One of Australia’s largest manufacturers of wind farm towers has made 100 workers redundant today in direct response to the Abbott government’s move to lower the renewable energy target.
Keppel Prince, an engineering company based in the western Victorian town of Portland, will close its entire wind farm tower division.
The announcement, made to workers this morning by company general manager Steve Garner, came as workers at the nearby Alcoa aluminium smelter were celebrating the government’s decision to exempt intensive emitters such as aluminium from the RET scheme.
Tony Abbott voiced “regret” for the loss of jobs at Keppel Prince, but noted his policy would help protect 160 jobs at the aluminium smelter.
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The Greens described the job losses as “a tragic day for clean energy and for the workers involved”.
It is understood Keppel Prince’s wind farm division has no work beyond November and has struggled in recent years against a strong Australian dollar and the importation of cheap steel from China.
Although the company did not oppose the exclusion of aluminium from the RET, it feared that a reduced target, as flagged yesterday by Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, would send another damaging signal to investors about the viability of wind energy in Australia.
The company’s decision will be seized upon by Labor, the Greens and the renewable energy lobby as evidence that the proposed weakening of the RET will destroy green jobs.
“The continuing uncertainty over large-scale renewables (including the Renewable Energy Target) and related wind tower fabrication projects, together with the significant losses sustained from such activities over the past several years, have forced Keppel Prince Engineering to review this aspect of its business,” Keppel said in a statement today.
“We believe that a sustainable business in wind tower fabrication is possible with a favourable outcome to the Renewable Energy Target review and a move towards local content requirements in Australian projects.”
The company said it would continue to seek viable wind tower and other major fabrication projects, with a view to resuming operations when feasible.
AMWU assistant state secretary Craig Kelly blamed the federal and state governments for the job losses.
He said Keppel Prince encountered planning restrictions on wind tower construction, and said it recently tendered for the Webb Dock redevelopment but that was awarded to a South Korean company. Mr Kelly said the federal government’s move to lower the renewable energy target was also a factor.
“The domino effect of that has been felt very swiftly at Portland, in Denis Napthine’s electorate,” Mr Kelly said.
“I haven’t heard the state government screaming from the rooftop about the Renewable Energy Target and the direct impact on a very large engineering company in Portland.
“I think the new commonwealth government has been a very large contributor with the uncertainty that they’ve put in the business community around the Renewable Energy Target.”
But the Premier, Mr Napthine blamed the wind energy industry, saying it was a disgrace they were using imported wind towers rather than locally produced ones at Keppel Prince.
“They ought to hang their heads in shame for importing towers and costing local jobs,” he told reporters.
The Prime Minister defended the Coalition’s proposal for a “real” 20 per cent renewable energy target, telling question time that “this is a government that wants to keep power prices down”.
“We are very happy to sit down with the opposition to deal with this in what we hope will be a constructive bipartisan spirit,” he told parliament.
Greens leader Christine Milne said the the government had “taken a wrecking ball to the industry that holds the best hope of providing future jobs and investment in Australia”.
“The Abbott government is destroying jobs now and Australia’s best hope of future investment beyond the mining boom in order to protect its billionaire mates in the coal industry,” she said.
“(Keppel Prince) will be the first of many devastating decisions to come unless the Abbott government can be forced to accept the inevitable – coal is the past and clean energy is the future.”
The RET faces cuts to save jobs in energy-intensive industries, under a Coalition plan to break the political impasse over the scheme, but wind, solar and other alternative energy companies warn it will put at risk investments worth $10 billion.
Labor last night agreed to negotiate with the Coalition in “good faith’’, creating hopes a deal is possible but it rejected the government’s opening bid that would have cut the current target by 40 per cent.
The proposal, from Mr Macfarlane and Environment Minister Greg Hunt, would exempt all emissions-intensive industries from the RET and leave the current solar rooftops scheme untouched. It would also end biennial reviews of the scheme. It would cut the large-scale renewables target from its current 41,000 gigawatt hours to a “real 20 per cent’’, or about 27,000GWh.
The government says it wants to reach an agreement with Labor over the RET’s future to provide renewable-energy companies investment security.
The government’s offer to exempt all emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries increases political pressure on Labor which will be caught between green renewables supporters and its traditional union base in industries such as aluminium.
Additional reporting: AAP
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