Another record breaking year despite uncertainty -- Australian capacity almost doubles

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Yet again Australia's wind industry clocked a record for annual installed capacity, completing 182 MW in five new wind farms in 2004, compared with 93.71 MW in 2003. Total installed wind capacity increased from 198 MW at the end of 2003 to 380 MW by the end of 2004, according to the Australia wind energy association (AusWEA). With Vestas technology used in the year's three major projects, the Danish manufacturer dominated the market, supplying all but 1.2 MW of the new capacity.

Not everything in 2004 went the industry's way, however. The low point came in June when the federal government published its Energy White Paper, ruling out any increase in the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET) from the current level of 9500 GWh by 2010 (Windpower Monthly, July 2004). In doing so, the government rejected the findings of its own review, which had recommended increasing the target, extending its lifespan beyond 2020, and indexing penalty prices for non compliance with the mandate to inflation.

Wind rush

The government's failure to introduce a long term market structure leaves the industry intent on getting projects in the ground while there is still money in the wind. The next two years are set to break more records. Around 355 MW is under construction, 324 MW of that due for completions this year. A further 348 MW is under tender, reports AusWEA. A further 926 MW of projects have gained site permits and 423 MW are in early planning.

"The last year has seen significant progress in our wind development plans," says Mark Kelleher of developer Hydro Tasmania. The company completed construction on the year's second largest wind farm, the 54 MW Stage Two of the Woolnorth project known as Bluff Point, bringing Woolnorth's total capacity to 64.5 MW. "The output of 190,000 megawatt hours during 2004 exceeded our forecast generation," Kelleher notes. Site preparation also began on the company's Cathedral Rocks 66 MW Wind Farm in South Australia, a joint venture between Hydro Tasmania and Spain's Energia Hidroeléctrica Navarra. It is due for completion in September.

The largest development of the year was the 80.5 MW Lake Bonney Stage 1 in South Australia (table), a 50:50 joint venture between investment bank Babcock & Brown and developer National Power Partners of America. South Australia also saw the country's only other large scale project for the year, the 46 MW Canuda Wind Farm developed jointly by Australia's International Power and the UK's Wind Prospect. Both projects used Vestas wind turbines.

The only other turbine supplier to see action in 2004 was Germany's Enercon, with 1.2 MW supplied across two projects. This year the company is supplying just over 70 MW for wind power projects currently under construction. Vestas, however, will continue its domination, with 254 MW of its turbines due to be installed by the end of the year.

Looking beyond 2005, Pacific Hydro, another of Australia's leading wind developers, has completed preparatory work on Yambuk, the 30 MW first stage of the 195 MW Portland Wind Farm planned for Victoria. The company's Clare Laffan says that while blades for the first stage will be imported by Vestas, its blade factory in Portland will produce the 100 sets required for stage two of the project, Cape Bridgewater, Cape Nelson and Cape Sir William Grant.

On the project approval front, Wind Prospect tops the table for most megawatts of wind power to pass the permitting hurdle during 2004. The company has 520 MW of approved projects under way in South Australia. "Two-thousand-and-four has been an exceptional year for Wind Prospect," says the company's Michael Vawser. "It is a vote of confidence for the renewable industry in general."

Beyond MRET

AusWEA's Lloyd Besson is confident the industry will continue to thrive while the MRET market is alive. But at current installation rates, the target will be met by the end of 2007. At that point, the entire industry is set to fall off a cliff. The search is on for solutions. Lobbying activities to persuade the federal government to extend or increase MRET are ongoing. Others are advocating the launch of an independent MRET-like initiative at state level. The proposal has the gained the interest of four state governments (Windpower Monthly, February 2005).

Meantime, progress is being made on boosting the capacity of Australia's grid and transmission lines to enable connection of an increasing volume of wind plant. Currently, there is nowhere near enough transmission capacity for the planned wind projects. Moreover, as part of a program to overhaul the National Electricity Market, work is underway to provide fairer access to the grid for wind and other renewable energy generators.

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