Australia’s largest renewable energy operator is planning major investments in massive wind farms in New South Wales, and is also looking at a handful of big battery and other storage projects.
Powering Australia Renewables on Monday completed the takeover of Tilt Renewables’ Australian assets, delivering it a 50 per cent boost in operating wind and solar farm capacity and a development portfolio of more than 2.2GW.
CEO Geoff Dutaillis expects the first major investment decision – on the 396MW Rye Park project north of Yass in NSW – to occur within the next month or two, given that the project already has a deal with Newcrest Mines to take much of the output.
Rye Park will be the biggest in NSW to date, but an ever bigger project – the 1.3GW Liverpool Plains wind farm in New England – could follow, and will also likely include a hybrid element such as solar and storage.
“We’re keen to get (Rye Park) over the line,” Dutaillis told the latest edition of RenewEconomy’s Energy Insiders podcast
“It’s no secret that New South Wales is an attractive region within the National Electricity Market,” given the need to replace the state’s ageing coal fleet and the state government’s renewable infrastructure roadmap.
“We don’t necessarily need the roadmap to get Liverpool across the line, but it gives us optionality to bring it forward in a different way and make it bigger.
“We are very focused on it not just being in a big wind farm. We need to get storage and flexibility capability into the portfolio.”
PowAR is also considering its first move into Western Australia, with the 108MW Waddi wind and solar farm, and it has a 410MW wind project at Palmer, about 50kms east of Adelaide in South Australia that it is also looking to get across the line.
Dutaillis says storage is also a key focus. “We want to move into supplying firm green electrons at a cost competitive price. So that brings with it the need to get storage into the portfolio, we need to get flexibility capability in portfolio.”
Potential battery storage investments include a range of battery storage possibilities in Victoria, and in Queensland next to the Coopers Gap wind farm, as well as at Liverpool Plains.
However, a proposed “behind-the-meter” battery next to the Snowtown wind farm in South Australia is on the back burner because the market rules make it too complex and difficult to be competitive.
But PowAR is also looking at tapping into other storage technologies, including solar thermal and compressed air storage that is currently subject to regulatory investment test at Broken Hill, and could help support its Broken Hill solar farm and Silverton wind farm, both of which have been held back by the limitations of the transmission network at various times.
PowAR is 40 per cent owned by 40 per cent owned by the Queensland Investment Corporation and 40 per cent by the Fund, and AGL owns a 20 per cent stake.
Its operation assets also include the country’s biggest operating wind facility, at Coopers Gap in Queensland (working up to 453MW), and from Tilt it also gets the 336MW Dundonnell wind project in Victoria, which is also working to full capacity.
Dutaillis said PowAR shared the renewable energy industry’s concerns about the proposals included in the Energy Security Board’s redesign of market rules, particularly the introduction of “capacity” markets that have been championed by federal energy minister Angus Taylor.
“We’re already seeing that the development of renewable projects in this country has stalled,” Dutaillis said.
“The evidence speaks for itself. In Q1 2021 just one project of 400 megawatts reached financial close. And I’m pretty certain that the data that comes out next week from Clean Energy Council will be close to zero megawatts being financially committed.
“That’s the lowest since before 2016. So that kind of tells you that these all of these hits that the industry is taking a dent in investor confidence.”
Transmission and connections were also a key issue, and needed new links to be built and the connections process to be improved.
“One of my really big concerns, from a system perspective, is that we’re not going to get there quick enough with that transmission and the new renewables (needed) to replace the coal retiring coal fleet,” Dutaillis said.