The economic outcome of renewable energy projects in the Cradle Coast isn’t always obvious. Some people wonder how the local community and the region benefit when global companies install internationally made metal wind turbines and export power to mainland Australia. Others wonder whether there are any local jobs and ask how we can make the most of this new industry.

There are many benefits being proposed by both wind and solar companies and this is fantastic. Some of these large-scale projects are providing grants that contribute directly to the local community. One example is the Granville Harbour Windfarm Community Grants Program another is the proposed Western Plains Solar Farm Grants Program.

There are jobs – renewable energy projects need engineers and civil construction staff to build them and even when staff are brought in from elsewhere, they spend money in Cradle Coast communities while they are here. In addition, some local staff such as concreters, truck drivers and civil construction staff will help build the wind and solar farms. Each project can take up to 10 months to construct. As we have a series of windfarms planned for construction over the next 10-15 years, there will be a long-term increase in jobs in these sectors. This can be improved by windfarm companies guaranteeing a percentage of locally owned business involvement and taking on local staff as apprentices. Maintenance staff such as electricians, metal trades and land managers will also be needed, and locals are best placed to fill those positions. These jobs will be for the life of the windfarm – approximately 20+ years – and will be smaller in number than during the construction phase. Additional training may be needed to specialise in wind turbine maintenance, for example.

If you want to be a power engineer or a renewable energy project manager there are great opportunities to help deliver these projects in the region, but be prepared to move around Australia and occasionally overseas to keep working on new projects. There are several Australian companies building windfarms in the Cradle Coast, though they rely on the technical experience of specialist windfarm construction companies typically based overseas.

When I imagine the future of the renewable energy industry in the Cradle Coast I see a supply chain of industries – a cluster of related businesses supporting the renewable energy sector – that provide local jobs for local people. If we can build windfarm components in the Cradle Coast we will be able to generate real and lasting jobs. Recently the Western Australian Government announced a feasibility study into whether wind farm turbines components can be built in Western Australia using their established steel manufacturing businesses. The initiative is part of a $92.4 million package to boost local manufacturing and bolster employment, and will look at supply opportunities, market trends, and local industry participation opportunities including for component manufacturing.

Can we deliver similar benefits in the Cradle Coast? A Swedish company, Modvion, and a German company TimberTower have recently built 100m 1.5MW wooden wind turbine towers in Sweden and Germany that may provide the inspiration to build our own wind turbine towers here. The tower is constructed as a linked system of laminated timber panels that are manufactured off-site and transported in 12m containers for on-site assembly. When built, it forms a hollow octagonal tower upon which the wind turbine is mounted. The towers have a guaranteed minimum life span of 20 years and have the benefit of being easily transportable on local roads. They also claim to be carbon neutral from the day construction begins. Not only could a manufacturer in the Cradle Coast supply local wind farms but the towers could be exported around the world. “Impossible”, I hear some of you say, “there is no way we can make that happen – we’re not Europe”. But we can. Our region has all the components required to take advantage of this opportunity. With a bit of a head start from the technology developed overseas, we can combine Australian experts that are building multi-storey carparks from structural wood, our local timber manufacturing industry, cross laminating technology such as that being developed by Hermal Group’s CLTP Tasmania facility in Wynyard and our rich, sustainable forestry resource to make this a reality.

A demonstration wooden wind turbine would be a great first step to show that it can be done. If we can connect local businesses to this growing industry in the Cradle Coast, and worldwide, then we can really benefit as a community from the renewable energy industry.

Carol Bracken is the Regional Futures Plan Program Manager at Cradle Coast Authority.

Image source: RenewEconomy online magazine article written by Joshua S Hill