Answer's blowing in the wind ... Mark Cant and wind turbines in South Australia's Eyre peninsula. Photo: Ivon Perrin
FOR the federal government ''clean energy future'' is the slogan used to sell its carbon tax package.
But for Whyalla, and the rest of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia - which Tony Abbott famously predicted would become ''a ghost town, an economic wasteland'' and even be ''wiped off the map'' under the carbon tax - clean energy is the future.
Mark Cant, a former Liberal candidate for the SA Parliament and now the chief executive of the Whyalla and Eyre Peninsula Regional Development Board, said the district had advanced plans to become a renewable energy centre.
''We want to be one of the top 10 clean-energy regions in Australia,'' he told the Herald, rattling off a list of projects in the final stages of planning.
There's a wave energy pilot project set to begin in December, a rare earth minerals processing plant - providing metals used in modern technologies such as hybrid cars and iPods - also set to begin construction this year, well-advanced plans for a large-scale solar project and a study showing the region has the potential to provide big amounts of wind power.
Mr Cant said companies including Pacific Hydro, Orica and Origin Energy had bought land in the area and put up monitoring systems in preparation for possible wind-power investments and the region intended to apply to the federal government's clean energy fund for a high-voltage transmission line to connect the proposed projects to the national electricity network.
Mr Abbott's prediction (the ''wiped off the map'' phrase was repeating the forecast of a local union official) was based on the impact he believed the tax would have on One Steel, the region's largest employer.
But when the carbon tax was announced, that company issued a statement saying it was ''appropriate and sensible''. The package offers OneSteel about $120 million of a $300 million, four-year steel assistance package. The company would also receive 95 per cent of its required pollution permits free. But the industry remains under pressure because of the strong Australian dollar and the long-term impact of the tax, so OneSteel is reviewing its Whyalla operations.
Mr Cant said: ''What we are trying to do is to diversify Whyalla and the region, to get other industries to set up in our locality and most of those projects will benefit form the carbon tax … we want to become a manufacturing centre for the clean energy sector …
''We have competitive advantages in our location, our workforce and our port access. We see this as the way of the future.''