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Pollie Watch: Where do Coalition MPs stand on wind farms?

windpowerssCrikey has conducted a survey of sitting Coalition MPs on the issue of wind energy. The news service has found just one pro-wind energy MP in the government’s ranks, Leichhardt’s Warren Entsch. Reporter Andrew Crook notes: “It seems like Entsch is to wind as Julie Bishop is to women among senior Coalition ranks.”

So what else did Crikey find? There are a few Coalition MPs ‘on the fence’, some who ‘show promise’, and several retired pro-wind energy Liberals: 

In favour …

Warren Entsch

Entsch has gone in to bat for a wind farm proposed in his electorate. According to The Tablelander last month, he said the following on the Mt Emerald development: “The bottom line is Mt Emerald would bring a lot to this region in terms of attracting investment, stabilising escalating power prices and raising our profile as a leader in sustainable energy solutions … It is time to start dealing in facts and the fact is that wind generated power is a hugely viable, largely untapped resource in this area that would provide us with a stable, viable energy solution.”

The Tablelander noted the area has the second highest wind resource in Australia: “Our electricity prices have doubled in the past five years and this figure will only continue to rise unless we look at reliable, practical and sensible power sources like wind, water and solar. It’s not rocket science — locally generated power will stabilise costs, if not drive them down.” Mr Entsch said claims noise from wind farms caused health problems were ‘‘unsubstantiated”.

On the fence …

Greg Hunt

The Environment Minister has been diplomatic about the claims wind farms cause ill health effects:

“… I also acknowledge that there are genuine and legitimate concerns in communities, and some of the members this evening will rightly express the concerns of their communities. Sometimes these communities have differing views within them on the impacts of wind on both human health and property values.”

“I do not know the answer. I do think it is right and proper for the Parliament of Australia to sponsor a full National Health and Medical Research Council independent science-based study using primary sources of actual testing to determine those. Nobody should have anything to fear because if there is a problem, we have a fundamental duty to find out. And if it is not a problem, then nobody need fear anything …”.

Ian Macfarlane

The Resources Minister has been dismissive yet diplomatic about health impacts, telling The Australian Financial Review:

“I’m open minded. I have seen nothing that indicates to me that they cause a health impact but at the same time the level of complaints and the style of the complaints are more than just the radical edge but actually common sense people says to me that we need to have a look at it.”

But the real-time wind farm sound monitoring suggested by Macfarlane would impose substantial costs on the sector, making it difficult for wind farms to operate.

Shows promise, could try harder …

Malcolm Turnbull

In his blunt assessment of Abbott’s climate policy, Turnbull accepts the need to transition Australia from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as wind. Turnbull also appeared at the launch of a plan for 100% renewable energy by 2020. The plan recommends the installation of 48GWe of wind farms.

Retired pro-wind energy Liberals …

Peter Rae

Liberal senator for Tasmania (1968-86), was vice president of the World Wind Energy Association (nowhonorary VP). Rae presented Hepburn Wind with an international award at Parliament House in Canberra last year.

Judith Troeth

The former MP launched a plan for 100% renewable energy in Parliament in 2010. The Zero Carbon Australiaenergy plan calls for a massive rollout of 48 gigawatt equivalent (GWe) worth of wind energy. Troeth sees wind energy as part of a suite of zero-carbon technologies.

The Coalition released details of its energy policy in the dying days of the election campaign. The policy document contained several measures that threaten the wind energy sector–putting jobs, income for farmers and climate action at risk.

First is a commitment to undertake yet another investigation into the alleged health impacts of wind farms–despite 19 reviews that show wind energy is clean and safe. Second, the government has stated intent for real-time sound monitoring at Australia’s wind farms–a move the renewable energy sector says is costly and impractical.

The Coalition desperately needs to make a wind energy friendly policy announcement to reaffirm its commitment to Australia’s most affordable renewable energy source. Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis shows new build wind farms are now cheaper than coal and gas.

If the Abbott government fails to adopt a pro-wind energy stance, it risks being out-of-step with mainstream community views.

All of the available public polling shows that three quarters of the community support more wind farms. The clean energy source is even highly popular among Coalition voters.

Warren Entsch and Malcolm Turnbull have shown political leadership on wind energy. Friends of the Earth hopes the Abbott government follow the lead of these sitting members.

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