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City’s economy winded

Saturday, 13th July, 2013

Economist Frank Stilwell Economist Frank Stilwell

By By Kurtis J Eichler

A Sydney economist says AGL’s shelving of its $500 million Silverton Wind Farm project could be bad news for Broken Hill.

Professor Frank Stilwell made waves last month when he said Broken Hill was in a “depression” because Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed high unemployment rates and welfare dependency.

“The decision by AGL is evidently based on broader political economic concerns that do not relate to Broken Hill and the region,” Professor Stilwell said.

“However, business confidence in any locality can be adversely affected when investment projects are shelved.

“An area like Broken Hill with an above average rate of unemployment locally would usually welcome job-creating investments, even when the bulk of these jobs would have been only short term during the construction phase.”

Developing wind energy would have been a “good symbol” of Broken Hill’s economy becoming more sustainable, he said.

“These are reasonable grounds for local disappointment with AGL’s decision.

“When the national political economic scene is more settled, perhaps the decision may be revisited.”

AGL boasted the project would create a slew of jobs during construction but once it was generating power only about three employees would be needed.

The energy giant’s share price rose slightly after Thursday’s official announcement.

Councillor Peter Black said Broken Hill should be looking at other energy options like nuclear and geothermal power.

“Nuclear power and geothermal power is base-load energy,” Clr Black said.

“With wind power only works when the wind is blowing. It’s not base power.”   

But he agreed with Prof. Stilwell, saying investor confidence would be hit hard.

“At the end of the day any scheme that creates jobs for Broken Hill is a good thing,” he said.

“We have a fairly high unemployment rate and there is no question that the population is continuing to diminish.

“I’ve decided to take the optimistic view that we can limit that trend but we need to create jobs.

“I think Blind Freddy knows that.”

AGL’s Head of Power Development Nigel Bean said “uncertainty” about the looming federal election, renewable energy regulations and Coalition policies were among the reasons for the delay.

AGL will revisit the project next year.

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