Seven years ago, in my first column in this series, I wrote of how wind farms were causing much angst in the bush.
The column was written less than a week after Julia Gillard became the nation’s first female Prime Minister and days after the federal Renewable Energy Target was legislated, mandating that 20 per cent of Australia’s energy supply must be from renewable resources by 2020.
At the time there were eight wind farms in Victoria operating 266 turbines.
And local residents were mostly unhappy by these new interlopers with complaints they blighted the landscape and caused serious health issues.
So, what’s changed since?
Julia Gillard is now four Prime Ministers ago, there’s a hell of a lot more turbines on the ground and on their way, and the Victorian Government has upped the ante, with a renewable energy target of 25 per cent by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2040.
And still people are generally unhappy with wind turbines – and the policy that supports them.
Throw in a major coal-fired power station closure that has, among other things, seen power prices surge, and we seem to be spinning our wheels on wind power.
There are now 676 turbines operating on 18 wind farms in Victoria, with five more under construction and another 16 farms awaiting approval.
Most are in the state’s west and southwest, clustered around Ballarat and west and north of Warrnambool.
Farms in the pipeline will spread across the west up to northwest of Bendigo.
We’re a long way short of the turbine-infested hills of Spain and California, but we are heading that way.
It’s long been said that the most unhappiness over wind farms comes from neighbours who don’t benefit from the power companies’ rental cheques and have to watch the turbines all day and feel their near-silent whoomp.
But that would be to discount the real anger people have towards wind turbines.
An analysis by Friends of the Earth (a group ardently in support of wind power) says with most of the wind farms in safe conservative seats, it is local Liberal MPs who stand to gain from jobs and economic activity.
Conversely, those same MPs have to wear the complaints of a policy they don’t support. And the complaints are flowing.
“I get more calls about this than I do about potholes, and that is saying something,” Polwarth MP Richard Riordan told The Weekly Times of his southwest Victorian electorate.
“The wind farm issue has gone off the chart, particularly in the last month.”
Fellow Liberal MP Simon Ramsay, who represents western Victoria, reckons an extra 3500 extra wind turbines – “at least five times more than the 676 currently operating” – would need to be up and running to meet the Victorian Government’s renewable energy target.
So, where to from here? Well, if people think turbines are worse than potholes, it looms as a ballot box issue in those seats. And ironically those Liberal MPs stand to gain the most from a backlash against a Labor policy that is backing wind farms.
But the real voter backlash will come when power prices fail to stop climbing.
Premier Daniel Andrews and his government will have to wear the blame of Hazelwood power station closing as he reaches for an ambitious renewable energy target.
Everyone wants renewable energy, but not when doing so starts to eat further into a pay packet.
Rightly or wrongly wind farms have become the symbol of rising power prices. The more turbines erected, the more they remind voters where to direct their hip-pocket anger.
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