Major growth depends on grid expansion -- Record year despite uncertainties

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Although the Australian wind market's future was shrouded in uncertainty for most of 2003, it was still another record year for the fledgling energy sector with installed capacity up 90% on that of 2002. In total, 93.71 MW of new wind plant was installed, taking Australia's wind capacity from 104.6 MW at the end of 2002 to 198.31 MW by the end of 2003.

With a further 1630 MW of proposed wind development already permitted, most of it in the state of South Australia, market growth looks set to continue. The recent publication of a government appointed review panel's report -- which recommends retaining and enhancing the Mandated Renewable Energy Target (MRET) -- has significantly increased industry confidence (Windpower Monthly, February 2004). The MRET review was slow in coming, but when it did appear, it hit nearly all the right notes for the wind industry. The panel recommended that MRET be strengthened and extended beyond 2020, with a rising target for annual green power additions stabilising at 20,000 GWh of new production a year in 2020. Wind is expected to supply 8200 GWh of that. "A lot will depend on what the government decides but we are certainly less risk prone," agrees Libby Anthony of the Australian Wind Energy Association (AusWEA).

Grid paucity

With government widely expected to adopt the panel's recommendations, the remaining obstacles to the industry's development relate to the need for major grid and transmission expansion. In Victoria, TXU Electricity has been driven to running an auction for its available network capacity and in South Australia, the favoured location for more than 60% of Australia's proposed 1630 MW of permitted wind development, the power system has far less electrical load capability than the eastern states.

These infrastructure problems are being dealt with in a wider national energy review overseen by the Ministerial Council on Energy. It has recently agreed to a series of reforms designed to strengthen competition and encourage investment in Australia's energy market. As part of the initiative, both state and federal governments are to implement electricity transmission reforms and a national approach to energy access over the next two years, with a view to providing more favourable conditions for embedded generators.


So while 2003 may have been a frustrating year for many in the Australian industry, it looks set to fade from memory quickly -- although not for everyone. For some, it was a year of significant progress. "Two-thousand-and-three has been a landmark year for us because we got financial closure on Lake Bonney and commenced construction," says Babcock & Brown's Miles George. At a planned 200 MW upon final completion, the project is set to be Australia's largest wind development.

Another milestone achieved in the year was the official opening of Australia's first wind turbine manufacturing factory in November. The A$15 million assembly plant in Wynyard, Tasmania, built and owned by Danish wind turbine maker Vestas, will assemble nacelles for 75-110 wind turbines a year.

It was a good year too for Pacific Hydro, one of Australia's leading wind developers. The company's 52.5 MW Challicum Hills Wind Farm near Ararat in Victoria was officially opened. Developed at a cost of A$76 million, it will produce enough energy to power around 45,000 homes. "And we have approval for 320 MW of new projects," adds the company's Chris Cosgrove. These include projects in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.

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