ACT News

ACT renewable energy jobs soar in past five years

The number of jobs in the ACT renewable energy industry has increased by more than 400 percent over the past five years, the largest increase in Australia. 

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data released earlier this week, 630 people were employed by the renewable energy industry last year with 480 employed by the government or non-profit institutions and 150 in solar power.

But while the ABS figures indicated a growth in ACT employment they revealed more than 2000 jobs had been lost in the industry nationwide over the past two years. 

Some 12,590 people were employed full-time in the wind, solar and other renewable energy industries last year down from almost 15,000 two years earlier.

The report assessed people "principally motivated by the production of renewable energy or the design, construction, operation and maintenance of renewable energy infrastructure".

Solar power accounted for the largest proportion of renewable energy jobs nationally with 6120 positions, or 49 per cent of overall employment.  

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Elementus Energy manager director Ashleigh Antflick, whose company will deliver a 10 megawatt solar farm after winning a 20-year agreement with the ACT government, said more jobs would be created in coming years. 

"Our view is that we will employ about 85 people during the construction phase and we are hopeful that much of that labour, supply and services will come from ACT-based businesses," he said.

"When it is up and running there is likely to be a permanent workforce of between three and five people and then a periodic workforce of double that during scheduled maintenance periods.

"We are confident this will be not only a source of renewable energy but also a source of economic prosperity in the territory."

But Mr Antflick's sentiment was contrasted by a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report which pointed to an investment freeze with just one project securing finance in the past six months amid political uncertainty.

The lone venture in the first three months of 2015 was worth just $6.6 million and came after a complete drought during the December quarter.

ACT Minister for Environment Simon Corbell said "progressive small-scale feed-in-tariff schemes have led to more than 40 megawatts of solar on Canberra homes".

Lucas Fama, director of solar panel installers Canberra Green Energy, said continual uncertainty and confusion about the federal government rebate could dictate the future of his business in coming years.

"No one really knows what's going to be happening with the rebate and a lot of people are waiting to see," he said.

But Mr Fama said he was not surprised renewable energy jobs had increased in the ACT last year as his own business had increased in size.

"People are becoming more conscious about solar power especially with high energy prices prompting some to look for new alternatives, and builders including solar in their projects," he said.

Mr Corbell said the local market for commercial roof-top solar installations remained strong as evidenced by the Power Saving Centre in Mitchell.

"Power Saving Centre's local business has grown from two to 22 people in less than 24 months, and they are bringing on board two more new starters in the next couple of weeks," he said.

In late 2013, the ACT government legislated a 90 percent renewable energy target for the territory by 2020 drawing praise from the Climate Council as a welcome contrast to federal uncertainty. 

Mr Antflick said he expected the solar farm, which will be relocated from a proposed site near the Uriarra village to beside the Monaro Highway at Williamsdale, to be a long-term stable employer of skilled labour in the ACT.

"We are looking at working with a number of tertiary education institutions in the territory to be part of their skills programs for undergraduate and technical training programs," he said.

Mr Antflick said the ACT government and broader community were supportive or major solar power investments despite a concerted public relations campaign from Uriarra villagers to relocate the solar farm. 

"There is a pretty clear understanding by territorians of the broader climatic benefits of solar energy and I think broad support for doing something to make a positive contribution to climate change," he said.