Green choice in our hands

The NSW Government’s support for the Wollongong community’s “green jobs” initiative is very welcome. This initiative is aimed at identifying and supporting employment opportunities in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industry sectors.Worldwide, investment in renewable energy generating capacity increased by 400 per cent between 2004 and 2008 and now exceeds investment in fossil fuel power. Wind power and solar installations are growing at over 30 per cent annually, worldwide.China is planning for 15 per cent of its energy to be renewable by 2010 and the German renewables industry employs 214,000 people. The root cause of Wollongong’s chronic high unemployment and vulnerability to global financial crises is our narrow employment base. Wollongong participation in this worldwide clean industry growth would diversify our economy and cut carbon dioxide emissions.Wollongong is well placed to develop renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs. We already have world-class expertise in solar power, wind power, wave power, sun and wind-powered ships, and energy efficient hydraulics. We have a wide range of scientific, technical and practical capabilities thanks to our industrial base and the university.Recent seminars have demonstrated goodwill and enthusiasm from community groups, business and the union movement to make it happen.But, for this type of initiative to succeed, governments need to create a favourable financial environment for clean industry. Federal and NSW Government policy to do this is unco-ordinated and too weak.The NSW Government has quietly allocated $205 million in the next budget to expand Eraring power station and has lodged concept plans for a new dirty coal power station at Mount Piper. These decisions divert taxpayer funds away from green jobs creation. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in its present form is not strong enough to drive commercial and industrial energy efficiency projects.Governments should use taxpayer funds to subsidise employment, assist exports and provide income support for low-income earners rather than continuing to subsidise dirty fossil fuel electricity. But some good things are happening. Decisions such as the belated approval of the wind farm at Silverton, near Broken Hill to create demand and certainty.Kiama residents should note that this wind farm is expected to deliver a $700 million benefit to the Silverton community.The Federal Government’s $1.4 billion “solar flagships” funding for large solar energy plants will help the solar industry to develop economies of scale and will encourage investment.And the NSW feed-in tariff scheme, due to commence January 2010, will create green jobs.Advocates of “business as usual” fossil fuel use argue that we are faced with a choice between protecting jobs and protecting the environment.The choice we face is actually about how we choose to generate employment.We can choose to generate employment in industries that cause more environmental damage, or in industries that cause less environmental damage.Rowan Huxtable is a Wollongong climate change activist.

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