A ONE HUNDRED strong crowd left Federal Member for Wannon, Dan Tehan in no doubt of where it stands on the future of the Renewable Energy Target (RET), at a public meeting at the Crowlands Hall last Thursday.
Mayors of Ararat Rural City, Northern Grampians Shire and Pyrenees Shire Councils spoke alongside representatives of farming, small business and community groups in an effort to highlight to Mr Tehan the importance of retaining the RET so four windfarm projects can proceed.
At present the project's futures are uncertain as the Federal Government undertakes a review into the RET.
Mr Tehan said the feedback he received at the meeting will help inform the views he takes to Canberra on the issue.
"I've spoken to my parliamentary colleagues and there is real interest in this issue, the views here, as they will be right across the country will be heard and taken into account," he said.
"The community here think they (windfarms) are extremely important, however, what we have to do is make sure we get the balance right because the RET favours one industry over another industry.
"What I have to keep in mind is, for instance, with the aluminium smelting sector, by 2017 the RET will cost it $80 million.
"We have to make sure that jobs in one industry don't come at the expense of jobs in another industry, we've got to make sure that we can get the balance right on this and that’s government’s key role in this issue.”
Mr Tehan said he didn’t agree with an assertion that country communities were being overlooked in the undertaking of the legislated review.
“I don’t agree with that, this issue has been one of the most discussed and talked about issues, more consultation has probably taken place on this issue than any other in the last few months,” he said.
Ararat Rural City Council Mayor, Cr Paul Hooper told the gathering the windfarm projects present an economic opportunity the three municipalities can’t afford to miss out on.
“The argument we’ve been advocating to government is that for us and the two adjoining municipalities there are four proposed wind farms with $1.68 billion worth of investment at risk,” he said.
“There is $100 million to be spent in our local economies during the construction phase, that is 900 jobs and the flow on effects of 75 full time ongoing jobs.
“A further $1.5 million a year, to go back to the landowners, which makes it profitable for a portion of their farmland, which traditionally sits on the top of a very unproductive hill.
“In addition to that is $1.3 million a year in rates potentially coming back to the three municipalities which makes us sustainable and makes it less of an ask of our individual ratepayers.
Cr Hooper said windfarms contribute an enormous amount back into the community in the form of grants to sporting clubs and charities.
Northern Grampians Shire Mayor, Cr Kevin Erwin agreed the projects are an opportunity for the shires to relieve some of the rate burden faced by residents.
“We are one of a number of unsustainable shires and we are trying very hard to keep our costs down as much as possible,” he said.
“This year it has got to the stage where we have had to cut into some services, so things are at a point where we need to get as much rate revenue as possible without stretching already stretched ratepayers.”
Australian Wind Alliance National co-ordinator, Andrew Bray said he believes Mr Tehan could suffer the most from a cut to the RET.
“Of all the federal MPs he (Mr Tehan) is possibly the one with the most to loose from a cut to the RET,” he said.
“Mr Tehan has eight projects ready to go worth $2.75 billion. If the RET is maintained where it is, a quarter of the new build of wind farms could be in his electorate.
“We want these projects to have the best chance of going ahead and delivering jobs, investment and income for farmers, councils, local businesses and community groups.”
Mr Tehan wouldn’t state a clear position on whether or not the RET should be cut, saying he was waiting to see the report from the review which he expects to be handed to the government some time this month.
“We have to make sure that we get the balance right with this review and that’s why I am waiting for the review and what it says,” he said.