ELEANOR HALL: One of Australia’s major electricity retailers, Energy Australia, has told the Climate Change Authority that it has concerns about community opposition to wind power because it might make Australia’s renewable energy target difficult to achieve.
The company says that to meet the target, wind power would have to be dramatically expanded, and that many communities are likely to oppose that.
But others dispute the company’s claims, and say the greatest threat to renewables comes not from community opposition, but from an uncertain investment climate.
Timothy McDonald has our report.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Energy Australia says wind power’s rapid expansion seems to rub many communities the wrong way.
Clare Savage is the executive manager of strategy and corporate affairs.
CLARE SAVAGE: We’re concerned that we’re currently hitting levels of development which are getting near the social speed limits, as we’d say, and what the Climate Change Authority modelling shows is that to deliver the current hardwired target we’d need to triple that level of development.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: What kind of response has the company had to its wind projects?
CLARE SAVAGE: We’ve got a great project in South Australia which received planning approval and approval from the Environmental Protection Authority, but it was actually voted down by the greater city council. So we’re currently pursuing that through a judicial review.
But from our perspective, when you see good projects knocked back by local government, you’re actually in a situation where it’s difficult to get the community on board.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: The company has written a submission to the Climate Change Authority’s review of the renewable energy target, suggesting community opposition to the rapid expansion of wind farms could undermine the whole scheme.
The solution, they say, is to slow down. Pacific Hydro, which operates six wind farms in Australia, has a different view.
Lane Crockett is the general manager.
LANE CROCKETT: There is a period of time during the development phase when you’re discussing what it’ll look like with a community that there can be some anxiousness about what that will mean, but once the wind farm is operating, once the community settles into it, they are very strongly supported by the community.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Russell Marsh from the Clean Energy Council says polling shows that the community is broadly very positive about wind power.
RUSSELL MARSH: We released a poll earlier this year that showed that about 80 per cent of people, and that was both people in country areas near wind farms and in city areas supported wind farms. While we were there we saw tremendous acceptance of wind farms and the need to build wind farms across Australia.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: The current renewable energy target is 41,000 gigawatt hours a year. That figure is based on an earlier projection of 20 per cent of the country’s energy needs in 2020.
Energy Australia and a number of other companies want the target significantly reduced to align with more current and lower projections of Australia’s needs.
The company argues that to meet the target as it stands, wind power would have to be built at three times the current rate.
Clare Savage worries that could create enough community opposition to make the entire renewable energy target scheme unravel, but she says the Government could avoid the problem by slowing down.
CLARE SAVAGE: Renewables deployment is not a race, and from our perspective, it’s important that we get the scheme settings right such that the scheme has longevity and our concern is if we actually triple the amount of wind projects every single year from here to 2020, the risk is that the community will push back on the scheme and the scheme itself comes into question.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Lane Crockett from Pacific Hydro isn’t convinced.
LANE CROCKETT: No look, I don’t buy that argument at all. There’s thousands of megawatts of wind farm projects that are already permitted and just waiting for the market to proceed, and it’s uncertainty that’s being created that’s stopping that happening.
So the industry can easily deliver it.
TIMOTHY MCDONALD: A number of wind energy companies have made submissions suggesting that uncertainty is the biggest problem, and that changing the target could affect the investment climate.
In its discussion paper, the Climate Change Authority currently appears to agree with them.
It says a one-off change could create uncertainty, while switching to a plan that’s linked to a percentage target could prove even more damaging.
ELEANOR HALL: Timothy McDonald reporting.
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