Portland overcomes parrot problem -- More than 230 MW approved

Construction of one of the world's largest wind farms -- Pacific Hydro's long mooted 180 MW Portland Wind Energy Project (PWEP) -- is expected to begin soon, following final project approval from federal environment minister David Kemp. His decision also means the go ahead for the utility's 52.5 MW Challicum Hills Wind Farm in Western Australia.

PWEP is Australia's largest renewable energy project. It will see 120 NEG Micon 1.5 MW turbines installed across four sites -- Cape Bridgewater, Cape Nelson, Cape Sir William Grant and Yambuk -- in Victoria's southwest, generating enough electricity to supply the needs of more than 113,000 homes (Windpower Monthly, September 2002). The first PWEP turbines are expected online by April. Around 2000 jobs are expected to be created in what will be the birth of a full scale domestic wind turbine manufacturing industry for Australia, with NEG Micon establishing a local manufacturing plant as a result of the project.

Concern for the habitat of the endangered orange-bellied parrot necessitated Kemp's approval of the Yambuk site, on which the economics of the entire project hinged. It was the only obstacle in PWEP's way after the Victorian state government gave its consent in August. A specially commissioned report to the environment minister concluded the risk to the orange-bellied parrot was "very low," only potentially increasing the extinction risk over 20 years by less than 1%. The minister's approval is subject to ongoing management and monitoring of listed birds and their habitats. Guidelines will be developed for future proposals, he says.

Kemp expects the project to inject nearly A$100 million into the regional economy and nearly A$300 million into the Australian economy. As well as supplying the turbines for the PWEP, NEG Micon is also the turnkey contractor for the Challicum Hills development (which was dependent on the PWEP gaining full approval) and is supplying the 35 turbines for the project, near Ararat in an order worth EUR 40 million. These turbines are included in the 600 MW agreement it has with Pacific Hydro, worth about EUR 600 million.

Starting with blades

NEG Micon boss Torben Bjerre-Madsen says the new manufacturing plant is to be placed in the Portland area and will cost about EUR 10-20 million. It will start by making blades, while local companies will build the turbine towers. Expansion of the factory will depend on market prospects in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia, he adds.

The energy and renewable energy certificates generated from Challicum and Yambuk will be sold to Origin Energy, under a long term power purchase agreement. Under the agreement, Origin also has an option of taking a future equity stake of 50% in the Challicum Hills project.

The deal triples Origin's green energy capacity. "These contracts clearly demonstrate our commitment to growing Australia's renewable energy sector," says Origin Energy's Peter Vines. "The 100% clean energy from the wind farms will supply our growing Green Earth customer demand for clean electricity. Any energy generated surplus to our Green Earth demand will assist in meeting our Mandatory Renewable Energy Target obligations." The company (which recently completed its A$137 million acquisition of Citipower's electricity retail business) already buys the entire output from Pacific Hydro's 18.2 MW Codrington wind farm in western Victoria. The latest agreement will consolidate its position as the largest buyer of wind energy in Australia.

Australia's mandatory renewables target is for 2% of Australia's electricity to come from renewables by 2010.