Queensland’s biggest wind farm powers up near Mareebra

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Ratch Australia begins electrification of its 180MW Mount Emerald wind farm, says full operation expected to commence in November this year.

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Queensland’s biggest wind farm to date, the 180MW Mount Emerald facility near Mareebra, is powering up, as the project that signalled a change in the Australian wind industry’s fortunes back in 2015 nears completion.

Project developers Ratch Australia said on Tuesday that the first of the wind farm’s 44 completed Vestas turbines (six more are yet to be fully erected) had started to turn as part of a staged testing and commissioning process. 

Ratch said the tests were a “significant milestone” in Mount Emerald’s “electrification,” with the completion of the site’s substation and switchyard which were now energised and sending the power generated to the grid.

“It’s a very important milestone and is the culmination of lot of work by a lot of people over a very long period of time,” said Ratch head of business development, Anthony Yeates

“We’ve now commenced generating electricity and sending it into the grid, and we’ll be ramping up the amount of generation over the next few months as additional turbines get commissioned,” he said.

“We’ve invested thousands of hours into site preparation and building the project and now we get to see it in action and producing electricity.

“It is very satisfying this has come together like we planned and it’s a great payoff for all our hard work, particularly for many local suppliers who have been with us from the start.”

As we reported here, the $380 million wind farm had a rocky road to approval, before finally getting the green light from the notoriously anti-wind Coalition federal government in November 2015, marking a change in sentiment in the national market and the arrival of large-scale wind energy in Queensland.

Before then, Mount Emerald had come up against significant local opposition, and in June 2014, then Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney called in its development application, taking responsibility for approval away from the Mareeba Shire Council.

Once approved, the project sealed a power purchase agreement in 2016 with regional utility Ergon to buy all its output until 2030, to help the network and energy retailer meet its renewable energy targets. Financial close followed soon after, with finance from ANZ, NAB, Societe Generale and the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFJ).

Ratch said this week that the remaining construction and turbine installation activities would be completed alongside turbine commissioning over the next few months, with full operation expected to commence in November this year.

Yeates said he was also very pleased with the efforts on site to ensure the project had delivered a high level of protection to the local ecology.

“We’ve had various teams of specialists on site who have worked very hard to make sure the procedures for protection of cultural heritage, flora and fauna have been carefully integrated into our work, as well as processes to ensure any unexploded ordinance on the site was carefully managed.

“At times this work introduced new challenges, but we are proud of the outcomes and consider we have probably set some sort of benchmark for future projects” he said.

The wind farm will deliver around 530,000 megawatt-hours of renewable energy – enough to power about 75,000 north Queensland homes over a 20-year period – and boost Queensland’s renewable energy credentials significantly, Ratch said.

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