The Baillieu government has conceded its controversial wind farm policy is powerless to control the biggest expansion of wind energy in Victoria’s history, with 1322 new turbines planned across 28 approved developments.
Before the Brumby government lost office, embattled planning minister Justin Madden approved about $5 billion of wind energy projects. If all farms go ahead, Victoria will have eight times its current wind generation capacity, from 427 megawatts to 3619 megawatts, equivalent to two Latrobe Valley brown-coal power stations.
Under the Coalition’s wind farm election policy, welcomed by anti-wind farm campaigners, residents can veto a development if turbines are less than two kilometres from their home. Planning authority was also given back to local councils.
When the policy was released in June, the wind industry said it would kill off investment.
But in a concession likely to disappoint local anti-wind farm groups, new Planning Minister Matthew Guy told The Sunday Age that although several of the approved farms were contentious, the Coalition would not retrospectively apply its policies to the 28 wind farms already holding planning approvals. Such a move, he said, would create serious risks for business in Victoria. ”We made it very clear to everyone we couldn’t touch permits that were already granted.”
The new minister encouraged energy companies to be ”mindful” of the government’s guidelines when building their projects. Coastal Guardians spokesman Tim Le Roy, who welcomed the election of Mr Baillieu, acknowledged the government had a problem applying its policy retrospectively but urged the industry to embrace the guidelines on a voluntary basis.
The Coalition hoped its wind farm policy would play well in the regional marginals of Ballarat East and Ripon, where the developments have been numerous and controversial. In a post-election analysis of booths in these areas, the industry claimed wind farms had made no material difference to the way people voted. Labor held on to both Ballarat East and Ripon.
According to the Department of Primary Industries website, Mr Madden left his job with a clear in tray for wind farm approvals. There are now no projects waiting for Mr Guy’s signature.
Under Labor government changes, the planning minister is responsible for assessing wind farm proposals of 30 megawatts or greater. Last week the industry was reeling from the Baillieu government’s election, saying it was unlikely any more wind farm proposals would be developed in Victoria for some time. ”We are not going to look at any projects in Victoria at this stage,” said Andrew Richards, spokesman for wind energy company Pacific Hydro. ”It’s just too difficult. The industry is in a holding pattern, a wait-and-see pattern.”
AGL, another big wind investor, had similar sentiments.
Industry figures say the economics now are not quite right for Victoria’s 3192 megawatts of approved wind farms. To be profitable, wind farms need a higher wholesale price of electricity. Two things push up this price: pro-renewable energy targets and market schemes, and a carbon price. The industry says a carbon price, which will make wind energy more competitive with cheap brown-coal electricity, means it is more likely the farms will go ahead. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has set 2011 as the year to set a price on carbon.
Mr Richards said that despite its tough wind farms policy, the Baillieu government could oversee Victoria’s biggest expansion in wind-powered energy. ”I’d imagine that over the next four or five years a large percentage of those projects will get built,” he said.