The head of a Victorian company that manufactures giant towers for wind turbines says it could go out of business because it cannot compete with cheaper imports from Korea and China, and has called for an import tariff to protect green industries in Australia from dumping.
Steve Garner, of Keppel Prince Engineering in Portland, told The Australian he feared his company had missed out on a $30 million contract to build 64 turbine towers for a wind farm near Ballarat. Mr Garner said it appeared the turbine supplier, REpower, had given the contract for the towers that supported its technology to a Korean company able to undercut his firm’s tender.
Mr Garner said the wind industry had lobbied hard to persuade the Labor government to set the 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target several years ago with an assurance that it would create many jobs in Australia. But he said that, while some developers made a point of buying Australian, he understood that REpower had this time opted to buy from Korea.
Mr Garner said three companies in Australia manufactured the towers and they could all go out of business if the towers were bought overseas. “For us the long-term implications is that we could potentially face closure,” he said.
Mr Garner said the US recently introduced a tariff to protect its emerging renewable companies from cheap competition from countries which kept costs down by paying very low wages. “But there is no such protection for the Australian industry,” he said.
Mr Garner said major companies in the renewable industry were preparing to lobby the government hard for some form of protection. He said that while the turbines were imported, some major power firms, including AGL and Pacific Hydro, insisted on buying Australian made towers to support local industry.
He said he was amazed that the Koreans were able to profitably manufacture the towers in Korea and then transport them to Australia and still undercut his company. The steel structures weighed 150 tonnes each and were 80m tall and 4.5m across at their base.
“They have to get them to a port in Australia and then transport them to the site,” Mr Garner said.
In Vladivostok last month, Trade Minister Craig Emerson called for lower tariffs to make environmental goods cheaper.
Dr Emerson was not available to comment on the issue last night.
The Liberal MP in the southwest Victorian seat of Wannon, Dan Tehan, said the Gillard government’s promise to create more green energy jobs seemed to be derailing. “They need to act to fix this problem otherwise local jobs will continue to go offshore,” Mr Tehan said.
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