Wind farm gains momentum

windfarm webAS Federal talks continue on the future of the national renewable energy target (RET), state-backed clean energy projects are emerging as a positive sign for the sector.

NSW recently released a renewable energy action plan in support of the RET, aiming to increase the use of energy from sustainable sources at the least cost to consumers.

The NSW Government plans to attract investment, build community support and attract and grow renewable energy expertise.

“We are working towards an energy system that is less polluting and attracts new jobs and investment to NSW at the lowest possible cost,” the government stated.

By 2020, NSW has planned to save 16,000 gigawatt hours per year.

Projects such as the 113MW Boco Rock Wind Farm will help achieve this goal and cut down the state’s emissions: it currently generates clean energy for 50,000 households in the Monaro region.

Boco Rock took 18 months to complete and became fully operational in January. It is spread across land along the high-altitude plateau on the Monaro Plains between Cooma and Bombala, the result of an extensive assessment of potential sites across NSW.

Boco Rock is now owned by the Electricity Generating Public Company of Thailand but was developed by asset manager and operator CWP Renewables.

“Now operational, Boco Rock generates clean, renewable energy to communities around the Monaro and beyond, and more broadly, contributing to Australia’s Renewable Energy Target of 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020,” CWP Renewables head of development Ed Mounsey said.

“This assessment initially required complex GIS (geographic information system) analysis of wind resource and landform, followed by detailed consideration of local community issues, environmental constraints, surrounding land use, grid connection and many other technical factors.”

Stage one of the project comprises 58 1.7MW and nine 1.6MW wind turbines, saving more than 293,000 tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide. It could potentially comprise up to 122 turbines across 27 different properties and has an expected operational life of between 20 and 25 years.

RET and Boco Rock

A recent report by the Climate Council, Giga-what? Explaining Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET), stated that if the current RET policy continued it would reduce emissions by 58 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020. To date it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 22.5mt.

However, despite the global renewable energy trend, policy uncertainty triggered an 88 per cent drop in large-scale renewable energy projects last year.

“Right now, the future of renewable energy generation in Australia is at risk from the review of the RET that has dragged on since this time last year,” Mr Mounsey said.

“The investor uncertainty that has resulted from the RET review has meant stagnation in what is otherwise a healthy industry.”

The Federal Government’s review of the target has been ongoing since 14 February 2014.

The latest RET report recommended it be “amended in light of the changing circumstances in Australia’s main electricity markets and the availability of lower cost emission abatement alternatives”. The report also stated that the large-scale target should be either closed to new entrants or set to allocate a share of growth in electricity demand. Furthermore, the small-scale scheme should either be abolished or the phase-out brought forward by 10 years.

The Federal Government stated that since the deal was struck in 2009, the energy market has changed.

In a joint statement, Industry minister Ian Macfarlane and Environment minister Greg Hunt said “Australia’s total demand for electricity is falling and what was intended to be a 20 per cent target is now tracking towards 27 per cent by 2020”.

“The RET is not operating as intended and as many in the renewable sector privately acknowledge, the target is neither sustainable nor achievable,” the ministers stated.

The Labor Party rejected the Federal Government’s proposal and has since walked away from the negotiation.

“A strong RET makes sense for Australia, economically, socially and environmentally, and it’s disappointing to see this departure from what two years ago was bipartisan support,” Mr Mounsey said.

Community engagement

Throughout the construction and commissioning process, CWP Renewables made community consultation its mission.

Last year the company won the Clean Energy Council’s Community Engagement Award for involving the local community throughout the development and construction process.

“Genuine community engagement takes a step beyond informing to collaborating, and this is a key feature of Boco Rock Wind Farm,” Mr Mounsey said.

“Effort has been made throughout construction to build partnerships with and collaborate with local community members and networks.”

In November the company put on a Community Open Day, attracting more than 1000 people to the site. Local residents were able to speak to staff about the project and take a peek inside a wind turbine, as well as take bus tours of the wind farm.

“Whole-of-life project delivery is central to Boco Rock,” Mr Mounsey said.

“The depth of work and commitment that went into development, construction and operation helped foster and cement a social licence to operate and resulted in a collaborative approach to community engagement through construction.”