Keen industry focus on preparing the market

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The buzz at Australia's national wind energy association conference in Adelaide in July was contagious. More than 300 delegates spent three days regrouping and considering the future of their industry, including its strategic approach to gaining government and community support, and methods for tackling crucial transmission network and other technical issues.

According to the latest International Energy Agency report, problems with adapting Australia's centralised electricity network to cope with thousands of megawatts of distributed generators is holding up around A$1 billion in wind development. The conference marked a high point in discussions between turbine manufacturers, electricity network managers, government representatives and wind developers.

The need to engage the Australian public through education, better consultation and participation in project development, was also highlighted by several speakers.

The main wind market driver is the Mandated Renewable Energy Target (MRET), although controversy surrounds the structure of the legislation and its effectiveness, with some renewables groups, including the Australian EcoGeneration Association (AEA), fearing it will do more harm than good, mainly because it allows existing hydro into the basket of eligible technologies (Windpower Monthly, August 2002). Other groups disagree.

John Titchen of Hydro Tasmania argued at the conference that the legislation is achieving its objectives. He suggested the wind industry should focus its attention on increasing the target. An AEA report criticising the mandate, he said, is "exaggerated", "misleading" and "counter productive."

Renewable energy regulator David Rossiter agreed, saying there is a need for greater understanding of the concern of electricity users about high prices for meeting the MRET. Electricity from existing projects provides a more economical way to meet obligations, he countered. "Don't shoot it at this stage, bear in mind it's still early days," he added.

Environment minister David Kemp says the clear intention of the MRET is to encourage new investment in both existing and new generators. He reminded industry that the scheme will be reviewed in April 2003 when an increase in the target will be considered. "Existing power stations were deliberately included on the grounds that in some cases it would be economically more efficient to encourage existing generators to increase their output of renewable energy, either through better resource management, increased efficiency of their generating equipment or by taking advantage of market incentives to generate and sell power from renewable sources," he stated.

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