Australia's Largest Windfarm Begins to Spin Power

MELBOURNE, Australia, June 21, 2005 (ENS) - Australia is on track to double its wind power. One giant wind farm began generating power on Thursday and two more projects won planning approval last week. The three wind energy facilities in three different states have a total capacity of 375 megawatts, an expected output that would power some 170,000 homes, enough to nearly double the country’s installed wind energy capacity.

Australia’s largest wind farm, in Wattle Point, South Australia, was officially switched on by Premier Mike Rann on Thursday.

Premier Rann declared that South Australia is now by far and away the national leader in wind power. “The opening of this wind farm today is yet another step forward in this state’s commitment to have at least 15 percent of our power generated by sustainable energy by the year 2014," he said.

Southern Hydro constructed the Wattle Point Wind Farm on the Yorke Peninsula west of Adelaide, one of the country's windiest spots. With 55 turbines, each able to power 815 homes a year, the facility can power 44,825 homes when running at full power.

Southern Hydro Chairman Keith Turner used a giant power switch to start the wind farm during the official on-site ceremony. “Today heralds the start a new era for solving Australia’s growing electricity needs and is a significant milestone for South Australia,” he said.

wind farm

The Yorke Peninsula on Spencer Gulf is the site of the Wattle Point Wind Farm. (Photo courtesy Southern Hydro)
Premier Rann told the crowd that the the Wattle Point Wind Farm will save nearly 300,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases from being pumped into the air each year, "the equivalent of taking 74,000 cars off our roads."

“In my opinion, we have no choice but to take serious action to reduce greenhouse gases, which are without doubt the largest contributor to climate change," he said.

Australia has followed the lead of U.S. President George W. Bush and declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, but Rann said that he has lobbied successfully to put climate change on the national agenda.

“Earlier this month, the Labor Leaders from across Australia and Prime Minister John Howard agreed at the Council of Australian Government meeting in Canberra to my proposal to establish a working group to develop a national policy on climate change," he said.

“As a nation, we must change the way we use and burn energy. Without change, a 2003 CSIRO report has already warned us that our average annual temperature in the southern part of South Australia could increase by between 0.6 percent and 4.4 percent," said Rann, referring to the national government's research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

“This could be catastrophic - causing more and longer droughts and greater and severe flooding," the premier said.

turbines

Turbines started spinning Thursday at the Wattle Point Wind Farm. (Photo courtesy Southern Hydro)
Australia’s chief scientist has called for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 50 percent by 2050. In April, the states and territories of Australia reached a joint agreement to craft a greenhouse gas emissions trading system to limit climate change.

Two more wind energy projects won planning approval last week - the Waubra Wind Farm in Victoria and the Crookwell II Wind Farm in New South Wales.

In Victoria, the 192 megawatt Waubra wind farm will bring jobs to the Ballarat region as well as help Victoria's efforts to deal with climate change, Planning Minister Rob Hulls and Energy Industries Minister Theo Theophanous, said announcing the approval on Wednesday.

"The operating company, Wind Power Pty Ltd, has pledged to establish a Community Wind Fund for the benefit of the Waubra community," contributing $500 per turbine per year for the life of the facility, the ministers said.

"The establishment of this wind farm will lead to significant greenhouse benefits, which will make a major contribution to achieving sustainable energy objectives in Victoria," Hulls said.

Plans for the 46 turbine Crookwell II Wind Farm roused opposition in the neighborhood. The development won approval from the New South Wales government on Friday but is subject to a 28 day cooling off period.

Friends of Crookwell has indicated they may challenge the planning approval granted to the development. The wind farm to be built by the Spanish company Gamesa is expected to provide energy to 30,000 households.

But groups from central and southern New South Wales, who are against the proliferation of wind turbines, gathered in Taralga on May 15 to express their anger at what they say are inappropriately sited windfarm developments proposed without proper government planning.

The participants brought knowledge of over 500 wind turbines proposed for the region. They say that landscapes are endangered, and that planners must consider landscape beauty and give weight to the place of landscape values while planning for ecologically sustainable development.

The Australian Wind Energy Association (AusWEA) welcomed the approvals, but said the industry as a whole needs more support from the Commonwealth government.

turbines

The Starfish Hill wind farm in South Australia started operating in 2003 as the state's first large wind farm. (Photo courtesy Tarong Energy)
“With political will and motivation, Australia could have one of the strongest wind energy industries in the world. We certainly have the wind resource, but we lack adequate industry support mechanisms to encourage future growth,” said AusWEA CEO Dominique La Fontaine.

There are now almost 6,000 megawatts of wind energy projects in the planning stages around the country, but La Fontaine says many of them may not proceed under the current Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET), which is expected to be filled for all renewable energy technologies by 2007.

The development of renewable energy technologies in Australia is driven by the MRET target. Set by the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000, this target requires wholesale purchasers of electricity to proportionately contribute towards the generation of 9500 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2010.

So, the MRET guarantees investors in alternative energy technology a market for their energy. But without an increase in the MRET target, this quota will be filled by 2007, leaving little incentive for new investment.

“Wind energy is already one of the most cost-competitive clean energy sources available, and the costs are declining at a rapid rate," La Fontaine said. "However, as an emerging industry, we do need industry support to reach the economies of scale to become competitive with other large-scale sources of energy."

If Australia keeps up with international growth, AusWEA expects wind energy to be cost-competitive with fossil fuels within 10 to 15 years time.

See unique photos of the Wattle Point windfarm at the "Yorke Peninsula Country Times" at: http://www.ypct.com.au/features/windfarm.html