The politics of energy can be a dangerous thing. Just ask Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
Each felt the wrath of their party and/or electorate on the vexed issue of the carbon tax and the energy implications that it wrought.
And so too might the Victorian Government and State Opposition over wind farms and coal-seam gas extraction.
Just over 12 months from an election and both are major issues across regional Victoria.
First to wind farms, where the Victorian Government has given landowners the right to block any wind-farm development 2km from their home.
It has been applauded by farmers and residents as a sensible move because of the aesthetic and claimed health problems of wind turbines, not to mention the impact on land values.
But the wind-farm industry claims the move has crippled the industry, backed by renewable energy advocates who say the Government is stifling wind farms in deference to the “dirty” coal-fired power generation.
It’s an interesting notion, considering the Nationals appear to have a stronghold on the coal-dominated Latrobe Valley, once an impenetrable Labor area.
And it will probably stay in Nats’ hands for longer, with the state Labor Opposition this week declaring it would scrap the 2km exclusion rule and even ditch “no-go” areas of the Great Ocean Road, Mornington Peninsula, Macedon Ranges, Wilsons Promontory and the Yarra Ranges where wind farms cannot currently be built.
On a local level, wind farms have pitched neighbour against neighbour and split some communities.
For those who agree to have wind farms placed on their properties, it can be a nice little earner, about $10,000 a year per turbine.
For those next door forced to watched a supersonic blade “whoop” its way around and around all-day – and without compensation – it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
It has caused major unrest in communities such as Waubra, near Ballarat, which has Australia’s fourth-biggest wind farm.
Anti-wind-farm campaigners now tag any illness or condition they attribute to wind farms – headaches, nausea, nervous issues – as Waubra Disease.
That has incensed some locals, with one resident, Marsh Gallagher, (she has turbines on her property) this week demanding an apology on behalf of the town.
The second political minefield concerns extracting gas trapped in rocks more than a kilometre underground. That is done through breaking up the rocks by injecting pressure, water and chemicals into them.
The process is called fracking, a word that works very nicely in headlines and on protest placards telling mining companies where to go.
It is an issue dominating much of Gippsland, where the bulk of the coal-seam gas exploration licenses are.
Landowners are concerned fracking will pollute water and the mining process will damage their land.
The Victorian Government has placed a moratorium on fracking, with former federal Liberal minister Peter Reith conducting an inquiry into the industry.
The head of the biggest prospective coal-seam gas miner, Lakes Oil, said this week he expected the moratorium will stay until the election, with both sides of politics too scared to take a stance that could lose them power.
So, consider this.
Deputy Premier Peter Ryan was forced this week to reject speculation he would not stand for re-election in Gippsland South.
He will be 64 by the time the election rolls around.
Of course, being the good politician he is, he left enough wiggle room in his denials to allow himself to change his mind.
If he did retire, that would leave a newbie Nationals candidate in a likely three-way contest for a seat that is the epicentre of coal-seam gas exploration.
Throw in a mining company with Gina Rinehart as a major shareholder breathing down your neck as you attempt to hold a seat in a precarious one-seat majority government and you can see how the politics of energy could be the most dangerous game in town next November.
Ed Gannon is editor of The Weekly Times
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