You can’t quite say the Liberal and National Parties have declared war on the wind power industry. When opening the Macarthur Wind Farm Victorian premier Dennis Napthine said lots of nice things about wind turbines, and the party mostly denies that it wants to kill wind.
However, between allowing residents to block wind farms within two kilometres of them, banning developments in certain (quite windy) places even with 100% local support and trying to force windfarms to monitor noise caused by others it is pretty clear where the party stands. Moreover, many backbenchers are not even trying to hide their hatred of clean energy, propounding every discredited theory going.
However, this creates a problem for the Liberals. Wind energy is popular nationally. They’re used to taking on environmental issues where the majority of the population are against them. What they are not used to doing is taking on ones where there is also a substantial industry with serious money to invest to support that widespread popularity.
At the moment the wind industry in Australia is still fairly small, and quite a bit of it is in the hands of businesses with far larger investments in fossil fuels. The resources are there to really take the Lib Nats on, but only if the industry really wants to. On the other hand, if it keeps growing it will very soon reach the point where it can toss out sums of money that, in combination with wide popular support and passionate activists, can rattle a government to its foundations.
So it is very, very important to the coalition that the wind industry does not keep growing. However, the latest news from northern Victoria shows how hard this will be for them. Approval has been granted for a windfarm that will have everyone within a 3km radius as investors. It’s only small – a mere 5 turbines – but it shows just how hard it is going to be for the coalition to keep the industry down. With models like this they will either need to tighten the already ridiculously stringent rules governing planning permission, or accept that an industry they tried to throttle will get larger, wealthier and employ more people (many of them in areas where local employment is essential). As the song says, “You better run for cover when the pup grows up”.
Of course the alternative is for the conservative parties to ease off their attacks on wind and pretend they never happened. The leaders of the industry, most of whom have a background in business and probably a natural Liberal leaning, are certainly not looking for a fight. The problem is that, having already fanned the fury of their more extreme supporters, the coalition leadership has created a constituency within their ranks, including amongst their own backbenchers, that see wind power as the devil, and will not be inclined to kiss and make up.