Agri-business company Nectar Farms has announced a $565 million expansion of its new hydroponics business near Stawell in the Victoria’s western districts, that will include a 196MW wind farm and 20MW of battery storage and make it 100 per cent renewable-powered.
In what is a unique project in Australia, Nectar Farms will expand its 10 hectare state-of-the-art hydroponic glasshouse and plant technology to 40 hectares to supply vegetables to local and international markets.
It is possibly the first time that a major project has relied on the ability to source renewable energy, because without it the cost of fossil fuels would have been too prohibitive.
Nectar Farms had planned to use gas – as the hydroponic farms needs heat and Co2 – but the cost was overwhelming and the gas supply was not guaranteed – so instead of abandoning the project altogether, or moving it elsewhere, it has turned to renewables and decided to completely electrify the process.
After months of negotiation between the company, the state government, the local council and the wind farm developers, it was agreed that Nectar would source its power from the neighbouring $350 million Bulgana wind project, that will feature 63 turbines, and 20MW/34MWh of battery storage.
In effect, the hydroponic vegetable farm – the biggest glass-house in Australia – is going 100 per cent renewable. The Victoria government will issue a contract for difference to buy the output of the remaining output from the wind farm, although those details have not been negotiated.
“This project will make Stawell Nectar Farms the world’s first ever protected crop farm completely powered by renewable energy,” Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement.
It is important to note that this 20MW/34MWh battery storage installation is not part of the Victoria tender for two 20MW battery storage arrays in western Victoria with a total of 100MWh of stored energy, although it may be expanded if Neoen wins a role in the tender.
Andrews said that the hydroponics project will add much-needed jobs – 1300 in total – in an area that recently experienced a gold mine closure. In fact, the new facility is to be built on land once owned by the gold mine.
Energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio said it underpinned how renewable energy can unlock opportunities for large, energy intensive businesses, to create jobs in regional communities.
“We’re delivering affordable, secure and clean energy, which is powering new jobs right across our state,” she said. There have been no details given on the scale of the government investment in the project.
There was no word on the pricing of the package for Nectar Farms, but given that Origin Energy recently signed a deal to buy electricity from the Stockyard Hill wind project for less than 6c/kWh – or around half the current price of wholesale electricity – it can be assumed that it will save on energy costs.
It is understood that the wind supplied to the farm will be “behind the meter”, as will the battery storage project. This means that the farm will be 100 per cent powered by renewables (it only uses about 10 per cent of the wind farm output).
Neoen, which is building the wind farm, said in a Vimeo announcement the farm would receive a “competitive” price for its energy. It described the project as a “world first.”
Nectar is not the only vegetable grower to turn to renewables energy. In South Australia, Sundrop Farms is being powered, and provided with heat and desalinated water, through a 30MW solar tower power plant.
And in north Queensland, the Korean owned zinc refiner Sun Metals is underpinning a planned expansion of its refinery by building a 110MW solar farm to reduce its electricity bills.
The Nectar Farms project and green energy hub is expected to create 1,300 new jobs.
Victoria renewable energy advocate Simon Corbell says the project was in danger of being abandoned, and the decision to use renewables marks a fundamental switch for manufacturers and renewasble energy in Australia.
“Using wind and battery means that the project can completely decouple its presumed reliance on gas. This has been make or break for getting the project over the line and it is a world first,” he said.
Bulgana is one of a number of wind and solar farms being proposed and built in western Victoria, partly to help meet the federal renewable energy target, but also Victoria’s own target of 40 per cent renewables by 2025.
Neoen CEO Franck Woitiez told Reneweconomy: “There were a lot of jobs at stake. The combination of price and reliability of renewables makes the business viable.”
He said the storage had been designed to match Nectar Farms needs and for the project to be 100% renewable. It will also add to grid stability in the region that is likely to require upgrades to deal with the sheer scale of the 3,000MW or so of planned wind and solar projects.
Woitiez said Neoen also has applied the Victoria government tender for another two 20MW (up to 100MWh) of battery storage in the region, and if it won that tender it would expand this storage facility. It has still not decided on the storage supplier. The turbines will be supplied by Siemens-Gamesa.
The French-based Neoen is currently building the third stage of the Hornsdale wind farm in South Australia, as well as three solar plants in western NSW totalling 130MW. It also built the 10MW solar farm at the Degrussa copper mine in WA that also includes storage.
The news comes on a big day for wind energy. Apart from the unveiling of the unique Bungala wind-storage project;
The opening of the 240MW Ararat wind farm in Victoria took place today. The wind farm won a contract for 40 per cent of its output to help the ACT meet its 100 per cent renewable energy target. The biggest project was announced on the day after agreement was finally reached on the future of the RET in 2015.
APA advanced plans for a new 130MW wind farm in Western Australia that will be combined with another wind farm and a new solar farm to create a new 230MW renewable energy hub.
And Hydro Tasmania signed an off-take agreement for the 110MW Granville Harbour wind farm on the west coast of the island.