Thursday, 26 May 2011

Energy harvest as farms build up to reap the wind

West Australian
16 May 2011, Page: 15

In dusty back paddocks and weathered coastal landscapes across WA, a transformation is taking place. A wind farm investment drive is to become a multi billion dollar boom and nowhere is that boom likely to be bigger than in the small wheat belt town of Williams, about 150km south east of Perth. Fuelled by Federal Government imposed targets for renewable energy generation, a group of developers has launched an audacious bid to build one of Australia's biggest wind power projects.

The company, Semaphore Energy, has applied to the Shire of Williams to erect a 70m "guyed mast" to measure wind speeds and reliability at a nearby farm. The move would be a prelude to the construction of a 310.5 MW wind farm costing more than $1 billion and with 69 towers, each measuring 194m. At Kojonup, also in the South West, another group of private investors has said it intends to build a 150 MW wind project that will cost up to $500 million. The proposals are the latest in a number of wind power projects on the ground or in the pipeline.

Last week, a major 206 MW wind facility backed by international banking giant UBS and REST superannuation fund began producing its first power, two months ahead of schedule. The Collgar wind farm near Merredin in the Central wheat belt has been billed as a leading light in WA's push to meet Canberra's 20% mandatory renewable energy target by 2020.

Costing $750 million and generating enough electricity to power up to 125,000 homes, the project almost doubled the State's "green" energy production to 9%. State Energy Minister Peter Collier said the enthusiasm for wind power was "phenomenal" but it could never provide base load power and were only likely to be an adjunct in WA's energy mix. Mark Bretherton, a spokesman for wind industry lobby the Clean Energy Council, said the Williams proposal was unprecedented in Australia.