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Renewable industry jobs left blowing in the wind

Date

John Thistleton

Re-trained for the renewable energy industry, workers have been left dangling by the RET review.

Andrew Milne and Phil Lewis back on firm ground in a shaky industry.

Andrew Milne and Phil Lewis back on firm ground in a shaky industry. Photo: Jamila Toderas

One was an electrical engineer, the other a shearer. Both have been blown sideways in an 80 km/h gale, before swinging, then dangling, from underneath 80-metre-high wind turbines. 

Phil Lewis, the shearer, and Andrew Milne, an engineer, have retrained for the renewable energy industry. Along with two former motor mechanics, Mike Hogan and Tim Denniss, their retraining at Capital Wind Farm near Bungendore, NSW includes height and emergency training on ropes and ladders from atop the towers.

They all reckon they make good kites. They are now back on firm ground, while their industry dangles at the end of  the renewable energy target (RET) review, which was meant to be finished at the end of July. It has been extended for weeks.

In the meantime, billions of dollars worth of wind and solar farm projects are on hold, international investors are threatening to leave Australia and in the capital region, 900 construction jobs are on hold.

Epuron's Conroy's Gap wind farm near Yass; Infigen Energy's Capital 2 wind farmand solar farms near Bungendore, and RATCH Australia's Collector wind farm are approved but are on hold until the RET review is finalised. Many more projects are proposed.

Mr Lewis says renewable energy installation is a better way to earn a living than shearing. "Physically, it's easier. Mentally, from my background there was a lot to learn, like computers, and I wasn't mechanical. I've had to learn a fair bit, but it is all there to learn and the company provides training and you pick it up on the job.''

Former Queanbeyan motor mechanic Hogan has retrained. He finds servicing turbine gear boxes and generators every six months a straightforward job.

''You're not stuck in a workshop breathing carbon monoxide when vehicles are running, and up to your armpits in grease,'' Mr Hogan said. 

Mr Hogan said tinkering with the RET does not make sense. "The biggest thing I see, everyone reckons they [turbines] are noisy. They are not noisy; we can sit under them like this all day and have a conversation like this without yelling. We've been here for six years, and none of us are any sicker than what we were at the start.''

Mr Lewis reckons 100 people have asked him at various times how many turbines there are at Lake George. "Only one person has got it right. You get [estimates] from 120 to 50. They are hard to count from the other side of the lake.''

In total, 67 turbines stand at Capital wind farm, catching well-timed winds, says Mr Milne, the site manager who previously worked on a gas-fired generator.

"We get good generation in the evenings, which is not the case for all wind farms. That's good from the grid perspective, because that's what you want, as well as from pricing perspectives.''

Mr Milne said renewable industry jobs were well-timed for the rural sector, when mining was coming off its peak.

Clean energy companies say if the target was left to operate as legislated, another $14.5 billion would be invested in large scale energy infrastructure, much of it in the wider Capital wind farm region.

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