About 20 wind farm projects have been approved in Victoria alone – but most are on hold until the federal government decides what it wants to do about renewables.
Victorians earlier this year had a demonstration of wind energy at its most efficient. The wild weather that swept across southern Australia in June saw the turbines generate 12 per cent of the state’s electricity needs. It was even more impressive in South Australia, the wind farm capital of Australia with 1473 megawatts capacity across 16 wind farms, where on one day that state’s wind farms produced 65 per cent of the electricity used.
Yet most of the wind farms are “on hold” because of the federal government’s decision to review the Renewable Energy Target – with the likelihood that Canberra’s support for renewables will be scaled back, which has effectively frozen financing.
This explains why the ACT government was knocked over in the rush when it called for proposals for 200MW of wind energy installations.
Eighteen companies sent in bids, totalling 1000MW. The ACT is one of a very few options for those wanting to build wind farms until the RET issue is resolved. Environment Minister Simon Corbell said wind was now a buyer’s market and the ACT could lock in lower prices for the wind-generated power it took.
The wind farm industry is in a pickle. Businessman Dick Warburton, in his report on the RET to the federal government, recommended two options. Under one option, the RET scheme would be closed to any renewable project other than those under construction or within a month of full financial commitment. The other option would limit the scheme severely.
Miles George, managing director of wind farm giant Infigen Energy, probably best summed up the industry’s feelings. The two options offered by Warburton had, he said, offered wind developers a choice “between being hung or shot”.
Not that the industry is on its knees. The New Zealand-owned Meridian Energy recently flicked the switch to begin transmitting electricity from its Mt Mercer wind farm near Ballarat – the 64 turbines are capable of generating 131MW. Mt Mercer is Meridian’s third wind farm in Australia.
Meanwhile, Thailand’s Electricity Generating Public Co has this month been moving huge turbine sections by road to its Boco Rock wind farm near Nimmitabel, NSW. When fully operational, the 67 GE turbines would provide 113.9MW capacity.
And France’s Neoen and a local partner have bought the planned but yet to be built 270MW Hornsdale wind project in South Australia. Industry observers believe that once the present uncertainty about the RET is resolved, Hornsdale would go ahead because it has a much higher capacity factor – how much of the time the turbines will actually be spinning. In Hornsdale’s case, it’s about 50 per cent, against between 30 per cent and 40 per cent for most farms.
Infigen itself has several projects in the pipeline. The company already operates six wind farms in Australia – there is the 89.1MW Alinta installation in Western Australia, three farms near Lake Bonney in South Australia with a total capacity of 557MW, the 140.7MW Capital and 48.3MW farms in NSW.
It wants to build more, but only if the RET targets stay favourable. Its plans include 124 turbines at Waokwine in South Australia, 500MW near Geraldton in Western Australia, 90MW at Capital 2 in NSW and 50MW at Cherry Tree in Victoria.
But it’s not just the big players who have been stopped, at least temporarily, in their tracks.
There are many farmers who have been counting on wind turbines being built on their land. Germany’s WestWind Energy wants to construct 107 turbines near Ballarat, and according to Victoria’s farming paper The Weekly Times, farmers can earn up to $10,000 a year over 25 years for each turbine on their land. The paper highlighted the plight of Ballan farmer Geoff Wells who had agreed to nine turbines so he could afford to hire a farm hand. Those plans, like the wind farm, are on hold.
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