Monday, 16 July 2012

Gunning for energy blowin' in the wind
30 Jun 2012

From on top of these 80 metre-high wind turbines near Gunning, the view sweeps across the Southern Tablelands and future landscape of power generation. More than $3 billion worth of wind farms are awaiting planning approval in a concentrated wind and power belt from Crookwell to Yass. At least 10 major developments comprising more than 800 turbines are moving through environmental assessment or being tweaked to comply with draft guidelines for wind farms.

Each of the 31 turbines on Spanish-based multinational ACCIONA Energy's Gunning Wind Farm operates independently. They can turn 360° to catch optimum wind power, guided by an anemometer aerial which measures wind speed and direction, 24 hours a day, from on top of the gleaming white generators. ACCIONA Energy engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to assess economic benefits from its turbines which cost more than $100 million to build. They generate enough power for 24,000 homes. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts the wind farm will raise gross regional product in the south-east region by $69.3 million over the next decade.

On a high ridge, turbine blades travel at a few metres per second up to 25 metres per second in high winds, before they are turned off as a safety measure. Nine operation and maintenance workers oversee the plant and can take an internal lift to the top of each generator. The turbines are controlled from Melbourne and monitored from a base on a merino sheep stud 15 km north-east of Gunning. Debate is raging over wind farm impacts, even though only five-three near Crookwell and two at Lake George and Tarago-are up and running. ACCIONA Energy's director of engineering, construction and operation Brett Wickham said over time community acceptance of wind farms would grow.

''I think we do need more history, I think there has been a lot of fear and panic generated in various communities. ''I think, not only do we ask people to source factual documentation and do as much reading as they can from researched and peer-reviewed areas to be able to allay some of those fears, we also need a bit more history.'' He said over the next 25 years the turbines would either be re-powered or removed. ''No wind turbine around the world has reached that stage yet, but there have been opportunities to increase the capacity of the machines,'' Mr Wickham said. ''As part of our planning permit, de-commissioning is part of that, as much as we are bound to build it, if we are not generating money, we are bound to remove everything to a standard set by local planning authorities.''

The release of National Health and Medical Research Council's findings on wind farms at the end of this year will influence state governments' policies. Canberra-based wind power developer Windlab Systems has an interest in one of the projects near Boorowa. Windlab Systems's regional director for Australia, Luke Osborne, believes investments across the region are likely to go ahead in some form and bring a new and valuable revenue stream to the region. ''If the renewable energy target-the 20% renewables by 2020 stays in its current form, yes it will all go ahead.'' Multinational energy company Epuron proposes about 182 turbines worth $1 billion on sites near Yass and Bookham.