When the Winchester ammunition factory in Geelong announced it would be closing this year, employees wondered what was next. But for Craig Hunter, 57, and Panos Giannios, 46, it led to a new opportunity.
Hunter and Giannios are among four former-Winchester employees now working at the Vestas Renewable Energy Hub (VREH), a venture between Danish energy company Vestas and Australian engineering company Marand. The hub started production in July this year, with its official opening in September.
The factory produces drive trains and turbine hubs for wind turbines, components which convert kinetic energy from the wind into electrical energy. The VREH is contracted to produce 100 turbine hubs and 50 drive trains for the Berrybank and Dundonnell wind farms, both financed through the Victorian Renewable Energy Auction Scheme.
When Winchester announced it would be closing, Marand approached employees to see if they’d be interested in working on assembling parts for local wind farms. After on-the-job training, Giannios, who has lived and worked around Geelong throughout his life, says he’s learned skills that will be useful in his career.
“'I’ve learnt at a whole bunch of new things that I didn't know, using a whole bunch of tools that I've never used before,” he says.
Hunter, also a local, says the work is really interesting. “It’s different. It’s clean work,” he says.
The VREH, which employs 20 people in the factory, is one sign of the changing face of Geelong’s manufacturing industry. Many of the traditional factories have closed, including car manufacturer Ford in 2018. In fact, the VREH is one of the new businesses operating at the Ford factory site.
The Dundonnell and Berrybank wind farms were among six renewable projects successful in the first round of renewable auctions announced in September 2018, including both wind and solar ventures. Berrybank, owned by Global Power, will have a capacity of around 180 MW, while Dundonnell, owned by Tilt Renewables, will have a capacity of 336 MW.
At the time of writing the VREH had assembled and tested 44 hubs and 36 drive trains. What’s even more exciting is that it’s the first time wind turbines have been assembled in Australia in ten years.
A key factor in establishing the VREH is local content targets embedded in the Victorian auction scheme. These require that at least 64 per cent of a project financed under the scheme be spent locally.
As well as manufacturing, Vestas is investing $3.5 million in maintenance, servicing and research, and has established partnerships with two universities. Federation University in Ballarat will provide training in wind turbine maintenance, and researchers at Deakin University will conduct research into improving the carbon fibre used to make wind turbine blades.
Victoria recently passed into law its 2030 renewable energy target, which would see 50 per cent of the state’s electricity generation come from renewables. The state is on track to meet its 2020 target of 25 per cent. In 2018, 20.6 per cent of the state’s electricity came from renewable sources, up from 10 per cent in 2014.
Senior Project Manager at Vestas Neville Gall says the significant investment and growth in renewables in Victoria is testament to a legislated target and tangible policy.
“To keep momentum at a state level, an extension and/or expansion of this policy would ensure the longer-term certainty needed to keep the impetus already established. The states have succeeded in moving the industry forward. Further certainty could be brought to the industry if a similar approach could be adopted at a federal level,” he says.
A sensible energy policy at the federal level can accelerate investment, drive down power prices, deliver a sustained economic boost and create more jobs like those at the Vestas Renewable Energy Hub that are giving a second wind to a slowing Australian manufacturing industry.