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Hydro Tasmania unveils ambitious steps for Australia’s largest wind project

Hydro Tasmania has unveiled plans for what stands to be Australia’s largest wind energy development, a 200-turbine wind farm on King Island, worth $2 billion. The Tasmanian government-owned renewable energy generator and retailer revealed its plans for the development, which would harness the valuable wind resource known as the Roaring Forties, generating around 2400GWh to power around 250,000 households after a public meeting was held to brief the Bass Strait island’s community.

If approved, the 600MW proposal know as TasWind stands to assume the mantle of Australia’s biggest wind energy project, which is currently held by the AGL Energy/Meridian Energy joint venture in south-western Victoria. The 420MW Macarthur Wind Farm, whose 140 turbines – once they are all operational by early 2013 – will generate enough electricity to power more than 220,000 average Victorian homes.

Hydro Tas says its project would also aim to connect to the National Electricity Market in Victoria via a high voltage unde-sea cable across Bass Strait, much like the existing Basslink cable, and may also involve a local port expansion, NBN connection, and the creation of around 500 jobs. Up to 20 of these would be permanent, when TasWind becomes operational, although this may not be until 2019.

All told, the project – which Hydro Tas stresses is only in the “pre-feasibility” stage, with three months of preliminary social, economic and environmental investigations ahead, represents a potentially huge boon to the King Island community, which took a hit recently with the closure of the JBS Australia abattoir in September.

King Island Mayor Greg Barratt said that the wind development was just what the island needed. “It’s not a quick fix but it’s something to look forward to,” he said, adding that he believed most of the 200 people at the community meeting supported the plan.

Hydro Tasmania chair David Crean says Hydro Tasmania has briefed the King Island Council and key business stakeholders on the project and looks forward to their input into the pre-feasibility process. He says the company will consider all the feedback and hopes to move to the full feasibility stage by April 2013.
From there, the hope is to complete full feasibility by 2015, followed by a comprehensive approvals and design process, with construction expected to begin in 2017, and full operation in 2019.

The Australia Greens have “cautiously welcomed” the proposal. In a statement following the Hydro Tas announcement, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said “I’m waiting to see all of the detail around this proposal, and the local communities’ feedback on it, but generally speaking it’s the type of investment Tasmania needs.

In particular I would like to see an analysis of the merits of “closing the loop”, by connecting the project to the Tasmanian grid, as well as to the Victorian electricity grid.”

The new wind farm plans are separate to Hydro Tasmania’s other recently announced renewables plan for the island, the King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project (KIREIP), which will involve the construction of a $46 million prototype off-grid power plant that combines solar panels, wind turbines (an expansion of the existing wind farm by up to 6MW for a total wind farm capacity of up to 8.5MW), biodiesel, and energy storage technology.
This project aims to provide 65 per cent of King Island’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2013 (100 per cent on windy days) and to cut its energy costs by $4.5 million a year.

Hydro Tas believes the KIREIP off-grid model could become a blueprint for how Australia’s main electricity market may operate in the future. Project manager Simon Gamble said last month that a combination of renewables backed up by dispatchable power and with storage solutions, as well as smart grid technologies, demand management, and electric vehicle charging would provide valuable insights. “The NEM is a much larger system, but it will have similar technical issues,” Gamble said. “If we are integrating more wind, and solar, we need to learn how to do it.”

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