Western Australia clean-power obligation sparks project

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West Australian (WA) utility Western Power has announced a "feasibility study" for a 20 MW wind farm at the town of Albany, south of Perth. The proposed six month study is preliminary and not a fait accompli -- as reported elsewhere in the media -- stresses the company's Paul Ebert.

The study will identify environmental issues, seek preliminary approvals and undertake an extensive community consultation process. Ebert says the design for the wind farm, if it goes ahead, will initially concentrate on 500 kW machines, but he is "keeping an open mind" on larger megawatt-sized machines that may be more acceptable to the community's desire to limit visual impact with fewer machines.

Calling the Albany site "one of the best sites in the state if not Australia," Ebert says it has both an average wind speed of over 8 m/s at a 50 m hub height and access to a 132,000 volt transmission line. There is also some grid support value in the project as the town of Albany is at the end of a 350 km transmission line. "The feasibility study will look at different turbines to see which offer an advantage for grid support," he explains, noting that the wind farm would supply 80% of the electricity to the town's 15,000 homes.

Ebert says extensive community work has already been done. The utility had been "a little nervous" after watching community issues in other parts of the world sink a number of wind projects. He has "spoken to every single land owner" affected by the project as well as to aboriginal groups and government bodies. This "exhaustive" work was "very necessary" to give the local community equity in the project, says Ebert. Consequently the majority of community is enthusiastic in its support. The project should be started next year, "if all goes well."

The proposed wind farm is not a commercial project, however, as the utility has enough current capacity. The primary driver, says Ebert, is the federal government's impending legislation to mandate an additional 2% of renewable energy in the next decade (Windpower Monthly, December 1998). "We haven't seen the fine print yet, but wind energy one of the key resources for WA to meet any future obligations," says Ebert, noting that Western Australia "has an exceptional wind resource that is reasonably predictable."

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