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Wind farm work in doldrums

Stalled investment in renewable energy has forced the country’s largest wind farm tower manufacturer to seek voluntary redundancies from up to 100 of its 450 staff.

Keppel Prince, based in Portland, in southwest Victoria, has experienced a drop in demand for wind farms while the other core part of its business, maintenance of Alcoa’s local aluminium smelter, is also suffering.

General manager Steve Garner said the wind farm work would dry up in the next two months as production finished for the 140-turbine Macarthur wind farm and a smaller 13-turbine project.

“The wind energy industry’s promise of ‘project, project, project’ just hasn’t materialised,” he said. “There are just so many projects that are still in a state of limbo waiting to try and secure funding.”

The optimism of green energy companies has dimmed since the carbon tax legislation was passed last year, amid political uncertainty and growing concern over the forthcoming review of the 20 per cent by 2020 renewable energy target. The oversupply of renewable energy certificates has also held electricity retailers back from new investment.

Australian Steel Institute industry development manager Ian Cairns said the Gillard government needed to provide terms of reference for the RET review as soon as possible to provide clarity for the renewable industry.

“The government certainly caused these problems with the renewable energy certificates and the oversupply,” he said. “The carbon tax was supposed to bring green manufacturing jobs.

“You can’t get much greener than a solar farm or a wind farm, but we’re seeing jobs being lost because of inaction from government around the RECs and the RET.”

Mr Garner said Keppel Prince hoped to hire staff back again next year once more wind projects started coming through, but he was also worried by the RET review. “I’m sure that will put another delay in the process, that people will sit back and wait for that to happen,” he said.

Clean Energy Council policy director Russell Marsh said tight finance conditions worldwide were particularly squeezing the renewable industry: “Financiers are taking a much more risk-averse view to some of their investments. The fact there is uncertainty in the renewable energy market in Australia at the moment makes it even harder to get finance across the line in a market where finance is difficult to get.”