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WA is one of the windiest places on the planet with wide open spaces for wind farms, yet the state remains a renewable energy backwater, latest figures reveal.
Clean Energy Council data for significant wind farm projects shows WA generates less than 500MW of power from a total of 308 turbines around the state.
That’s half of Victoria’s wind generation at 939MW from 454 turbines and well below South Australia, which generates 1205MW of electricity from 561 turbines.
One reason is debate about health effects and noise emissions from wind turbines, even though numerous studies including a recent National Health and Medical Research Council review ruled there was no truth to claims that turbines cause health effects.
Aside from the question of health effects, the wind energy industry in WA is in crisis from a political double whammy, with the Federal Government signalling it wants to scrap Australia’s renewable energy target and the WA Government signing new contracts that tie electricity production to coal.
Estimates put investment in large-scale renewable energy projects in 2014 at 10 per cent of the figure for 2013.
That’s despite the Australian Institute saying wind had the potential to supply 40 per cent of Australia’s energy needs and was now cheaper to produce than coal.
Clean Energy Council policy director Russell Marsh said WA should be a world leader but it remained in the doldrums, underfunded and undervalued by governments fixated on coal.
“WA has a great wind resource and the space. But the review of the renewable energy target has basically closed the industry down,” he said.
Mr Marsh said wind farms were also being stifled because most of WA’s power needs were met through coal, with long-term supply contracts that shut out large-scale renewable energy.
WA Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said turbines built on leased land had the benefit of being a never-ending revenue stream for farmers battling to grow traditional crops.
The WA Farmers industry group agrees, saying farmers using some of their land for wind turbines to generate extra income is “inherently a good idea”.
Mr Ludlam said cost was no longer an argument against wind power because it is “now cheaper to install large-scale wind than gas or coal” – a claim backed by the Federal Government’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics.
Improving technology means wind farms are also better able to guarantee output and meet demand in peak times.
While there are only three large-scale wind farms in WA, smaller community-based operations have been successful at locations including Denmark, Bremer Bay, Rottnest Island, Kalbarri, Denham and Coral Bay.
An expansion of the Albany wind farm means it meets 80 per cent of the town’s power needs.
Andrew Woodroffe, whose firm Skyfarming built community wind farms at Mount Barker and Denmark, called for WA to end its reliance on coal and turn to green power.
“I don’t know how bad global warming has to get. We’re already decades late. The technology is amazing and WA has tremendous potential, with so much room and so much wind,” he said.
The WA Government said renewables were an important part of the energy mix but coal-generated power remained essential to secure the state’s energy future.
Skyfarming scours state’s South West for right site
PLANS for a wind farm to power Margaret River are under way, with the proponent searching for a suitable site near the South-West wine, surf and tourist town.
Skyfarming director Andrew Woodroffe, the man behind community wind farms at Denmark and Mount Barker, said the project was still in its “very early stages” but could be up and running within four years.
While investment in large-scale wind farms has ground to a halt due to uncertainty about Australia’s political commitment to renewable energy, Mr Woodroffe said small-scale, local wind farms were “more viable in such uncertain times because of the lower risks that come with being smaller”, particularly in towns where residents and the shire wanted to go green.
He said small wind farms also meant smaller and fewer turbines, which reduced the noise impact on surrounding residents and made approvals in areas with smaller holdings more likely.
“We’re looking, we’ve got some ideas,” he said of the $10 million-$12 million Margaret River project, which was likely to have about six 800kW turbines.
Renewable review stalls progress
PLAN to build one of Australia’s biggest wind farms in WA appears to be under a cloud as the industry awaits a Federal Government decision on renewable energy.
A WA Government development assessment panel in 2013 gave the green light to Moonies Hill Energy to build a 150MW wind farm near Kojonup, southeast of Perth, paving the way for 74 turbines up to 160m high to be built on 7000ha of leased farmland.
With approvals in place, the company hoped to attract investors and have the first 40MW stage of the project online by 2016 in “one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the Great Southern”.
But Kojonup shire president Ronnie Fleay said locals were questioning the future of the project because “there hasn’t been any news in recent times”.
“They were looking for investment and that’s the last I heard on it,” she said.
“The funding package might have been in jeopardy.”
Company director Sarah Rankin admitted the industry was “at a standstill”.
While she was optimistic, Dr Rankin said Federal Government indications of scrapping the renewable energy target had frozen investment in green energy.
“Australia is turned off right now as far as renewable energy investment is concerned,” she said.
Moonies Hill says its wind farm would power 90,000 homes and inject $130 million into the local economy, creating 200 jobs during construction plus 15 permanent jobs. Some farmers have leased their land to the company and want to see the wind farm go ahead but others are opposed.
At community meetings, resident Narelle Goodall said the wind farm had divided the town, while nearby landowners such as Roger Bilney voiced fears over noise.
Dr Rankin said research showed turbines did not affect health and the project would meet the strictest environmental standards.
Torquing about wind generation
INSTALLED WIND CAPACITY
South Australia: 1205MW, 561 turbines, 16 projects
Victoria: 939MW, 454 turbines, 13 projects
WA: 491MW, 308 turbines, 21 projects
Tasmania: 310MW, 124 turbines, 7 projects
NSW: 282MW, 170 turbines, 9 projects
Queensland: 12.5MW, 22 turbines, 2 projects.
Source: Clean Energy Council wind farm data for projects over 100kW
WA’S BIGGEST WIND FARM
Boasting 111 turbines generating enough electricity to power a small city of 125,000 homes, WA’s biggest wind farm has cut WA’s greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of planting one million trees.
The $750 million Collgar Wind Farm at Merredin in the central Wheatbelt is the biggest single-phase wind power operation in the southern hemisphere, twice the size and capacity of the next two biggest in WA.
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