Yes 2 Renewables

From Chain Reaction #122, Nov 2014, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction

Renewable Energy Target

The Abbott cabinet has rejected Dick Warburton's widely discredited review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET). The rejection of the RET review has been a big win for Australian communities. The full-scale backlash against the Warburton Review came from many different voices. But the loudest outcry was from those towns and suburbs that have been affected, both positively by renewables or those crippled by negligent fossil fuels.

Earlier in 2014, Yes 2 Renewables undertook its own community engagement on the Renewable Energy Target: the RET Road Trip. Leigh Ewbank and Shaun Murray organised and carried out this fact-finding mission. Visiting nine communities around the state to demonstrate the impacts of fossil fuels and the benefits of renewable energy.

Getting started in Daylesford, the road trip heard the stories of local community members who had pooled funding to develop their own two-turbine wind farm. Then in Morwell and Anglesea, Yes 2 Renewables met with communities who were sick of their health being compromised for the sake of local coal-power plants. In Portland and Ararat in Victoria, the road trip uncovered the economic benefits associated with renewable development in rural areas.

After assessing how communities felt about the impacts of the RET, Yes 2 Renewables decided to personally investigate the legitimacy of the Warburton review itself. After meeting the Warburton panel in Melbourne, Leigh and Shaun walked out as it became evident that the entire process was stacked against renewables.

 Peoples March for Climate demonstrates huge support for renewables

A march attended by over 500 in Kyneton, Victoria demonstrated strong public support for action on climate change and elevates renewable energy to a top issue in the hotly contested electorate of Macedon in the lead-up to the November 29 state election.

The "people's march" is part of a global mobilisation calling on political leaders to take action to address global warming. The Kyneton march coincided with a global gathering of heads of state at the United Nations in New York City. An estimated 30,000 people marched in Melbourne, with a massive 300,000 taking to the streets in Manhattan.

In a rousing speech, Friends of the Earth's Yes 2 Renewables coordinator Leigh Ewbank urged people at the Kyneton rally to take their concern for climate change to the polls and vote for renewable energy in the Victorian election: "The Coalition government axed the Victorian Climate Change Act, slashed solar incentives, and banned wind farms in the Macedon Ranges. A vote for renewable energy on November 29 will encourage whoever is elected to actively support wind farms with majority community support and champion a state target for renewables."

A campaign by Yes 2 Renewables, the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group and local community members calling on the government to dump its anti-wind farm laws has been gathering momentum. The pro-renewable energy campaign is calling on candidates to commit to actively support wind farms with majority community support and a renewable energy target for Victoria.

In 2011, the Coalition state government introduced a blanket ban on wind farms that killed off the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group's vision of a community project near Woodend.

"The current planning laws mean that it's OK for Daylesford to have a community wind farm, but yet, just 40km away in Woodend, a project of similar scale is prohibited," said Ewbank.

According to Friends of the Earth's analysis, the proposed community wind farm in Woodend would have created roughly 30 construction jobs, six ongoing jobs, and over $151,000 worth of flow-on economic benefits for the region. The wind farm would have produced enough clean electricity to power all the homes and businesses in Woodend, Macedon, Mt Macedon and Newham.

While Victoria's renewable energy sector is languishing, it is booming South Australia and the ACT − states that have renewable energy targets.

"Victoria doesn't have a renewable energy target and is missing out on jobs and investment in future industries," said Ewbank. "A state Renewable Energy Target will get Victoria back on track. It would unleash investment and create jobs while cutting pollution – which is something all political parties can support."

Renewable energy jobs missing from Napthine's job plan

Renewable energy is omitted from the Victorian government's '21st Century' jobs plan released on October 7. The state government has missed an opportunity to restore bipartisan support for renewable energy in Victoria. The government's policy is out of step with their federal counterparts who seek a bipartisan deal on the Renewable Energy Target.

Premier Denis Napthine could unleash investment and create jobs in Victoria by repealing the state's anti-wind farm laws and setting a state Renewable Energy Target.

In 2011, the Coalition state government implemented the world's most regressive laws for wind farms. The anti-wind farm laws have cost the state at least 490 construction jobs and 64 ongoing jobs for the 30-year life of wind farms.

The Victorian Labor Party and The Greens have pledged to rip up the anti-wind farm laws that have cost jobs and investment in regional Victoria.

A Clean Energy Council analysis shows there is potential for 6,400 renewable energy jobs in the state − 750 in the Premier's own electorate. Renewable energy company Keppel Prince is the second largest employer in Portland which is located in Denis Napthine's seat.

Farmland not Gaslands

The last two years have been incredible and frightening. People all across Victoria discovered their fertile farmland, communities and precious natural areas were blanketed with licences for unconventional gas. But in that time, those communities have banded together to create a powerful, state-wide movement to protect their land, water, health and future.

And now there's a film about it. Farmland not Gaslands is a moving short film about communities, ranging from Western Victoria to Gippsland, who are threatened by the activities of mining companies, but refuse to sit down and say nothing about it.

It's a matter that is close to home for director and producer Pennie Brown − literally. Her family lives in Gippsland, where over 350,000 hectares of land is covered in approved exploration licences for unconventional gas.

"I wanted to make Farmland not Gaslands because I wanted to bring home the risks of unconventional gas mining to a local audience and show that this growing movement of rural people from across the state are determined to do whatever it takes ... but they need our support," Brown said.

It was made on zero budget, but came together thanks to the commitment and generosity of many volunteers, including narration from AFI award winning actor Nadine Garner.

"I was really inspired to be a part of this project, we are seeing an incredible social movement of ordinary Australians growing every day, right here in our state," Garner said.

Farmland not Gaslands was premiered to a sold-out cinema as part of the Environmental Film Festival in early September, going on to win the People's Choice award.

This was followed by the regional premiere in Sale, which attracted big crowds, thrilled to see their story on the big screen. A moving speech from Trevor Flint, a farmer whose property is under threat, was the highlight of the night.

"When I went to my first Lock the Gate meeting, this sounds very selfish, but I went there to protect my farm, and I wanted a hint on how I was going to do it," Flint said. "But when I got there it took me about five minutes to realise that for me to protect my farm, my neighbour has to be able to protect his, and for him to protect his we have to stand together."

"And as the meeting went on I realised that everyone that was there was prepared to protect my farm, I'd never met half these people in my life, they didn't know me from a bar of soap, but they were there to help me to protect my farm, my neighbours farm and our community that they are a part of."

The resounding success of this grassroots film shows that it is not only a wonderful work of art, but also a reminder of the amazing things that can happen when communities get together.

− Katherine Smyrk

WA's first 'Gas Field Free Community'

Western Australia has vast shale and tight gas reserves covering the state which require horizontal hydraulic slickwater fracturing, or 'fracking', to extract. This process is highly water intensive, comes with high risks of contamination and has a total carbon footprint on par with that of coal.  

WA recently had a great win with Central Greenough in the Midwest (iconic Wildflower country and important agricultural region) declaring itself WA's first 'Gas Field Free Community'. 

Spokesperson for Frack Free Geraldton, Jo Franklin, said the declaration followed months of community consultation and door-knocking: "We knocked on every door in Central Greenough to ask the residents if they would like to declare their road gasfield free. The result was an overwhelming yes with more than 96% of people saying they supported the concept of becoming a Gasfield Free Community."

Gasfield Free Communities began in northern NSW two years ago and have since spread virally around the nation with more than three million hectares of agricultural land already declared Gasfield Free in NSW alone.

Greenough is likely to be the first of many communities in WA to join this national social movement of ordinary people who are willing to stand up for their rights, the protection of their livelihoods and that of their grandchildren against the invasive march of the gas companies.