'Tip 5' for Direct Action: Cutting the NIMBY tape

By Matthew Wright Originally published on Climate Spectator

This is the fifth part in a series of 'Tips for Direct Action'. Click here for parts one, two, three and four.

'One kilometre, 2km 1600 yards, five leagues, 1.05702341×10-13 light years, etc' ...

Liberal and Labor state governments have been plucking figures for wind turbine buffer zones out of thin air (or is that IPA smoke-filled office air?) in what has been a huge setback for renewable energy. 

Fortunately, Tony Abbott has brought us 'Direct Action', what we're told is a decisive policy that is not compatible with ridiculous setbacks for the wind industry. Also, Direct Action is not compatible with taking away business confidence in energy sector investments. Abbott tells us he's got the scissors out for red tape, green tape, any kind of tape. So with the help of Greg Hunt he should be ready to cut the techicolour, evidence-free tape that is taking away investment confidence in renewables.

Wind: a reliable friend of the farmer and community

The world's fastest growing sources of energy are wind and solar and their contribution to the world’s supply is rock solid, and not fickle like fossil fuels. 

When a wind or solar facility is installed it will produce a similar amount of energy every year for around 20 years.

Indeed, because of technological advancement the same wind resource can over time contribute more and more to electricity supply, rather than deplete like fossil fuels. Turbines inevitably are repowered, replaced and upsized to higher rating machines meaning more electricity from the same facility. Year-in, year-out, in addition to converting free local fuel (in the form of wind that otherwise would have gone to waste), wind turbines contribute considerable revenue to landholders and the local community.

Contrast this with fossil fuels where the industry moves in, disrupts communities and destroys livelihoods, putting farmers out on their ears. Bribes are plentiful in the early days – new school buildings, pretty gardens in the main street and donations for local sporting clubs. This all dries up after miners have dug a big enough hole for themselves and left it as an everlasting legacy for everyone else.  

Unlike with wind, which co-exists with farming, there is no ongoing revenue for landholders and farming land is degraded or destroyed. Even when a coal mine is long gone, the land is unusable for agriculture due to subsidence and contamination. As for coal seam gas, the annual rents are very poor, the mine only lasts for five to seven years with considerable tracts of a farmers land 'no-go zones', pipelines interfere with farming operations and, at the end, the legacy is subsidence and damage to aquifers. Combine harvesters can't safely operate on land suffering mining-related subsidence, putting our food security at risk.

What's more, coal and gas power plants have fuel costs that are linked to international commodity markets. Price fluctuations during the life of a fossil fuel plant can make those facilities profitable one day and loss making the next. At any time during the operational life of a fossil fuel power plant they can be unexpectedly closed altogether or mothballed for another time, the facility is idled, payments to farmers dry up, and the degradation remains. The decision to do this is not ours, it is based on global considerations that are out of our hands. Not a reliable solution for a real-time fast-paced 21st century economy, nor for a farming family trying to make a living off the land.

A Direct Action solution from Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt

I think most conservatives would agree those crazy, risk-averse Europeans have some of the most severe regulations when it comes to health, environmental protection and community planning.  

In Europe the rule of thumb generally is that modern, multi-megawatt wind turbines are built no closer than 700m (around five blade diameters) to a house, unless the operator has the consent of a closer householder at the time that the planning/development approval is sort.  

In the spirit of cutting, slashing, axing, slashing and burning, ripping and tearing, shredding any sort of regulatory tape, some uniform national planning legislation would go a long way to meeting the Direct Action agenda. That's exactly where Greg and Tony can help with no impact to the federal budget. 

We have a national electricity market with bipartisan support for the national Large-scale Renewable Energy Target to deliver 41,000GWh of renewable energy by 2020 (a 5 per cent renewable energy target compared to Europe's 20 per cent). The wind industry is doing the heavy lifting delivering the bulk of the increase in the production of renewable energy.

Will the real 'liberals' please stand up

It's time for direct action! Tony Abbott, Greg Hunt and Ian Macfarlane must cut through these cumbersome state policy disasters. The states have proven that they are not able to act in the national interest.  Direct Action must deliver a national approach in the national interest, as we have a national electricity market and a national renewable energy certificate scheme. Again, the Europeans have paved the way with research that 700m is the maximum buffer zone required between a wind farm and a house. 

Only through taking responsibility for this state of affairs (or is that, affairs of the states), eliminating these cumbersome and deliberately obstructionist setbacks, and sticking to the Direct Action policy pledge will the Australian people believe that the Liberal Party is willing to take sheers to tape without fear or favour, to any colour or creed (of tape) whether that tape be red/blue/green/yellow/purple or rainbow to deal decisively on issues that affect all businesses, big or small, and all issues politically expedient (refugees) or in the national interest (dealing with climate change).

Now's a chance to make a quick and decisive direct action stand in the national interest. Tony Abbott, Greg Hunt and Ian Macfarlane, the answer is blowing in the wind.

Matthew Wright is the executive director of Zero Emissions Australia.

Note from the author: As we all know, the Liberals have been heavy on campaign rhetoric, which is all very well when you are in opposition. But being absent and underweight in deliverable policy doesn't fly when you're in government. When it comes to climate rhetoric Abbott and his protégé Hunt are in their element.  Every time Hunt fronts a camera he is mouthing direct action, but now he has to front the house with a deliverable. I know he is short, so I'm here to help in turning direct action rhetoric into deliverable action. These tips aim to provide meaningful and measurable infrastructure on the ground that will make a difference and beat Labor and the Greens at their own game.