Proponents argue that a three-year-old renewable energy power facility in North Queensland is illustrative of the issues preventing new electricity development. When completed in late 2018, the 50-megawatt (MW) Kennedy Energy Park (KEP) west of Townsville was Australia’s very first to integrate a solar farm, 2MW of battery storage, and 12 wind turbines.
However, project manager Martin Vries noted that a series of complicated challenges with linking to the national grid which followed revealed the region’s lack of stable network capacity. “Transmission is the key to unlocking all of the possibilities in the region,” he stated. The park is now exporting roughly 10MW of its capacity, with the goal of increasing this to 25MW, or 50%, by Christmas.
Windlab, KEP’s half-owner, spent $160 million creating the generator, providing a huge boost to the local economy at a time when the district was experiencing severe drought. However, problems connecting to the grid led to legal issues with contractors, as well as the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said that the generator’s agreed-upon transmission performance standards had not been satisfied, preventing the generator from exporting power. Last year, Windlab wrote down the worth of KEP by about $29.4 million as a result of this.
Despite the fact that the CSIRO has identified the region as suitable for energy generation, having 320 days of sun per year and consistent wind, new projects are not being considered until the appropriate transmission is established. “Given the challenges we’ve had on this connection with our neighbors, the Hughenden solar plant, and ourselves,” Mr. Vries added, “I believe the opportunity is pretty limited.”
The CopperString connection, which is a 1,000-kilometer transmission line between Mount Isa to Townsville, has been proposed for decades and received $330 million in funding from the Gillard government in 2010. However, when Xstrata, the then-owner of the Mount Isa Mines facility, decided to negotiate a contract with a local gas-power producer instead, the project was abandoned the next year.
More than a century after mining began in the region, there is no electricity link between the national grid situated at Julia Creek and the mining towns of Cloncurry and Mount Isa. Since CopperString’s first failure, the corporation has commissioned a number of analyses touting the region’s economic benefits from reliable power.
The electrical landscape had altered, according to Chief Executive Joseph O’Brien, enhancing the sustainability of the $1.75 billion lines, which he intended to finalize finance for early next year. “The last three years have been a grueling process of completing studies and strategic assessments with NAIF [Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility], as well as grid connection negotiations, are well underway,” he said.