The ACT government has ridiculed Joe Hockey for describing wind turbines at Lake George as “utterly offensive” and is vowing to push ahead with funding more wind farms in the region.
The federal Treasurer said on Friday wind farms were a “blight on the landscape”, in the latest sign the Abbott Government’s first budget could wind back support for renewable energy.
Mr Hockey said that driving to Canberra from Sydney meant he passed the Bungendore windfarm near Lake George on the NSW side of the ACT border.
“Can I be a little indulgent? I drive to Canberra to go to parliament ... and I must say I find those wind turbines around Lake George to be utterly offensive,” he told Alan Jones on Macquarie Radio. “I think they’re a blight on the landscape.”
Mr Hockey said he could not stop the wind turbines operating: "We can't knock those ones off because they're into locked-in schemes and there is a certain contractual obligation I'm told associated with those things."
The Treasurer said the government was intent on cutting “massive duplication” and indicated more of the climate change-related agencies would be pared back in the budget. He appeared to be mistaken, however, saying that the Clean Energy Regulator would go.
“Well, they say ‘get rid of the Clean Energy Regulator’, and we are,” Mr Hockey said.
ACT Environment Minister Simon Corbell said Mr Hockey's comments were disturbing.
“The personal views of Mr hockey when it comes to wind farm aesthetics should not be the basis on which we determine renewable energy policy in this country," he said.
“Is he seriously suggesting a wind farm has a greater impact on the environment than a coal-fired power station or an open cut mine?
“I am deeply disturbed that such a significant public leader is determining his views on unrenewable energy based on the view from his car window as he drives down the Federal highway.
"I can only hope that it was a simple appeal to populism on a populist, shock jock radio show but I am concerned that it reveals much more deeply-held sentiments."
Mr Corbell said he was concerned about what the budget would reveal about the federal government's position on renewable energy policy
“Australia is now facing the prospect of being well behind the rest of the world when it comes to the transition to renewable energy," he said.
"Australians will pay the price for that by being hostage to dramatic increases in fossil fuel prices over the coming decades if we don't act now."
Mr Corbell said the views of Mr Hockey and of NSW MPs who oppose wind farms in the region are in direct conflict with NSW government policy.
“The NSW government has a policy that supports the development of regions of renewable energy excellence including the area immediately to the north of the ACT around Lake George and leading all the way up to the Southern Highlands," he said.
NSW Coalition MPs in areas near the ACT oppose Mr Corbell’s plan to give 20-year government-backed contracts to developers whose projects have been stalled by uncertainty.
The ACT government recently embarked on the next stage of its introduction of large clean energy projects with a reverse auction for 200 megawatts or wind-generated electricity.
The government is working towards a goal of 90 per cent of the ACT's electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020, which is estimated by the government to cost consumers about $4 a week.
Wind energy is expected to power 80,000 Canberra households within six years.
NSW Greens upper house member John Kaye said the Abbott government’s Direct Action policies “won’t happen without the Clean Energy Regulator”.
Mr Hockey’s outburst adds to signals that Coalition governments in Canberra, NSW and elsewhere are prepared to undermine Australia’s renewable energy industry, Mr Kaye.”
“Pandering to the Flat Earth, anti-wind brigade, crosses both parties of the Coalition and the federal-state divide,” Mr Kay said.
“It’s yet another sign that the Renewable Energy Target is likely to be decimated, with Australia losing opportunities for investment in rural communities, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and thousands of new jobs,” he said.
The Abbott government has appointed businessman and climate change sceptic Dick Warburton to lead a panel to review the target. The goal is for 41,000 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy, or more than 20 per cent, to be supplied by 2020.
“The Treasurer has a right to his opinion, but the majority of Australians like the look of wind turbines,” said Clean Energy Council deputy chief executive Kane Thornton.
“The Bungendore Chamber of Commerce – which is close to Lake George and the wind farms in question – even has wind turbines in its logo and on its website,” Mr Thornton said.
“The idea of producing clean energy from the sun, the wind and the waves typically attracts support of upwards of 75 per cent among Australians,” he said.