As a nation, Australia has some of the highest quality resources for renewable energy, and as a state, Queensland enjoys favourable sunshine hours that support both domestic and large-scale solar assets – but what about wind?
More favourable conditions for wind farms in the southern states of Australia have limited Queensland’s role in the wind energy market to one of an eager spectator. Traditionally, these southern states have attracted the lion’s share of investment, but now with its shifting priorities, Queensland is in the mix and keen to capitalise on a new wave of development opportunities.
So what has changed for Queensland? In short, a good dose of political goodwill backed up with meaningful policy changes. Under the Palaszczuk government we have seen intent to diversify Queensland’s energy interests to include more renewable energy assets and establish a more sustainable path towards Queensland’s energy future. Wind energy can, and likely will, play a key contributing factor towards the energy diversification of Queensland.
Why is this? It has been clearly demonstrated within Australia, and across the globe, that wind offers an affordable, clean source of energy which can help to reduce our reliance on coal and other fossil fuels that power our communities. Recognising this, the Queensland government adopted a range of policy initiatives aimed at supporting new renewable energy investments in the state.
This included the establishment of an independent Renewable Energy Expert Panel to investigate credible pathways to unlock the state’s renewable energy potential and, perhaps most importantly for wind energy, a wind farm development code with an associated supporting planning guideline to facilitate wind farm development in the state.
The wind farm development code – a framework to foster consistent assessment and approval of wind farm developments in Queensland – was released in mid-2016 and has brought with it some keen interest to the state from some of Australia’s leading energy providers.
The code brings together national as well as international best practice, removes the burden of assessment from local councils and places determination in the hands of the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA).
With the wind farm code in place, developers have greater certainty around technical studies, design requirements and planning approval timeframes. This has helped instil confidence in those investing in such schemes.
However, all this means very little if you cannot reasonably connect your wind farm to the transmission or distribution networks. The recent merger of Energex and Ergon Energy to create a new entity – Energy Queensland – provides a renewed focus on the challenges facing Queensland’s transmission infrastructure and reduced capacity outside of the major population centres and established mining townships.
With Energy Queensland initially focusing its efforts on providing grid connection access for renewable energy projects as well as the government’s Advance Queensland programs, both of which have funded a number of progressive research and development initiatives, it is clear that the government’s commitment to growth in the renewables sector is genuine.
With the state government on side, policies to facilitate wind farm development and plenty of major players seeking new opportunities in the renewables sector, Queensland seems to have struck a balance that serves economic, environment and consumer stakeholders in the energy market.
Continued advances in renewables technology, government policy and price reduction in large scale wind, solar PV and storage will likely open up regional Queensland for further wind and solar developments – which will often be complimentary of each other.
Innovation in technology and increased global demand will likely further drive down the costs of wind turbines and help facilitate future investment. This, together with the guidance and support of Energy Queensland and the government’s Advance Queensland programs, it’s more than a cliché to say the future of large-scale renewable energy developments in Queensland is ‘bright and breezy’. It’s fast becoming a reality.
Mark Herod is Queensland renewable market lead at AECOM