MEMBER for Eastern Victoria, Renee Heath, has broken ranks with the Liberal Party by abstaining from voting for state government legislation, backed by her party, that sets ambitious wind energy targets for the state.


In state parliament, Dr Heath refused to back the new targets.


“This bill is like signing an economic death warrant for Victoria,” Dr Heath said, adding that her constituents had raised concerns with her, including farmers.


A area in Bass Strait off the coast of Gippsland was declared Australia’s first declared offshore wind zone in late 2022, and is a key part of future wind energy plans for both the state and federal governments.


Dr Heath broke ranks by not supporting the bill, known as ‘Climate Change and Energy Legislation Amendment (Renewable Energy and Storage Targets) Bill 2023’, which nonetheless passed the upper house on Thursday, March 7.


The legislation sets new offshore wind energy targets of at least two gigawatts by 2032 and increases the state’s renewable energy target from 50 per cent renewable electrification to 95 per cent by 2035.


Dr Heath told the Express she was representing the Eastern Victoria electorate when she abstained.


“There are different views on this in the (Liberal) Party, and there are differing views between electorates. But I have to represent my electorate, and it is a region that has been gutted by Labor’s green policies,” Dr Heath said.


“We have seen the down-scaling of the power industry, the closure of the native timber industry and I am concerned this policy is going to impact Gippsland’s agriculture industry.


“Nationally, to meet our emissions reductions targets we would have to build 40 new wind turbines per month and install 22,000 new solar panels per day. I didn’t support the new Victorian targets because I don’t want to see our prime agricultural land taken over by wind turbines and solar panels.


“The targets are completely unrealistic, will continually push up energy costs and put our farmers at risk.”


Dr Heath has clarified she doesn’t oppose wind farms in principle and wants renewables to succeed if it results in cheap baseload power, but believed the legislation could cause unintended consequences.


Addressing the Legislative Council on March 7, Dr Heath said: “I represent a region that has not recovered from the job losses from the closure of Hazelwood. Up to 1000 jobs were lost and we were promised a transition, and we have transitioned to absolutely nothing.”


“I believe that we should be ambitious. I believe that there is nothing wrong with that, but this is not ambition. This is misleading.”


While debating the bill in Parliament, Member for the Western Metropolitan Region and government minister, Ingrid Stitt, said renewables were the cheapest form of energy.


Addressing potential impacts on farmland, Ms Stitt said the biggest threat to agricultural land was climate change, and that “our farmers are at the forefront of the impacts of climate change.”


“Many of them understand exactly what the threat is,” Ms Stitt said.


The Liberals prior to the vote had been split in the shadow cabinet on their stance on this bill, but eventually decided to vote for it.


The opposition requested an update from the state government on how they would reach the 2032 target after the federal government blocked plans to develop the Port of Hastings as an offshore wind terminal earlier this year over its potential environmental impact on the internationally protected Western Port Ramsar Wetland.


Ms Stitt said in parliament they were working “diligently on a way forward for the Port of Hastings and the Victorian renewable energy terminal” through consultation with the federal government.


“We are undeterred, and we are going to keep going because we know that we have to have this in our energy mix,” she said.


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