Transmission group Ausnet has revealed plans for a 10GW renewable energy zone in Victoria’s Gippsland region, in what it says would be the first “industry led” renewable energy zone in Australia.
Renewable energy zones are now seen as crucial to the massive roll out of wind, solar and storage required to transition Australia’s grid from fossil fuels to renewables over the coming decade or two.
The Australian Energy Market Operator has identified multiple potential REZs in each state in the country’s main grid, and until now it has been assumed that governments will take the lead role, as they have in NSW, which is the most advanced in the country.
Ausnet is offering an alternative, and for the past 18 months has been quietly talking to landowners and potential renewable generators on how to bring renewables to the region and leverage existing infrastructure.
Its planned Gippsland REZ is centred around the Latrobe Valley, where the state’s brown coal generators are located, and it overlaps one of six REZs identified by the state government in its own master plan.
According to Damien Stanford, AusNet’s head of infrastructure and a former head of real time operations at AEMO, the company has quietly held an EoI from prospective developers earlier this year, and was advised that there was easily 10GW of projects in the pipeline.
“We are working on what will be Australia’s first industry led REZ,” Sanford told RenewEconomy while on a road trip to continue talks with local landholders.
“The idea had its genesis from local landholders, who wanted to know how they can co-ordinate efforts to transfer and bring renewables to the region and leverage the existing infrastructure in the Latrobe Valley.”
AusNet last week presented an outline of its plans to the Wellington Shire Council, and it was welcomed by major Ian Bye, who said it would bring great benefits to the region.
“Wellington Shire Council is a great supporter of renewables and we have been providing support to various proponents in our region to establish their renewable energy projects,” he said in a statement.
Sanford says the structure of the REZ, and how it will work with government and AEMO’s plans, are yet to be decided. But AusNet has been in discussions with both parties.
“What we are trying to do is understand what this would look like, to understand the infrastructure needs, and the renewables potential both onshore and offshore.
“We think we need around 10,000GW out of Gippsland, to balance the needs of the interconnectors and to provide geographic diversity to the renewables that will be built in Western Victoria.”
Sanford says there is a lot yet to be decided- the scale and pace of the project, and to what extent the zone focuses on transmission needs or distributed renewables.
He says the “discreet” EoI conducted earlier this year got more than 10,000MW of onshore and offshore project proposals, although the 2.2GW Star of the South project, which is looking at its own underground transmission link to the Latrobe Valley, was not one of them.
Sanford says AusNet’s proposal could mean that the Gippsland REZ could be advanced more quickly than if it remained part of the broader six zone plan of the state government.
“We don’t want to see a repeat of the other (connection) issues that we have seen in Victoria. It’s not good for the economics of their project, or for the communities,” he said.
“This is the first time (an industry led proposal) has ever been done in australia. We may not be successful and we may need government support, but we are keeping an open mind on what it would look like.
“The ageing coal fleet it getting less reliable. We see a real opportunity here … and if we don’t get a giddy up, we might miss the boat.”
AusNet is also involved in the proposed Western Victoria transmission line, which is designed to open up renewable energy opportunities in that part of the state, but has run into fierce opposition from some landowners.
Sanford noted that big transmission infrastructure hasn’t been done for 30 years at the scale envisaged by AEMO’s Intergrated System Plan. “There are many learnings there from how to engage with communities,” he said.
On Gippsland, Sanford says the REZ will work as long as it makes commercial sense, it gets community support and technical requirements can be met.
“We think it can fly, both commercially and technically. What we need to do now is put more detail on that consideration.”