Spanish renewable energy giant Acciona is to build a 1GW wind farm in Queensland – the largest in Australia – after signing a deal with the state government’s newly created state-owned clean energy generation company Cleanco.
In an announcement on Thursday, CleanCo is to build its own 100MW wind farm at the 1.026GW MacIntyre project near Warwick in the southern downs region of the state, and contract another 400MW of capacity from the project owner Acciona. This will pave the way for the entire project to be built by 2024, with the first power to be delivered in the middle of 2022.
The 400MW contract from CleanCo amounts to the entire amount of long-awaited RE400 program, initially launched in late 2017. It means that another nine projects out of the ten projects shortlisted by the government last year will go without.
There also appears to be no storage component in the announcement, despite the fact that eight of the nine competing projects had a storage component, and storage was a key component of the original tender. Among those to miss out were Goldwind’s 800MW Clarke Creek wind farm with battery storage near Rockhampton, and Neoen’s Kaban renewable hub, including battery storage, near Ravenshoe.
Other proposals came from Edify Energy, First Solar, Infigen Energy, Lyon Infrastructure (now in liquidation), Pacific Hydro, Vena and Windlab. Some of those proposals may have been impacted by newly discovered “system strength” issues in north Queensland which has led to constraints on three large scale wind and solar projects.
CleanCo has a mandate to source another 1,000MW of capacity over the next five years, but it is not immediately clear how or when this will be managed.
The deal was announced by deputy premier and treasurer Jackie Trad and energy minister Dr Anthony Lynham, who said it would be the first publicly owned new renewable energy asset to be built in two decades.
Early works are expected to start later this year, with construction scheduled to run from mid-2021 to 2024, with the precinct generating its first power from mid-2022. It will connect via a 64km line to the Milmerran sub station. The wind farm is located about 50kms south west of Warwick and will be built on around 36,000 hectares of mostly sheep farming country.
“For the next few months, the entire focus of the Queensland Government is on protecting Queenslanders’ health, Queensland jobs and Queensland businesses,” Trad said in a statement.
“But when we move into the recovery phase, we need shovel-ready projects that will support more jobs in more industries, especially in regional Queensland.
Cleanco will build its own 18-turbine facility within the project – a total capacity of around 100MW, and contract the output of another 400MW.
“CleanCo’s involvement in the MacIntyre Precinct has nearly doubled the size and capacity of the wind farm, with Queenslanders set to benefit from the addition of more than one gigawatt of new renewable energy to our electricity network—the equivalent to powering almost 700,000 homes,” Trad said.
Lynham said it would be one of the largest onshore wind farms in the southern hemisphere.
Acciona Australia Energy managing director Brett Wickham said the project would generate up to 400 jobs, and a community enhancement program will be established to deliver added value to the local community.”
“The project is scheduled to begin construction in mid-2021, with a gradual start-up in phases to ensure connection to the grid with full technical guarantees for the state’s electricity system. The entire MacIntyre complex will be operational in 2024,” he said.
There will be 180 turbines – each 5.7MW in size, built by Nordex, which now owns Acciona wind power – on the site and two completely independent wind farms. One will be the CleanCo complex of 103MW, while the remaining 923MW will be the McIntyre wind complex.
Wickham told RenewEconomy that Acciona will seek to contract more of the outstanding 526MW, but some will be “merchant”, meaning it will take the price on the wholesale market.
“Acciona has committed to building the whole lot,” Wickham told RenewEconomy. “It’s very exciting. It’s not very often you get to announce a gigawatt project. I’m tempering my enthusiasm because of the covid-19 virus. Everyone is working from home and, working for a Spanish company, it makes us only too aware of the impact of the pandemic.”
Wickham would not comment on the cost of the power from the wind farm.
Previously, energy minister Lynham has suggested that both wind and solar is priced below $50/MWh in Queensland, and the current futures market is pricing in a wholesale price of around $50/MWh in 2022 and beyond, meaning that the wind farm will lose money if the cost of power is more than that.
And given that Acciona has landed the entirety of the 400MW tender, and includes no storage, one must assume it was priced very competitively. “We are building it at a price that allows us to build it,” Wickham said.
“This will be our sixth wind farm in Australia, and first in Australia.” He said there is no storage component in the project at this stage, but noted that the wind farm was “very complimentary” to solar PV production in the state.
The announcement was welcomed by advocacy group Solar Citizens.
“It’s a smart move by the Queensland Government to roll out renewable energy infrastructure announcements now, so that Queenslanders reap the job and investment benefits in the months and years to come,” said Ellen Roberts, Solar Citizens’ National Director.
“Right now a lot of families are doing it tough and more clean, renewable energy projects will help drive down power prices.”
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