NSW formally declares Australia’s first Renewable Energy Zone

Bango wind farm near Yass in New South Wales (CWP Renewables).
The Bango wind farm near Yass in New South Wales (CWP Renewables).

The NSW government has officially established Australia’s first dedicated Renewable Energy Zone, making a formal declaration of the Central-West Orana zone that will host at least 3GW of solar, wind and storage.

The new zone, centred around the regional hub of Dubbo, is the first of at least five REZs to be created in NSW as part of its infrastructure plant to replace its rapidly ageing fleet of coal fired power stations.

The formal declaration details the geographical area covered and the amount of new generation and network capacity that will be constructed within it.

The declaration kick-starts the official process of establishing the zone, which will ultimately see a series of auctions to see which projects, among at least 27GW proposed for the area, will be included.

NSW energy minister and treasurer Matt Kean said the dedicated zone would attract at least 3,000MW of new renewable energy and energy storage capacity, along with $5.2 billion of new investment and 3,900 construction jobs in the region over the next decade.

“NSW is driving the nation’s action on climate change by securing our economic and environmental prosperity for decades to come,” Kean said.

In a not so subtle jab at the federal government, Kean said the plan was being delivered not just by ‘targets and plans’ but also legislation that passed with almost universal support through the state parliament.

“In NSW, we not only have targets and plans, we also have nation-leading legislation that will deliver on our commitment to halve emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050,” he said.

“REZs are modern day power stations which bring together low-cost solar and wind generation with transmission and storage to produce cheap, clean and reliable electricity.”

The declaration sets out planned network upgrades, including the construction of new high voltage linkages and capacity increases to existing lines, to accommodate the new renewable energy projects.

The NSW government flagged that it would provide further guidance on potential network access schemes, consultation with First Nations communities, and potential Long-term Energy Service Agreements to be signed between project developers and the NSW government to help de-risk REZ projects.

A request for expressions of interest from proponents looking to build projects within the zone attracted an extraordinary response, with 27GW of wind, solar and storage projects lining up to take advantage of the zone that will be supported through dedicated investments in new network capacity.

EOIs were received from more than 100 potential projects, with a total investment of $38 billion, significantly exceeding the amount of capacity needed.

A new public entity, the Energy Corporation of NSW, will oversee the coordination of transmission, generation, firming and storage projects within the renewable energy zone.

In this role, the Energy Corporation of NSW will take on responsibility for recommending new network infrastructure within the declared renewable energy zone, as well as leading consultation efforts with local communities, investors and government departments to ensure new infrastructure can be built and projects can be connected to the grid without delays and constraint issues that have plagued some parts of the grid.

State MP for Dubbo, Dugald Saunders, said the declaration of the Central-West Orana zone was a key milestone for the region.

“As we know our region is blessed with some of the best renewable resources anywhere in the country, and this REZ will provide jobs, investment and economic benefits for generations to come,” Saunders said.

“We have spent a long time consulting and working with local communities to make sure this infrastructure is built where our local community wants it, and I will continue to represent community interests.”

The declaration follows the NSW government receiving another flood of applications in response to a call for potential pumped hydro energy storage projects, with a combined 11GW of proposals, with the state government looking to build up the state’s energy storage capacity to support its pivot to renewable energy.

The NSW government also received a massive 34GW of project proposals for the New England Renewable Energy Zone, slated for the state’s north, as developers again exceeded the 8GW of capacity sought for the zone.

Michael Mazengarb is a climate and energy policy analyst with more than 15 years of professional experience, including as a contributor to Renew Economy. He writes at Tempests and Terawatts.

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