Wind energy is set to power 80,000 Canberra households within six years as the ACT government announces details on Thursday of an auction for huge wind farms in the region.
The government will sign 20-year deals with successful bidders, who will get a guaranteed price for the energy they supply.
The news will energise wind farms at different stages of approval and construction that have been waiting for a guaranteed buyer for the energy. But it is also set to galvanise anger in country areas that will host forests of wind turbines powering the capital.
Upper Lachlan Shire mayor John Shaw said the wind farms proliferating in his region were dividing the community.
“It’s really splitting the community, farmer against farmer, because a neighbour will be saying, ‘yeah, I’ll have them,’ then right next door they’ve got these turbines that are 150 or 160 metres high standing over the top of them,” Mr Shaw said.
Environment Minister Simon Corbell said at least half a dozen wind projects were approved by the NSW government and ready to go, amounting to “a very significant bank”. He expected a keen contest when he called for bids, with projects competing not only on price and ability to deliver but also on a new criteria of investing in Canberra – employing local firms and workers, partnering with local researchers, and bringing business events to the city.
The move to wind is expected to add about $1.30 a household a week to the cost of electricity, and generate 24 per cent of the city’s electricity consumption by 2020.
The government is putting 200 megawatts of wind generation up for auction, and Mr Corbell said at least two projects would be chosen.
Among wind farms ready to go are a 41-turbine extension of the Capital 1 wind farm near Bungendore (Infigen Energy), a 55-turbine wind farm near Collector between the Federal and Hume highways (Ratch), and two wind farms of 46 and 29 turbines at Crookwell (one awaiting approval, Union Fenosa).
Union Fenosa Wind Australia managing director Domingo Asuero said Mr Corbell was playing ”a very canny hand”. ”This is an unusual moment where turbines are cheap, and bidders into the reverse auction will be keen – the price that the ACT government will secure for its clean electricity will be a very competitive deal for ACT ratepayers,” he said.
Collector wind farm project director for Ratch, Anthony Yeates, welcomed the coming auction as “a very exciting step forward”, with the company hoping to begin construction next year.
Mr Corbell said he would press ahead as quickly as possible with an auction about midyear and the bids would be assessed by a panel headed by former Pacific Power chief Ross Bunyon. Choosing at least two companies would keep “tension” in the process, he said. “We think it’s important to keep pressure on bidders by ensuring that there’s no one bidder. It means everyone really does sharpen their pencils,” he said.
This auction was “the one industry has been waiting to find out about. We expect excellent prices as a result of this auction. This is the only policy framework that’s delivering any certainty for wind generation in Australia at the moment and as a result we expect very competitive bidding.”
Asked about the fairness of siting wind farms in NSW to generate power for Canberra, Mr Corbell said the government would contemplate wind farms in the territory if it had good wind – but it doesn’t.
Mr Shaw said his council’s policy was turbines no closer than two kilometres from neighbours, but the NSW government had yet to make the guideline mandatory and some companies were ignoring it.
Three wind farms were already operating in the area, with another three being built or designed. A survey some years ago showed about 70 per cent of the public was in favour, but as the turbines were starting to appear on hill lines, people were not so keen.
“I can see two wind farms from my place and they’re as close as I’d like them to be,” Mr Shaw said. The closest was about eight kilometres away. “I don’t know that I’d want one on my boundary. They’re a structure that I wouldn’t want within two kilometres of my place. They’re so big and they do create a noise.” But for farmers who host the turbines, they are a guaranteed annual income.
At Bungendore, council general manager Peter Bascomb said community support depended on location. The 110-turbine Jupiter project near Tarago was causing huge concern, but the Capital 2 project was further from houses.
“The community view is mixed,” he said. ”There are those that support it – clearly the farmers that have the turbines on their property are happy to have them there – and there are others that believe they’re a good thing, even potentially a tourist attraction,” he said. But opponents were concerned that ACT’s commitment to the projects would “only exacerbate the situation”.
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