Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Wind behind energy push

Courier Mail
3 June 2011, Page: 38

A $1.5 BILLION powerline project that would unleash billions of investment in power plants using climate safe, renewable energy in north Queensland is moving to the final development stage after securing agreements with major energy users.

As a result, Canberra based wind farm developer Windlab Systems which aims to use the powerline said it could move forward with its plan to next year start building a giant, 750 MW wind farm near Hughenden, southwest of Townsville, which would be one of Australia's largest renewable energy projects. The $1.5 billion wind farm would create 1000 jobs and boost Queensland's power generation capacity by 6%.

Leighton Holdings Contractors and CuString said their CopperString project to build a $1.5 billion, 720km high voltage transmission link between Townsville and Mount Isa now has initial agreements with energy users, which are believed to include Anglo Swiss miner Xstrata, owner of Mount Isa Mines. The partners aim to seal final contracts with energy users by late October, with construction from March to have the link operational by late 2014.

Major energy users, including Xstrata, BHP Billiton and Incitec Pivot, have been in talks with CopperString, CS Energy and APA Group on three rival proposals for expanding energy capacity in the minerals rich northwest. Talks with CS Energy and APA Group continue. CS Energy's Mica Creek power plant is the northwest's sole power source, but is stranded from the grid, coming up against capacity constraints and ageing units.

CopperString, which will create up to 750 jobs during construction and 30 permanent jobs, will provide up to 400 MW of power transfer capacity and will link the northwest to the eastern grid, tapping coal and gas fired power until renewable projects come on line. CopperString supporters, including local councils and regional economic development groups, say it could underpin enough renewable energy projects for north Queensland to supply up to a fifth of a federally mandated target to source 20% of Australia's power from renewable sources by 2020.

The Federal Government has conditionally pledged $335 million for CopperString, plus up to $350 million for a large solar plant to connect to it. The most advanced project seeking to connect to Copper String is Windlab Systems's Kennedy wind farm, which would install up to 300 turbines on the slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Other projects include a 300 MW solar farm and a biodiesel/biomass plant. Origin Energy is also looking at developing a 1800 MW hydropower project in Papua New Guinea to feed power to north Queensland. That proposal would benefit from CopperString's expansion of power transfer capacity.