The New South Wales government will fast-track planning approvals for the first batch of transmission network upgrades that are set to unlock the state’s first Renewable Energy Zone and billions in new clean energy investment.
NSW planning minister Rob Stokes announced on Thursday that the NSW government had declared the Central West Orana Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) Transmission project a ‘Critical State Significant Infrastructure’ project, seeing it granted priority status throughout the planning approval process.
The project will see new transmission lines and substations constructed across the Central West Orana region, designed to boost the ability for new wind, solar and storage projects built in the region to connect to the grid and deliver power to the rest of the grid.
Stokes said that the first tranche of network upgrades to be delivered by the project would be the first major step in establishing a Renewable Energy Zone centred around Dubbo in the state’s central-west region.
“If approved, this project will deliver 3,000 megawatts of new energy capacity which is enough to power 1.4 million homes and pave the way for $5.2 billion in private investment in renewable energy projects,” Stokes said.
“This would increase the grid’s capacity and enable the development of Australia’s first coordinated Renewable Energy Zone which will support the pipeline of wind, solar and energy storage projects in the Central West Orana region.”
NSW energy minister Matt Kean welcomed the progress towards establishing the state’s first Renewable Energy Zone.
“Last month we got our landmark energy legislation through the Parliament, and now we get on with the job of delivering the cheap, reliable grid that will power us into the future,” Kean said.
“Transmission is such a critical piece of the energy infrastructure puzzle. We have seen huge investment interest in generation and storage projects for the Central-West Orana REZ, and projects like this will ensure we can get that capacity into the grid and into homes and business across the State.”
The NSW Parliament recently passed legislation to enable the NSW government to coordinate new investment in network and generation infrastructure, including the ability to offer price guarantees to new generation projects.
Kean has said that the state’s plan could see up to 12GW of new low emissions electricity generation capacity built by 2030, enough to replace up to four coal fired generators expected to close by 2035.
The Australian Energy Market Operator included an assessment of the Central West Orana zone in the 2020 Integrated System Plan, estimating that the region had the potential to supply up to 7,200MW of solar power and an additional 3,000MW of wind energy projects.
TransGrid, which is set to undertake the construction of the new transmission network infrastructure, said the declaration would allow the company to commence consultation on the works in the near future.
“Early in 2021, our people will be in the Central-West Orana region talking to communities and it is important we hear from landowners as we plan new transmission lines, a substation and other infrastructure as part of the project,” TransGrid CEO Paul Italiano said.
“Their feedback will inform planning about the transmission line route and help us minimise impacts on communities and maximise benefits for the local region.”
TransGrid is expected to prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposed works, which will be released for public consultation and assessment by NSW planning authorities.
“The proposed transmission lines will run north-west from the existing network near Merriwa, passing south of Dunedoo, before proceeding south-west to connect to the existing network east of Wellington. The study corridor includes an option to extend further south near Lake Burrendong. Wollar substation will also be upgraded as part of the transmission project,” TransGrid said in a statement.
TransGrid expects the network project to be ‘shovel-ready’ by the end of 2022, and anticipates construction commencing in 2023. The company said that the lessons learnt during the establishment of the Central West Orana Renewable Energy Zone would be used to inform the development of two subsequent zones, earmarked for the state’s New England and the South West region.
The NSW government has prioritised a number of major energy infrastructure projects throughout 2020, to support new investments in new supplies of clean energy and energy storage.
The Snowy 2.0 project, which is set to deliver a significant boost to the state’s energy storage capacity, and likewise received an expedited approvals process as part of the Berejiklian government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy.