Treasurer Joe Hockey has attacked wind farms as “utterly offensive and “a blight on the landscape” in the latest sign that the Abbott government intends to cut back on renewable energy.
Mr Hockey told Macquarie Radio’s Alan Jones that driving to Canberra from Sydney meant he passed the Bungendore wind farm 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,” Mr Hockey said. “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 err, however, saying that the Clean Energy Regulator would go in light of Commission of Audit recommendations.
“Well, they say ‘get rid of the Clean Energy Regulator’, and we are,” Mr Hockey said. A spokeswoman said Mr Hockey had meant to say the Clean Energy Finance Corp, the green investment bank, would go.
NSW Greens upper house member John Kaye said the Treasurer's comments were a worrying signal that the federal and NSW Coalition governments were preparing to undermine Australia’s renewable energy industry.
“Pandering to the Flat Earth, anti-wind brigade, crosses both parties of the Coalition and the federal-state divide,” Dr Kaye 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 current 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.
Dr Kaye predicts a war will erupt within the new Baird government over wind farms.
The merged planning and environment departments pit Planning Minister Pru Goward, a vocal opponent of wind farms, against Environment Minister Rob Stokes, an outspoken supporter of renewable energy.
In March, Mr Stokes, the MP for Pittwater, praised the ACT government for its “bold and innovative” renewable energy policies that had created a ring of wind farms around the capital including Collector, Crookwell and Bungendore.
''From a NSW government perspective, we acknowledge that this provides some wonderful opportunities for jobs and investment in regional parts of NSW that could really do with those opportunities,'' Mr Stokes told the Canberra Times.
Two weeks later, though, Ms Goward, then Family and Community Services Minister, told ABC TV news wind farms are "divisive" and that "communities … hate them".
‘‘If Canberra wants wind farms, they should build them here at Red Hill,” Ms Goward, the MP for Goulburn, said. “Instead of looking out of their windows at the beautiful blue Brindabellas with the snow on the mountains, [Canberrans] will look out at hideous turbines.’’
"As the fate of the dozens of wind farm proposals in NSW hang in the balance, the two ministers will be working for very different outcomes," Dr Kaye said.
"The Greens are calling for the Baird government to recognise the economic and environmental benefits of the most cost-effective form of renewable energy and drop their war on wind," he said.