ARARAT Rural City Mayor Cr Paul Hooper has urged the entire community to get behind Council's support of the Renewable Energy Target scheme as it now stands, therefore ensuring the long term economic benefit to the region of a stable wind energy industry and ongoing wind farm construction.
Cr Hooper, along with the mayor of Northern Grampians Shire Kevin Erwin and Pyrenees Shire Robert Vance, in a joint letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, have outlined their concerns about the potential of the Renewable Energy Target scheme to be wound back and the economic impact this would have on the three municipalities.
They are seeking an urgent meeting with the prime minister's senior energy advisor Sarah McNamara and are meeting with Victorian Senators to discuss their concerns.
At a business breakfast attended by a large number of Ararat business people, Cr Hooper urged businesses to use their networks and contacts to push the economic benefits of wind farms in the region.
Currently the 75 turbine, $450 million Ararat Wind Farm is shovel ready for construction to begin in November, however this will be delayed until a decision on the RET is made by the Federal Government and may not proceed if changes to the RET are implemented.
Cr Hooper told business people at the breakfast that there are currently four wind farms planned in the three adjoining municipalities of Northern Grampians Shire, Pyrenees Shire and Ararat Rural City - at Crowlands, Ararat, Bulgana and Stockyard Hill - with a combined total of wind 374 turbines.
"To put it in perspective, three of these wind farms have planning permits, one is ready to commence construction and one is in development, planning stage and design stage," Cr Hooper said.
Cr Hooper said the key economic benefits of these proposed wind farms include $1.68 billion of capital investments and $100 million injection into the local economy during construction.
"This includes consumption of goods and services - that's 100 million bucks to be spent in the private sector, in accommodation, food, booze and entertainment," he said.
"You've all got a stake in this, don't do it for me, do it for your own pockets."
Other economic benefits include $1.5 million per annum for host landholders who are often located on marginal agricultural land, providing a drought proof income.
The wind farms will also generate $1.3 million in income from rates.
"This means that the ask of our ratepayers diminishes by $1.3 million a year as the rate pie increases," Cr Hooper said.
Across the four municipalities the development of wind farms will involve 900 construction jobs and 60 direct and 74 indirect ongoing jobs during the operation of the wind farms over a period of 25 years.
The wind farms will also generate $300,000 a year in community grants, which go back into each community to benefit clubs, charities and sporting organisations.
"In addition to the investment and construction opportunities the total benefit to our economy over 25 years is in excess of an additional $400 million," Cr Hooper said
"Now if that ain't worth fighting for I don't know what I'm doing here."
Ararat has over the past five years benefited from the large scale construction project at Hopkins Correctional Facility that has boosted the economy with approximately 450 contractors being involved in the project.
However, this project is winding down and Council expects the local economy to shrink as a result, with unemployment to rise as the need to supply goods and services contracts.
Wind farms provide the opportunity to maintain and grow the economy during the construction period as well as the 25 year operation phase.
In the letter to Mr Abbott, the three mayors said that with the small combined population of 29,696, these local government areas were listed as being among the least financially viable in Victoria due to a declining combined rates base.
"Any alteration to the RET Scheme that caused the cancellation of these projects will create severe economic and social issues for our communities," the mayors said.
Cr Hooper called on the Ararat business community to get behind Ararat Rural City Council and its two neighbouring municipalities to ensure the RET scheme is not altered.
"If you can please engage your wider networks and contacts and if you can, let's see if we can bring this project home for our communities," Cr Hooper said.