The first blade install at Mt Gellibrand. All images: ACCIONA.
BY ELIZABETH FABRI
MONTHS out from bringing its fourth Australian wind farm, Mt Gellibrand, into operation, Spanish energy company ACCIONA is gearing up for its next wave of growth options.
Construction on the $258 million Mt Gellibrand project is advancing fast with the site visually transforming day-by-day.
In December, ACCIONA celebrated a long-awaited milestone with the first tower erected on site.
By mid-February four turbines were complete with blades, 13 were complete to the nacelle, and the remainder were going up at a rate of between two and three a week.
“Mt Gellibrand is progressing well,” ACCIONA’s newly appointed managing director Brett Wickham said.
“The substation’s main power transformers have been assembled and electrical cable installation is on schedule.
“There will be a total of 44 turbines at the conclusion of the erection process, and we’re still on track for July.”
All going well, the project was scheduled to begin commissioning in April, and once in service mid-year will deliver 429 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of energy a year powering about 60,000 homes and avoiding the emission of 412,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
It’s been a mammoth effort; each blade alone weighs about 17.5 tonnes, while the four tower sections collectively tip the scales at 220t.
And across the complete installation process, more than 18,000t of turbine infrastructure will be moved into place.
Mr Wickham, the new head of the Australian energy business, came on as managing director in November, after spending the last 12 years working as a company director in Australia, Spain, and South Africa.
Mr Wickham said it was great to be back in Australia after spending five years in South Africa and Spain.
“Working with ACCIONA internationally, I’ve been exposed to projects, technologies and markets across our global portfolio,” he said.
“This experience further reinforces ACCIONA’s commitment to Australia, which dates back to 2002.
“Australia continues to be a country where ACCIONA wants to grow and further invest.”
The new company head has a big task ahead of him, with a number of projects at various stages of the planning pipeline, as well as various projects through ACCIONA’s new Geotech business, led by Bede Noonan.
Mr Wickham said since acquiring Geotech in March 2017, the business has had a “successful year”.
“Just before Christmas they signed two very important contracts – the Ballarat Line Upgrade and the Southern Program Alliance level crossing removal project, both in Victoria,” he said.
“They are also involved in the joint venture between Gransolar and ACCIONA Industrial, which is set to construct one of Australia’s largest photovoltaic plants at Lilyvale in QLD.
“Suffice to say, the business is going well and there’s more [projects] to come – they have a great team and great potential.”
The Lilyvale solar farm, owned by Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, will have a capacity of 100 MWac, making it one of Australia’s largest photovoltaic plants.
In October last year, ACCIONA announced it would, in partnership with Gransolar, complete construction of the project.
Works have already begun and the project was set to be completed by the end of this year.
ACCIONA’s next development will be ACCIONA’s Mortlake South wind farm, which has been in the works since 2008 when the company first lodged a planning application.
In September 2013, initial establishment construction works began at the site, including the construction of a hardstand area, stock fencing, and compound access gates, but beyond this point the company was not able to commit to the full construction due to market uncertainty surrounding renewables at the time.
However, by August 2016 Mortlake South was back on the agenda when ACCIONA submitted an updated planning permit amendment application to the government.
Mr Wickham said the company was making progress with Mortlake South, recently entering the project into the Victorian Renewable Energy Auction Scheme.
“It’s an advanced project, in that we have received the relevant development permits, and we think it has great potential,” Mr Wickham said.
“If we are successful in the auction, we’d be looking to push forward with it and begin commercial operations in late 2020.”
A Bright Future
When asked what was next for ACCIONA, Mr Wickham said battery storage was on the cards.
“All future projects will be developed with storage potential taken into account,” he said.
“The integration of storage into renewable energy assets is a key priority for the company globally, and here in Australia we can leverage our international experience in this area.
“As everyone knows, storage technology is evolving rapidly, giving developers and asset owners many options when it comes to integration and revenue models.”
He added the company has set itself a challenge of adding 500MW of new capacity to its portfolio by 2020, including the 132MW generated from Mt Gellibrand.
“This growth could be through a mix of development and acquisition of projects,” he said.
“As part of this expansion we want to diversify our portfolio as well, so perhaps more solar and a greater focus on QLD, while reinforcing our position in the states in which we presently operate.
“Additionally, we’re exploring PPAs in more detail, and talking to potential partners about long-term agreements.
“Finally, we want to deliver sustainable growth, so we’re continuing to build our team and develop skills across the board so we have the capacity to manage a larger business.”
Mr Wickham also addressed industry calls for more high capacity power transmission lines throughout Victoria to limit clusters of wind farms.
“Transmission infrastructure needs to be planned and upgraded to help the transition to new forms of energy,” he said.
“This is a critical component of unlocking the potential of renewables.
“As technology costs decrease, there are a growing number of viable options to support the new and upgraded infrastructure suitable for a modern energy system.”