to win the balance of power in Saturday’s vote.
The scheme promises to phase out of the Hazelwood and Anglesea coal-fired power stations and one of Yallourn’s four units as early as next year, replacing it with new capacity from solar, wind and other renewable sources.
Beyond the rapid shutdown of Hazelwood and Anglesea, the plan also aims to close Loy Yang B and the other three units of Yallourn in 2023.