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Giant wind and solar complex to challenge Abbott’s coal plans

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A world-leading 1,200MW wind and solar project proposed for north Queensland is competing head to head with a new coal power station proposal favoured by Tony Abbott, who is in favour of giving taxpayer loans to the coal generator, but not the wind facility.

kennedy wind map

The Canberra-based renewable energy development company Windlab is proposing a world-leading mega wind and solar project for north Queensland, in a proposal that could directly rival a Coalition push to build a new coal-fired generator in the same area.

Roger Price, the CEO of Windlab, told RenewEconomy on Tuesday that the company was proposing a 600MW wind farm combined with a 600MW solar PV farm in what it is calling the Kennedy Energy Park.

The facility, to be located near Hughenden, around 300km inland from Townsville, would deliver up to 80 per cent of local electricity demand – and at a capacity factor of around 70 per cent – at rates cheaper than a new coal plant.

“This is an absolutely world class resource,” Price said. “We believe we can deliver nearly baseload power for a price of around $100/MWh. You are not going to build a new coal-fired generator for that sort of price.”

But a coal-fired generator – such as the 800MW example proposed in one recent study – is exactly what is favoured by some local business people, local LNP politicians and even, more importantly, Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

But because the price of new coal generation is so high, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates it at about $130/MWh, it would require hefty subsidies from the government.

The decisions to be made in Townsville and the region highlight the crossroad that Australia finds itself at, and the debate around the future of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

The Abbott government would like to entrench the position of the fossil fuel industry, and wants to cut the deployment of renewables and demolish the CEFC. Others say Australia should be a world leader in the adoption of wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies, and the CEFC is key to this.

Abbott, in a recent interview with the Townsville Bulletin, said the coal project could qualify for loans from the new north Australia infrastructure fund created by his government. The $5 billion facility has been dubbed the “Dirty Energy Finance Corporation.”

“I’d be very surprised if we did not have, coming forward as a potential project under the Northern Australia fund, a power station,” Abbott told the newspaper.

The irony would not be lost on the renewable energy industry, given Abbott’s decision to tell the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation to not fund large wind projects, or rooftop solar.

Windlab’s Price says that such a world-leading wind-solar project – while cost competitive – would need the involvement of the CEFC, because it would act as a catalyst for finance for banks, who are notoriously reluctant to stump up money for first-of-its kind facilities such as the one proposed.

This, Price says, highlights the contradiction of the Abbott government’s directive to the CEFC to stop lending money to wind energy developments, at the same time as proposing a similar fund for fossil fuel technology in the north.

“It would need the CEFC because it is a first-of-its-kind project,” Price said.

“That is one of fallacies of the current situation. Wind farms are not all vanilla projects, every one of them has distinctive characteristics and by ruling out an asset class, it means they are not prepared to back the cheapest technology and not prepared to back innovation for this sort of technology.”

Windlab has been trying to develop the Kennedy wind farm for several years. This, and a 300MW solar farm, were to be built if the Queensland government approved the CopperString transmission line linking Mt Isa to the east coast, potentially opening up a new province of renewable projects in north Queensland.

However, the then Labor government outsourced the decision on the line to Mt Isa operator Xstrata, who chose a gas-fired generator instead, pumping gas from reserves thousands of kilometers to the south.

wind farm windlabPrice says that Windlab now estimates a combined 600MW wind farm and a 600MW solar farm could solve the region’s growing energy needs, and save costs.

That’s because the installation of local generation would reduce transmission losses (most electricity is sourced from further south), and could also reduce the hefty cost of the Community Service Obligation, which subsidises the delivery of fossil fuel energy to regional Queensland, to the tune of around $600 million.

North Queensland is one of the most promising areas for renewable energy, not just because of its excellent wind and solar resources, but also because it is the one area in Australia with growing demand, and where extra capacity will be required.

That puts renewable energy in direct competition with new-build fossil fuels – a contest it is winning in other countries in similar situations, such as Chile and the Middle East, and South Africa.

Windlab last week began construction of what will be the lowest-cost wind farm in Australia to date, the 20MW Coonooer Bridge project which will be paid a flat rate of $81.70/MWh over 20 years by the ACT government. It also built the 207MW Collgar wind farm, the biggest in Western Australia, with an estimated capacity factor of nearly 50 per cent.

Windlab says the first phase of the Kennedy wind and solar project could be for up to 100MW of wind and solar energy, connecting to the existing electricity grid.


This, it says, will provide more than enough electricity to power the whole of the region stretching from Julia Creek through to Charters Towers and provide excess energy to Townsville and beyond.

To boost capacity to 600MW of wind and 600MW of solar would require a new transmission line to connect to the main grid. But previous studies have indicated the economic benefits of the project.

Because of the combined benefits of wind and solar, Price says its studies show that the facility could provide 600MW of capacity – the equivalent of 80 per cent of the region’s needs – at a capacity factor of 70 per cent.

That capacity would presumably be supplemented by other local generation, including rooftop solar, small utility-scale solar projects and local biomasss. FRV is also considering a 150MW solar plant in the region, and Genex has proposed a 330MW pumped hydro facility that could also provide dispatchable power when needed, and store excess generation at times of high wind and solar output.

Such projects would rapidly turn Queensland, hitherto a laggard in large-scale renewables with just 12MW of wind and a much delayed solar “booster” at the Kogan Creek power station, into a leader in new technology. Or it could follow the Abbott route into the past and try to build another coal-fired generator.  

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  • Hugh M

    Why can’t the Kennedy Energy Park get funding from the new north Australia infrastructure fund?

    • Reality Bites

      Yep just get public money to fund it.

    • Glen S

      Hahaha, I can just imagine the lies Abbott would have to come up with as to why they could not possibly fund it… What a moron.

    • john

      Because the Infrastructure Fund is for Dams for growing things, Roads, Railway Lines only for industry and Berths preferably for export minerals.

    • david_fta

      Because Abbott wants to create local demand for Galilee Basin coal, otherwise the Galilee Basin would never be mined.

    • Alastair Leith

      OH it’s for agricultural projects

    • JIm

      Abbott

  • howardpatr

    Now this is a project Angus Taylor, Member for Hume, could really lend his energy to fighting against.

    Mad Monk Abbott would be most grateful of Taylors support. Taylor might have to offer Abbott the role of sole patron to the esteemed organization, “STOP THESE THINGS”, in return for his continuing support in the fight against renewable energy technologies.

    See:- stopthesethings.com

  • Chris Sanderson

    At what point does Abbott’s irrational, ideologically driven, pro-coal behaviour become evidence of a serious mental dysfunctionality, to the point where his fitness to govern can be challenged on medical grounds in the courts?

    • Barri Mundee

      Maybe Abbott is ideologically pro-coal but I think another reason is that he is a puppet of the dominant FF industry. They donated significant amounts to his election campaign.

      • Alastair Leith

        exactly. to say it’s ‘ideology’ is to over-intellectualise the situation by magnitudes of ten.

    • david_fta

      The real reason for stopping the Kennedy Energy Park is so that there’ll be local demand for Galilee Basin coal – because if Galilee Basin mining depends on Indian demand, it won’t stack up.

      • Colin

        An excellent point.

        Cunning, aren’t they?

        • Coley

          No, demonstrably stupid, if anything, but not being aware of the wider attractions of Abbot and his crew to the average Australian it’s hard to understand how he gets away with his crass stupidity?

          • john

            You just put your finger on it ” to the average Australian ” evidently the above person is crass and stupid you just outlined the problem.

      • Tony Castley

        So we the people are being asked to support an unsustainable industry. If you ask the automobile industry the Gov’t possition on that is that they don’t.

        • Coley

          I take it that the Australian Auto industry aren’t major contributors Abbots lot then?

          • john

            NO

      • Alastair Leith

        and once it’s built the banks and FF industry (i.e. the QLD government) will need to support it for 30 years by blocking RE at whatever price point.

      • john

        Using Galilee Basin Coal would cost a lot about $90 a tonne or more so that rules that out for a start

        • david_fta

          Sadly, John, economics seems to not rule anything out of Abbott government thinking.

          The article quotes estimates that new-build coal generation is ~$130/MWh overall cost – that’d include costs of coal – whereas Windlab’s proposal is ~$100/MWh.

    • Peter Nugent

      Good point Chris. I agree we are at this stage. I would love to see him in front of a Royal Commission like all past and current Labor leaders. I suppose we need the numbers in both Houses for a Censure motion or vote of no confidence. I wonder (thinking out loud) if we could bring a civil case for damages?

  • Neil Frost

    Dirty expensive coal or cheaper green power.
    It’s only tax payers health and money.
    An easy decision for Mr Rabbott.
    Listen to all the facts then ignore them and go coal will be his decision I guess.

  • Hugh Butler

    Look at the real time graph below on live Australian Energy Generation. 600MW is a fair chunk of profit that the black coal producers will loose. Can’t imagine they want their 6000MW under threat. The 10% probably represents 50% of their profit.

  • Petra Liverani

    Please sign this. Save Aussie clean energy
    https://secure.avaaz.org/en/australia_bans_renewables_loc/?srMFrab

  • Steve Phillips

    Giles, this sounds fantastic, but how do you get a capacity factor of 70%? Solar PV in Queensland is around 18% and wind can be anywhere from 20% to 40%.

    • I think you will probably find that wind is in mid 40s for something like this, and wind could be low 20s.

    • Rottnest Quokka

      My reading of the article is that this project would be 600MW of wind and 600MW of solar connected through a 600MW grid connection. This could work if the the wind and solar resources were suitably compatible (solar during the day and wind only at night).

      If: the setup is as explained above, the wind capacity factor is 50% and solar capacity factor is 20%, the project capacity factor would indeed be 70%.

      • Andrew Woodroffe

        Your turbine is looking good from Leighton beach this afternoon, spinning along nicely – if not hidden behind half a dozen bulk carriers parked in Gage Roads.

        Windlab initiated the 206MW Collgar windfarm in WA, they know what they are doing.

        In theory;

        For wind, output exceeds 50% of rating only 30% of the year, for solar, it would be less than 25%. Both exceed 50% simultaneously, for half of that time, say 12.5% of the year. Of this 12.5%, a little will be when there is next to no curtailing, a little when there is a full 50% (of all wind and solar) curtailment, say an average of 25% of power curtailed. So 25% power x 12.5% of time = 3.1% of total generation.

        And this assumes wind is totally random with regards to solar, ie the time of day curve averages out over a year as being flat. It roughly is. However, really hot days tend to be so because there is no wind, and wind often accompanies rain (drag of the raindrop through the air), so there is a modest amount of disassociation between wind and sunshine that simply comparing averages hides.

        In practice;

        We have been monitoring solar at the Mt Barker Windfarm, and looking 1MW of solar co locating with 2.4MW of wind, and keeping the DSOC (peak MW allowed at connection point) at 2.4MW,. For last year, we would have only had to curtail 1.5% of output. If we looked at 2.4MW of solar, curtailing excessive generation rises to just over 3.2% of total generation. So simply adding CF of solar and wind is is pretty close.

        • Alastair Leith

          that’s pretty much what the BZE ZCA Stationary Energy project found when they applied 30min interval weather data at the geographic locations of the various generators in the Plan. very complimentary and molten salt storage and a tiny bit of biomass made up the shortfall. although wind and solar weren’t collocated of course.

          • Andrew Woodroffe

            So in brief, it is not wind or solar, but wind and solar!

  • Alex

    Abbott’s plan is to dig up and burn as much coal as possible so that the resource transforms into economic benefit as soon as possible – when the global agreement of carbon emission trading scheme has reached, thermal power plant construction around the world will face more red tapes and the resulted weak demand on coal means Australia will lose the competitive advantage of its abundant coal reserve. HOWEVER, what he did not effectively calculate is the cost of global warming. Burning coal has consequences on the climate change and climate change will have a chance to have irreversible damage to human civilisation – this is not just a political scare campaign, it is backed by real science. You can’t just get a bucket of cash now and hope things will be fine 200 years from now. If renewable energy generation is already cheaper than thermal power generation, build them and leave the coal under the ground.

    • Coley

      abbot and his crew ( and their political counterparts worldwide) don’t care about the medium or long term future of mankind and the planet, only about how much money they can pocket for themselves and their cronies, shoot the lot of them.
      No, that’s not A PC acceptable view, my apologies, draw lots and shoot one third of them, give the remainder a year to change their policies and if their is still one coal fired PS then shoot a third of the remainder.
      This with a commitment that those remaining ‘unshot” will contribute 75% of their bonuses to an environmentally friendly charity.
      Notice, I don’t include family members in the cull or their actual wages in contributions, I try to be fair.
      Dear intelligence services, this is meant as a light hearted comment;)

      We will be coming for you next

      😉

      • mick

        don’t stress mate incompetent buggers couldn’t find their boots if the were wearing them

  • Jacob

    Is electricity demand not dropping?

    Why even think of building an 800MW coal power station.

    • Alastair Leith

      not in that region. (re)read article 🙂

      • Jacob

        Import the electrons from neighboring NSW.

        That is the whole point of the NEM.

        And car factories in Vic and SA are closing so demand is decreasing.

        • Alastair Leith

          mustn’t be fortified enough to do that yet. any anyhow the goal is 100% RE ASAP so if it’s cheaper to build in QLD with the resources available why not?

          • Jacob

            Some want a new coal power station in QLD.

          • john

            The economics will show that to build a new power station below the gulf and supply it with coal is not cost effective.
            To upgrade from 66kv line to say 132kv line is very expensive also; so lets go with a look at alternatives wind and solar then we find perhaps it is at least $20mw cheaper so the result use RE

          • Jacob

            But the corrupt Tories insist on building new coal. So an upgraded transmission line is a much better outcome for our planet than a new coal power station.

            No idea what “gulf” though. Persian Gulf?

          • john

            Qld has a cape and on the west is a Gulf.
            Below that is where this proposal is.

        • john

          This is FNQ not south Qld it is a long way from NSW

          • Jacob

            Voters in QLD are installing solar panels on their roof.

            Electricity demand will fall in QLD also.

            The Port Kembla steel mills will probably close soon.

            Just build a transmission line instead.

          • john

            Because of the Gas development in Qld in fact there is a slight increase in demand.
            Yes they do install solar
            The economics may point toward not building a transmission line that is the whole point

          • Jacob

            Rather, Tony Abbott wants to subsidise this proposed coal power station.

            If he did not subsidise it, it would make more sense to build a transmission line.

            Remember, old coal power stations sell electricity cheaper than new coal power stations.

    • Alen T

      With the LNG trains coming fully online demand will increase in that region.

      • john

        The LNG trains are in Gladstone some 1000 kms away

  • Greg

    I get that Abbott wants to spend the money on something that then supports people working somewhere else too… I guess that’s why they’ll often say “this project indirectly supports X,000 jobs” …. but coal has to end.

  • Alen T

    Qld state gov should get behind this proposal, it would go some way in reaching the 50% target

  • MaxG

    I am ashamed to be Australian; ashamed of the government we have; what a bunch of criminals are running this country. I reckon a bunch of fools would do a better job.

    • Aldis Bernsteins

      We do have a bunch of fools running the country!

      • MaxG

        No, they are criminals, deliberate destruction of an upcoming industry, paving the way for years to come supporting FF. This is deliberate and criminal. Fools would not be capable of such deliberate action. 🙂

        • Aldis Bernsteins

          True.. I bow to your wisdom. ☺

  • Peter Gerard

    With such combined solar/wind renewable energy projects on offer it is obvious we have a PM who is not suited to the needs of our nation. His opposition to renewable energy projects coupled with his doubts concerning man-made climate change makes him a hindrance to sensible policy direction.

  • Ryan Brown

    haha, wind farm major source then hydro and a solar power station for backup? lollllll yeah nah sorry but i like actually having electricity when I need it at any time without outtages. did the author even think this through before he wrote it? btw if you’re from NQ like me you should have solar panels on ya roof anyway. #coal4life

    • Alen T

      Stress less, adding RE to grid actually increases grid reliability. Look at Germany, their RE is consistently increase with their data on grid outages and blackouts revealing that they consistently perform better, i.e. fewer hours of network failures than grids that rely largely on FF for large part of their power.

      Your fear is a bit hyped up, and I’d suggest listening less to the babble from politicians and trusting more in Engineers, Scientists and professionals in general working on this. Unless there’s a cyclone up there, your grid will be stable/reliable.

  • JayJ

    Pure spin by Windlab I am afraid. And as for this statement “Coalition push to build a new coal-fired generator in the same area.” What push? There is none. Federal Governments don’t build power plants and nor do Queensland Governments – they have not built a coal fired station for a generation. It’s now left up to private enterprise now and that is not likely to happen as the demand is too small and also falling nationally. Pie in the Sky stuff I’m afraid

    • john

      With out a doubt it will be difficult to put in place Solar and Wind to provide the power needed however funds will be provided for a coal fired station I can assure you, the fact it will be more costly may have escaped your knowledge base.

  • Smurf1976

    If coal were cheaper then I can follow the argument in favour of using it despite the environmental impact. But if coal costs more than renewables then it’s just crazy to contemplate it since the economic “benefit” is in fact negative when compared to the alternatives. Same concept with a lot of things – some undesirable aspects might be tolerated if the cost is lower, but there’s no point doing that if the otherwise better option also happens to be cheaper.

  • john

    Build a power station transport the coal over 800 km
    Do the sums cost of power will be well over $120MW put in Wind and Solar or even CSP with Storage cost will be in the $50 to $100 MW area.
    Ongoing costs will be far lower for RE options.
    This is a base line case of which will win out as the better option.

  • Rikaishi Rikashi

    This can also be a potent weapon for revealing the LNP’s duplicity on this issue. Promoting a more expensive alternative in coal and thus increasing the cost of electricity in Queensland directly contradicts their messaging on the Carbon Tax, which they killed (supposedly) because of its effect on electricity prices. This contradiction shows that their rhetoric is empty deception, and in both cases they act in the interests of the coal industry.