Daniel Wild Discussing IPA Renewables Land Use Research On ABC Victoria Country Hour – 14 December 2023

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14 December 2023
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In this interview, Daniel Wild contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into land use implications of renewable energy targets on prime agricultural land, conducted as part of the IPA’s Net Zero research program.

All media posted onto the IPA website are directly related to the promotion and dissemination of IPA research.

Below is a transcript of the interview.


ABC Voiceover:

The Victorian Country Hour on ABC Radio Victoria.

Angus Verley:

The Institute of Public Affairs says up to one-third of all farmland in Australia would be covered in wind and solar farms by 2050 if all coal, gas, and oil production was replaced by wind and solar. Daniel Wild is deputy executive director of the institute. He says the conservative think tank analysed the impact of the push toward wind and solar to understand what it could mean for farmers.

Daniel Wild:

Well, we undertook this research to understand some of the practical consequences of the renewable energy programmes in particular as it relates to the net-zero emissions commitment by the federal and state governments. And our main area of concern is how this is impacting farming communities and regional communities across Victoria and also other parts of Australia. And what our research established is that up to one-third of our farmland in our nation could be taken up by renewable energy infrastructure such as wind turbines and solar panels, and that this is causing pretty significant dislocation in many of these regional communities.

Angus Verley:

So that figure sounds extraordinarily high. Can you talk me through how you arrived at it?

Daniel Wild:

Sure. We looked at the data provided by the government and the International Energy Agency as it relates to the growing demand for our energy consumption in Australia, and also the commitment of the government to not only have a net-zero economy in Australia, but for our nation to become what they call a renewable energy superpower, which basically means exporting renewable energy overseas while they want to wind back on our fossil fuel exports. And if you look at the land, I mean these are very land intensive forms of energy generation. If you contrast that to nuclear power or your coal firepower stations, in comparison, they require much, much more land to generate a given amount of energy.

So you are looking at significant portions of our farmland that would need to be taken up by this energy infrastructure in order to meet these renewable targets. Look, I think the real issue here is not just the wind and solar, but we’ve been talking to a lot of locals about the transmission lines and as you and your listeners know, that really is a sticking point for a lot of farmers and landowners who are concerned about the transmission line through their property.

Angus Verley:

And just talk me through that because I understand you’ve been in the Victorian, Mallee, and South Australian Riverland. What feedback are you getting when you are meeting with these people?

Daniel Wild:

Yeah, so we’ve been, as you say, through the Mallee and the Riverland and met with a number of farmers just outside of Bort earlier this week. And look, the concern is really that there’s a lack of proper consultation that’s going on and that many of the city-based bureaucrats and those from the Australian energy market operator don’t really understand the practicalities of what it is that they’re expecting farmers and landowners to do. Of the farmers that we met, there was pretty much unanimous opposition to the way that this is currently being handled. Probably the most concerning aspect of this is how it’s pitting farmer against farmer and neighbour against neighbour because what you have is these very wealthy renewable companies coming in and offering what are sometimes financially vulnerable farmers a lot of money to basically sign up to these projects and that really divides the community. So there was I think a lot of concern about this, but also I think an understanding that the community needs to stick together in order to try and fight against a lot of this.

Angus Verley:

I wanted to go to your previous point there because I mean on an individual basis, similar to what we see in cases with water buybacks, that it might be lucrative for some farmers if they can cash in and sell too, whether it is a solar farm or a wind farm.

Daniel Wild:

Yeah, it certainly could be in certain circumstances, but that would come at immense cost to the farming communities that rely on the farmers who are there and also at an immense cost to our nation. I mean, even if you just look at the food security issue, if you are losing a third of farmland to renewable energy infrastructure, that’s essentially a third reduction to the supply of food and fibre onto the market.

Angus Verley:

On the point about food security, the figure that’s thrown around is an extra 2 billion people on the planet roughly by 2050. I mean, what responsibility does Australia have to be producing as much food as it possibly can to feed that population?

Daniel Wild:

Yeah, you make a great point and I think we have a big responsibility to do that. One of the things that we should always be proud of as a nation is not only do we feed ourselves, but we feed ourselves three times over and we export that around the world. And as you say, the population is only going up. And as you and your listeners would know, our farmers are among the most productive in the world.

Angus Verley:

Do you think we would ever really see one third of farmland converted to wind and solar or is this just a desktop exercise?

Daniel Wild:

No, I think we will, and you can look at the government’s own plans. They’ve got maps that you can see. All you have to do is Google it and you’ll find the maps they have of the renewable energy zones that are being slated across the country. I mean, this is a serious amount of land that is going to need to be quarantined in order to meet these targets. There’s just no way around it. They are very land-intensive forms of energy generation. That’s why we should continue to look at our baseload power supplies of nuclear, which we should at a minimum have a debate over and continuing our existing coal fleet.

Because if you compare the amount of land you need for coal, for example, to generate a given amount of energy to wind and solar, I mean the amount of land is just dramatically different. So there’s no way around it. If you want to go down the path of net-zero, you must have significant shares of land that are used for the infrastructure. And you can’t just put this stuff out in the desert because it needs to be near population centres for the purposes of transmission, which means you are going to have a big impact on farmland.

Angus Verley:

Just finally, there will be people listening to this who will say that the IPA is anti-renewables, hence we will just dismiss everything that you are saying. What would you say to that?

Daniel Wild:

Look, my perspective is basically that wind and solar can play an important role on an energy system topping it up, for example. But look, the data is out there and I would encourage people to be open-minded and to have a debate about this. I’m proud of the work we’ve done and we make a point of going out to communities and talking to people.

Over the last 18 months, we’ve visited 62 towns across Australia, including in the western and northern districts of Victoria. And look, I accept that there are different opinions, but of who we’ve talked to, there is immense opposition and concern and anxiety about what is happening. And your listeners would know farmers or they would know of families of farmers who are having not only serious financial problems, but serious sort of mental health problems as they’ve been fighting this for many years, and often they don’t have a voice in the cities who are making these decisions. So I would encourage people go out to these towns and talk to the actual farmers on the ground to get a perspective of what they’re going through.

Angus Verley:

That was Daniel Wild, deputy executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs. A few different opinions coming through there on that modelling by the IPA that says up to one-third of all farmland in Australia would be covered in wind and solar farms by 2050 if coal, gas and oil was replaced by wind and solar. Bryce says, “What a crock. You can crop under wind turbines and run stock under solar panels.” Thanks for that one Bryce. And this person says, “Hi, Angus, Victorian State government put out a paper last year saying 70% of all Vic ag land would be needed for renewable energy sources. You can look it up in the offshore energy policy paper.” I’ll have to do that. Thanks for that text. Simon says, “Using farmland for power generation does not prohibit farming. It’s a small price to pay for a habitable climate. Maybe the IPA would prefer to use farming land to bury our heads in the sand.” That’s Simon’s perspective. And Brett says, “Hi Angus, let’s just go to nuclear. And we solve land use and emissions issues, and we have a reliable energy supply.” Thanks for that text, Brett.

This transcript from ABC Victorian Country Hour with Angus Verley from 14 December 2023 has been edited for clarity.

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