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Australia

Australia

Australian utilities getting serious at last

Encouraged by the Australian government's lead in launching a series of sustainable energy programmes, utilities are getting serious about renewable energy. Activities include offering customers north of Sydney the option to buy green electricity under a "Zero Greenhouse" energy tariff programme and a request for renewable energy capacity from the government's electricity planning authority in Queensland. The newly established Sustainable Energy Development Authority's main role will be to intervene where market failures hinder "economically efficient" utilisation and application of sustainable energy technologies.

After years of apathy and lip-service, a number of Australian utilities are getting serious about renewable energy and greenhouse issues. Encouraged by the government's lead with the launch of a series of sustainable energy programmes, utility activities so far include offering customers north of Sydney the option to buy green electricity and a request for renewable energy capacity from the government's electricity planning authority in Queensland.

Perhaps the most trend setting move is that by the country's largest electricity distributor, energyAustralia. Under a "Zero Greenhouse" energy tariff programme, customers in the Hunter region north of Sydney will be able to buy 100%, 50% or 25% of their electricity needs from the Zero Greenhouse portfolio. Australia's first trials with these "greenhouse" tariffs start in July. According to the company's Brain Carlton, customers electing the 100% option will pay a premium of about A$ 0.03/kWh. Participants will be eligible for a variety of discounts on a range of energy efficient products, receive a newsletter about renewable energy projects and events and also have the opportunity to tour some of the sites generating their Zero Greenhouse electricity.

"We are trying to get the customer as involved in the process as we can," says Carlton, adding the trial will initially involve 50,000 customers. If successful, the tariffs will be expanded to the rest of the company's 1.3 million customers. EnergyAustralia is hoping for an uptake of 1-2% of customers. The utility has developed a portfolio of power contracts generating electricity from renewable sources which can be shown to emit no net greenhouse gases including solar, wind, hydro and landfill gas systems. As part of the independently audited programme, the company will buy from the state's power grid the equivalent number of kilowatt-hours from the portfolio as customers use. The programme is also expected to boost plans to establish a wind farm of up to 10 MW on Kooragang Island, a heavy industrial site about 120 km north of Sydney.

Referring to Australia's recently introduced legislation making electricity distributors accountable on greenhouse targets (Windpower Monthly, March 1996), Carlton says there is "momentum irrespective of legislation to be more green" but that it would be "naive to think the legislation is not playing a role."

Solving market failures

The legislation, enforced from March 1, also established the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA). The authority has recently released its draft business plan for the period 1997-2000. In the plan, funding will ramp up from A$7 million in 1996-97 to A$45 million in the year 2000-01. The authority is planning to spend A$39 million in the next three years on programmes that include energy efficiency (A$14-21 million), renewable energy (A$8.8-12.3 million), cogeneration (A$1.8-5.3 million), and core information programmes; and A$26 million over three years to fund Pacific Solar, a joint venture between the University of New South Wales and Pacific Power to commercialise high efficiency photovoltaic cells. The main role of SEDA will be to intervene where market failures are hindering the "economically efficient" utilisation and application of sustainable energy technologies. It also plans to provide a manufacturers' incentive programme.

In the "Sunshine State" of Queensland, the Queensland Transmission and Supply Corporation is seeking up to 120 MW from renewables. The state utility has initiated a programme to find capacity in projects ranging from 30 kW to 40 MW. They are being sought through public submissions as part of a "far less formal" co-operative development plan, according to QTSC's John Kelly.

Under the programme, the QTSC will "provide people with guidelines and tell them who the parties are" while agreeing on a purchase price for the delivered energy. Kelly says the only deadline for public submissions is that they result in executable contracts by September 30, 1996. The 120 MW will come from any number of bidders with "a balance between small and large generators," with a preference for more commercially advanced projects. Kelly says submissions have already been received on landfill gas and mini-hydro systems but "almost nil" for wind projects. In Queensland, he says, "getting wind relative to the network is a challenge."

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