The biggest fans of WIND energy

by India Murphy, Assistant Editor, Energy Magazine

With wind energy generating over 16000GW of power in 2018 (7.1 per cent of Australia’s total generation1), this renewable energy source is continually increasing its contribution to the National Electricity Market. Here, we take a look at some of Australia’s biggest and most successful wind projects and the stories behind their development.

Australia received its first wind farm, the Salmon Beach Wind Farm, back in 1987. Located in Western Australia, the Australian first was operational for 15 years. By the end of 2018, wind energy had expanded its reach significantly, with 94 wind farms operating across Australia. 

During the early 2000s, the major driving force to construct wind farms was the Federal Government’s Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (now known as the Renewable Energy Target), with the initial aim to source two per cent of the nation’s electricity generation from renewable sources. In 2009, this was increased to ensure renewable energy made up the equivalent of 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity (41,000GWh).

Today, wind remains the cheapest form of new energy to build and a significant contributor to the nation’s electricity generation. Over 850MW of wind energy was installed in 2018, making it the best ever year for installed wind farm capacity; and at the end of 2018, 24 wind farms with a combined capacity of 5.69GW were under construction or financially committed nationally, representing more than $8 billion of investment and creating almost 5000 jobs2.

Below we take a closer look at some of the major wind projects around Australia currently contributing to our country’s energy needs.

The largest of its kind

The Macarthur Wind Farm in Victoria is the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, with 140 3MW fully operational turbines. Project developer AGL engaged Leighton Contractors and Vestas to construct the 420MW wind farm, which took around two and a half years to build. The wind farm has been fully operational since late January 2013.

Vestas continues to play an important role in ongoing operations at Macarthur. As the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines, Vestas brings state-of-the-art technology, quality and reliability to the project, ensuring its long-term success.

During development and construction, the total number of jobs (including flow-on employment) was estimated at 875 from the region, 2490 from Victoria and 2782 from the rest of Australia. A permanent site team – responsible for ongoing maintenance and operations – includes 18 local residents from south-west Victoria.

The wind farm is located on an actual farm, spanning over approximately 5500 hectares of agricultural land which functions as paddocks for sheep and cattle.

In 2015, AGL sold 50 per cent of its interest in the project to HRL Morrison & Co managed funds. AGL continues to operate and maintain the wind farm on behalf of Morrison & Co.

Community first

The Sapphire Wind Farm is a large scale renewable energy project which provides enough clean energy to power around 115,000 homes and displaces 700,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

The largest wind farm in New South Wales, Sapphire is located in the New England region of the state, and also provides energy for the Australia Capital Territory. The wind farm generates enough energy to power approximately 115,000 homes each year, and is helping the ACT reach its target of 100 per cent renewable by 2020. 

It also brings many economic benefits to the New England region, including over 150 new jobs.

Construction of the wind farm was undertaken by a consortium comprising of Vestas and Zenviron. Vestas supplied and installed the wind turbines at the farm; while Zenviron was responsible for the civil and electrical balance of the plant. In addition, TransGrid built a new substation as part of the project, adjacent to their high-voltage transmission line network.

From the outset of this project, CWP Renewables, the developer of Sapphire, made a commitment to make the community a priority for the project. The Sapphire Wind Farm provides a community co-investment opportunity – an Australian first for large-scale, public investment into a utility-scale wind farm. The wind farm also contributes to a Community Benefit Fund, which gives local community groups grants from funds generated by the farm. Approximately $3.75 million will be invested in local community projects spanning over 20 years.

The more, the merrier

The Hallett Wind Farms is the collective name for the four wind farms located near the town of Hallett, South Australia, approximately 180km north of Adelaide. Together, the four wind farms have a combined generation capacity of 351MW.

The four wind farms each have their own generating capacities – Brown Hill has a capacity of 95MW, Hallett Hill has a capacity of 71MW, North Brown Hill has a capacity of 132MW and Bluff Range, also known as ‘The Bluff’, runs at 53MW. 

The first Hallett wind farm, Brown Hill, was operational from June 2008. Hallett Hill followed in May 2010, then North Brown Hill came online in May 2011. Finally, The Bluff commenced operations in March 2012.

Suzlon built the Hallett Wind Farms and they continue to play an important role in maintaining and servicing both North Brown Hill and Bluff Range. Brown Hill and Hallett Hill are maintained and serviced by Vestas.

During the development and construction of the wind farms peak employment was 433. Currently 36 people are permanently employed in day-to-day operations at the wind farms.

The Hallett Wind Farms can generate enough clean energy to power around 205,000 average Australian homes and save approximately 770,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.

The site of the Brown Hill Wind Farm utilises an innovative rock anchor solution to support the wind turbines, which uses only a third of the concrete and reinforcement required in traditional foundations.

The payback period for embodied energy during the development of the wind farms was estimated at less than six months. This means that the total amount of carbon emissions created during construction of the farms was offset by operation within six months.

Conquering a challenging site

Mt Emerald Wind Farm was the largest wind farm in Queensland when it began operating in 2018. 

The site of wind farm spans 2400 hectares and was selected due to its excellent wind conditions, small residential population, and proximity to an existing electricity network. The $360 million project exported its first contribution to the national electricity grid in August 2018, with the wind farm becoming fully operational in November. 

The location of the Mt Emerald Wind Farm posed several complex challenges during construction. The rocky terrain and steep gradients were difficult to construct on, as well as the complication of the site previously being used as a World War II live fire training area.

The site was also home to a population of endangered marsupials, the Northern Quoll, and an additional six protected plant species. Expert advice was sought during the planning of the wind farm in order to minimise the impact on the environment and wildlife.

The Mt Emerald Wind Farm received approval development approval in 2015 for 63 turbines, but 53 were installed. The installed turbines have been located away from the endangered habitats and are not in close proximity to prominent ridgelines, in order to minimise visual and cultural heritage effects. 

The 53 installed turbines have been able to produce a significant quantity of renewable power, enabling the farm to successfully function without negatively impacting on the protected fauna and flora. 

Two models of wind turbine were used for this project – there are 37 3.45MW-capacity turbines measuring 148.5m to the tip of the blade, along with 16 3.3MW-capacity turbines with a total height to the blade tip of 140m.

A world first 

The Hornsdale Wind Farm is located north of Jamestown, South Australia. The 315MW wind farm consists of 99 wind turbines and is capable of generating approximately 1,050,000MWh of clean, renewable electricity into the National Electricity Market each year – enough electricity to power approximately 180,000 homes with renewable energy. These reductions are the equivalent of taking either 290,000 cars off the road or planting 1.9 million trees.

The electricity generated from each turbine is transmitted to a central cable marshalling point at the onsite substation, located adjacent to the 275kV power line that runs through the site area. The substation then connects directly into the National Electricity Transmission Grid.

Owned by French renewable energy company Neoen, the wind turbine generators were imported from Denmark and the towers were sourced from Vietnam. The farm has an Australian touch, with two of the wind turbine towers featuring paintings by artists from the Indigenous people of the region, which is a world first. 

Nukunu woman Jessica Turner created an artwork which represents the Dreamtime story of the serpent’s role in forming landscapes. Chris Angrave and Louise Brown are both Ngadjuri people who depicted how the Mungiura were found in the hilly country, peering over the top of windbreaks.

The wind farm is also well known thanks to its proximity to the Tesla built Hornsdale Power Reserve, which is the largest lithium-ion battery in the world.

A renewable future

The featured projects demonstrate that the balance between renewable energy infrastructure, the environment, and the local community can be achieved with proper consideration and measures in place. 

As the debate around renewable energy and climate change becomes more urgent, and the need to source more energy for the National Electricity Market that is clean and affordable increases, we will continue to see more wind farm developments across Australia.

1Page 9, Clean Energy Australia Report 2019, Clean Energy Council

2Page 72, Clean Energy Australia Report 2019, Clean Energy Council

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