Saturday, 11 November 2006

Election job fears: Portland staff urged to vote carefully

Warrnambool Standard
Friday 10/11/2006, Page: 5

By Madeline Healey

THERE are fears 700 wind farm-related jobs in Portland could be threatened if the Liberal Party wins government. Keppel Prince general manager Stephen Garner urged his staff to think carefully about their vote.

Mr Garner said yesterday the Liberals' policy to abolish the Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET) scheme would mean major wind farm projects wouldn't go ahead, forcing him to lay off 80 workers employed to build turbine towers.

The State Government said those jobs would be among 200 wind energy manufacturing jobs and as many as 500 project construction jobs that would be threatened in Portland if the VRET was abolished.

Member for South West Coast Denis Napthine said major wind farms in the south-west wouldn't be threatened as they were proposed long before the VRET scheme, which was announced in July.

Mr Garner said the VRET scheme, which forces energy retailers to buy 10 per cent of power from renewable energy sources, was the main artery to the heart of Keppel Prince and blade manufacturer Vestas. He said if the scheme was retained he would be in a position to put on an extra 20 jobs to build towers for various wind farms including stage two of the Portland Wind Energy Project.

Developer of the Portland project, Pacific Hydro, said yesterday it was ready to begin construction in December but would have to cancel the development if the Liberals won government.

Mr Garner said he was not a political man but he felt compelled to speak out about the Liberal policy which would threaten his business and 80 of the 120 employees in the company's wind tower division. He said the division had been busier recently and now operated 24 hours a day over three shifts.

Mr Garner said it would continue to grow if the company could win contracts to provide towers to wind projects including AGL's Macarthur wind farm, which was approved by the State Government recently. He said if the company was able to secure a contract to build Macarthur it would ensure the division two years' work to build the 183 towers.

Mr Garner said the Portland project would keep workers busy for most of next year.

Minister for Energy Industries Theo Theophanous visited Keppel Prince yesterday and said that under a Liberal government no wind farms would go ahead.

"People have to understand that there is a very clear choice if you are concerned about jobs in regional Victoria, climate change (or) the drought you shouldn't vote for the Liberal Party," he said. Mr Theophanous said that under the Bracks Government south-west Victoria would become an energy hub.

"It will have wind farms, it will have gas being delivered as well as gas power stations, mineral sands ... There's a lot of prosperity that can emanate from this area as a result of its natural resources."