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Power giant cuts stake in controversial wind farm

EnergyAustralia has raised $228 million from the sale of three-quarters of its holdings in the controversial Waterloo wind farm in South Australia but says it remains committed to the project’s expansion.

The 111-megawatt wind farm in the wine-growing Clare Valley region is the largest wind farm operated by EnergyAustralia.

The company will continue to buy power from the project and manage its operations after the sale of the stake to infrastructure investment specialists, Palisade Investment Partners and Northleaf Capital Partners.

The deal frees up capital for EnergyAustralia to deploy elsewhere, including in renewable energy projects, as the electricity generator and retailer diversifies its portfolio.

“It’s very capital intensive to meet (the renewable energy) target entirely through building your own projects,” said Ross Edwards, executive manager for EnergyAustralia’s business development, adding that the company remains “really committed to the renewable sector.’’

Mr Edwards said the stake sale was not connected to opposition from some in the local community.

EPA study

The state’s Environmental Protection Authority is currently undertaking two months of monitoring of the wind farm’s infrasound and low-frequency noise after local complaints of ill-health blamed on the wind turbines. The results may be ready as soon as August.

An earlier EPA study of two other SA wind farms found the infrasound levels for nearby residents were lower than those experienced in a typical office.

Mr Edwards said the company would “continue to be the face of the project” in the local community.

EnergyAustralia is seeking planning permission from the local Clare and Gilbert Valleys Council to add six turbines to the 37 3MW towers already operating.

The new joint venture gives Palisade and Northleaf the option of participating in the 18MW expansion.

“Direct investment in mature, low-risk wind energy assets like the Waterloo wind farm is consistent with Northleaf Capital Partner’s investment strategy and offers significant potential for stable, long-term returns,” Jamie Storrow, managing director and co-head of Northleaf Capital Partner’s infrastructure investment program, said in a statement.

“We look forward to maintaining a long-term partnership with EnergyAustralia,” he said.

Stony Gap

EnergyAustralia is also pressing ahead with its Stony Gap Wind Farm in SA’s Goyder region. That project, possibly involving $300 million and 150MW of capacity, may also include Palisade and Northleaf as partners, Mr Edwards said.

The Waterloo wind farm began operations in 2010 as a joint venture with Hydro Tasmania. EnergyAustralia took full ownership of the project the following year after the end of the Roaring 40s partnership between the two companies.