Wind ramps up in Western Australia

AUSTRALIA: Wind energy is taking off in the relatively untouched state of Western Australia, with several large wind farms seeing developments over the past four months.

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In July, gas infrastructure company APA Group bought the 80MW Emu Downs wind farm and development rights for an adjacent 130MW site located 200 kilometres north of Perth for A$171 million (US$175 million).

APA group managing director Mick McCormack said the company's core business remains gas infrastructure, but added that the partnership of variable wind generation and fast-start gas-fired electricity generation is critical in Western Australia due to the isolation and smaller scale of the state's integrated electricity network.

The A$750 million (US$768 million) Collgar Wind Farm began exporting electricity in May. Developed by international investment bank UBS and superannuation fund Retail Employees Superannuation Trust, the wind farm consists of 111 Vestas V90 turbines built over 18,000ha at Merredin in the state's south-west.

Alistair Craib, CEO of the 206MW project, said it is "tracking along really, really well" and the company expects all turbines will be generating by mid-September - four months ahead of schedule.

He confirmed comments made by UBS global head of infrastructure asset management Dr Paul Moy in June that the company would look at more projects in Western Australia.

Meanwhile, Verve Energy is developing a 55MW wind farm at Mumbida 40 kilometres southeast of Geraldton in a oint venture with Macquarie Capital Group. The company has also assessed the feasibility of a wind farm at Milyeannup, 20 kilometres east of Augusta; and is building an additional 12.8MW as an extension of the existing 21MW Albany Wind Farm.

Slow starter

Compared with south and eastern Australia, Western Australia has experienced relatively little wind-energy development, with four wind farms over 20MW capacity in operation.

Western Australia has abundant coal resources and its economy is driven by the export of natural resources. It also enjoys good wind-energy opportunities and industry stakeholders believe further development is likely.

Neil Prentice, advisory services manager for the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia, said the wind industry in Western Australia has not always had the right climate for investment.

Craib suggests there has not been much wind-energy development in the state for a few reasons, including the state's smaller population density and less developed grid - Western Australia is not connected to the National Electricity Market, but has a standalone Wholesale Electricity Market (WEM) that operates in the South West Interconnected System.

"I think it's reasonable to expect that you will see more development in Western Australia," said Craib. "I think the thing that needs to be accounted for is where does (the electricity) go? Wind farms put a lot of strain on the system."

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