Energy policy has been locked in as a key battleground for country MPs at a state and federal level.
Victorian Liberal MPs say they fear for the rural landscape as they estimate up to five times the current number of wind turbines could be installed if the State Government is to meet the Victorian Renewable Energy Target.
At a federal level, Nationals are calling for the removal of any subsidies for renewable energy providers and to reject a proposed national clean energy target.
Polwarth Liberal MP Richard Riordan said he had been inundated with dozens of calls and emails to his office from constituents concerned about an already increasing number of wind farms in western Victoria.
“I get more calls about this than I do about potholes, and that is saying something,” Mr Riordan said. “The wind farm issue has gone off the chart, particularly in the last month.”
He said callers were concerned about which wind farms were being approved, the conditions of the permits and the way wind farm operators were treating the community.
“Some (constituents) don’t want them at all, and some don’t want them this way,” Mr Riordan said.
He said landholders who had signed contracts with wind farms were often prevented from speaking out about their concerns, which included issues such as height, noise and location.
“Only people who don’t have them in their community think they’re fantastic,” he said.
In an opinion piece in today’s The Weekly Times, Western Victoria Liberal MP Simon Ramsay estimated more than 3500 extra wind turbines – “at least five times more than the 676 currently operating” – could be built in western Victoria if the Government is successful in its bid to legislate the VRET.
The Government’s target is to have 25 per cent of Victoria’s energy come from renewables by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025. Currently about 17 per cent of the states’ energy comes from renewables.
In response to Mr Riordan and Mr Ramsay’s concerns, Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the Coalition had “no plan to fix the challenges we face”.
“The market operator endorses VRET as it brings on much needed new supply. It also creates thousands of jobs in regional Victoria and attracts billions of dollars in investment,” she said.
She said the Liberals and Nationals were putting politics ahead of a solution and had an “idiotic approach”.
Community concern about the impact of wind farms spread to Victoria’s east after the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning issued a map to The Weekly Times last week incorrectly indicating a wind farm had been approved at Yarram in South Gippsland.
“There is no wind farm with a current planning permit in Yarram,” a DELWP spokeswoman said this week.
“Three of the approved wind farms that appeared on the map (Lexton, Winchelsea and Yarram) have planning permits that were issued by council and have now expired”.
The Yarram farm proposal referred to on the map was approved in 2007 and expired in 2012.
South Gippsland locals were concerned DELWP’s map meant a new wind farm proposed by energy company Synergy Wind had been approved at Alberton without community consultation.
DELWP told The Weekly Times while it was aware of a wind farm proposal at Alberton, an application had not been lodged.
Gippsland South Nationals MP Danny O’Brien questioned the Government’s ability to provide a suitable energy policy if it could not get a map right, saying the mistake was “symptomatic of the Government’s chaotic energy policy”.
The Coalition has vowed to scrap the VRET if elected.
Victorian Farmers Federation vice-president Brett Hosking said wind farms needed to be approved on a case-by-case basis.
“We support renewable energy but we have to ensure supply is secure and that the cost (of energy) is affordable,” Mr Hosking said
Friends of the Earth backs renewable energy farms as a source of jobs, extra council rates and extra income for farms to be droughtproof.