Cathedral Rock wind farm. All images: Acciona.
By Elizabeth Fabri
SPANISH energy company ACCIONA has come a long way since it first entered the Australian market in 2002. In this time, the company has invested $680 million in the country; a string of new projects are in the pipeline, including Mount Gellibrand wind farm currently under construction in Victoria’s west.
With a presence in more than 15 countries, ACCIONA Energy is a major player in the renewable energy industry with interests in wind, solar and hydraulic systems.
Globally the company has nearly 8600MW in projects that annually produce more than 21 terawatt (TWh) hours of emission-free electricity; enough energy to power six million homes.
In Australia its focus predominately lies in wind and solar, with three operating wind farms, Australia’s largest photovoltaic plant built for a client, and three further wind farms in the development stage.
The company entered the Australian market in 2002, and now its wind farms in Victoria, NSW and South Australia collectively produce 304.5MW, equivalent to the energy needs of 205,000 households, while the solar project it built and services near Canberra generates 20MW.
ACCIONA Energy senior manager of project development Iain Lawrie said the company’s decision to enter the Australian market when it did 15 years ago was a wise one.
“Certainly our entry into the Australian market way back in 2002 was really dominated by some smaller scale renewable energy targets which were in place at the time,” Mr Lawrie said.
“There was a small Federal target operating at the time and when it was completed there was a Victorian target which came into replace that so this gave the company some policy impetus to make the investment.
“But I think in the broader sphere the company recognised the renewable resources in Australia are world leading and we were well placed to try and get in relatively early in the market and become a mature player which we are now.”
ACCIONA’s existing renewable projects in Australia operated well over the last 12 months.
“It was very much business as usual in 2016 for those projects,” Mr Lawrie said.
The first of its wind projects, Cathedral Rock, is a 64MW operation near the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.
Developed in July 2004 and brought online in May 2007, the $160m project is a joint venture between ACCIONA and EnergyAustralia and meets the needs of about 35,000 households each year.
In July 2009, ACCIONA completed construction on its second wind farm, Waubra.
The $450m project,35km north-west of Ballarat in Victoria, is a 192MW farm using 128 ACCIONA Windpower 1.5MW wind turbine generators.
The project is the company’s largest wind farm in Australia with capacity to power the City of Ballarat and neighbouring areas.
ACCIONA’s third wind project, Gunning, was completed in May 2011 at a total cost of $147m.
The 46.5MW project is located in NSW, about 35km north east of Gunning and 70km north east of Canberra, and can power 23,250 homes.
In addition, the company was also commissioned by Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) to build the 20MW Royalla solar farm in Canberra.
The project, completed in 2014, was still the largest photovoltaic plant in Australia and generated enough clean energy to meet the demands of about 4,500 homes.
Projects in development
Bringing new projects into the construction phase has been an ongoing goal for ACCIONA, and soon to be realised with the completion of Mount Gellibrand wind farm.
Planning approval for the project was granted by the Victorian government back in 2006, and in 2008 ACCIONA obtained the development rights to the project, when it reduced the number of turbines from 115 to 44.
In July last year, the project was pushed forward after ACCIONA won a tender held by the State Government for the purchase of green energy certificates linked to the 66MW project, and soon after initial site establishment construction began.
Mr Lawrie said the team had been busy gearing up for the main construction works, which it expected to begin soon.
“We’ve been behind the scenes here mobilising the construction team that’s going to be delivering the project,” Mr Lawrie said.
“We’re happy that we got the power connected up to the site construction compound; so there’s been a lot of work in mobilising the construction compound out there in the last six weeks or so.
“Now we’re just about ready to start the main civil works on site at Mount Gellibrand.”
He said the team was going to be “exceptionally busy” to deliver the project ahead of its completion deadline in the first half of 2018.
“Clearly the first part of it will be commissioning the main civil and electrical works,” he said.
“Before we get fully into the wet winter period we’ll be looking to get all the access tracks in and trenching for the electrical reticulation and getting turbine foundations poured and then the delivery of the major dimension components of the project; so the towers, cells and blades be flowing with main erection activities happening over the summer period 2017/2018,” he said.
Once constructed, the wind farm located 25km east of Colac in Victoria, would generate enough energy to power about 60,000 homes and avoid emissions of about 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from coal-fired power stations.
“Overall the project is about a $275m investment so we’ve been working very closely with the Colac shire and a range of different groups to maximise local opportunities for local bidders out there,” he said.
“At the peak period of construction we will have well over a 100-120 construction workers out on site there so that will flow on to some real economic stimulus for the Colac area.
“I was down there not that long ago and there is certainly a bit of chatter around which is good to see.”
The Mortlake South wind farm in the Moyne Shire of south west Victoria has been on the drawing board for some time.
In 2008 ACCIONA lodged a planning application to develop a wind energy facility and in 2010, the project received its first planning approval by the State government.
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.
In August 2016 Mortlake South was back on the agenda when ACCIONA submitted an updated planning permit amendment application to the government.
Mr Lawrie said the project was showing a great deal of promise.
“We’re currently waiting for a decision by the Victorian minister for planning to determine a set of variations which we’ve requested to the site to the project’s planning application and that will allow us to use most contemporary and efficient turbines on site,” Mr Lawrie said.
The updated application sought to change the overall maximum height of the turbines from 141m to 186m, change the maximum tower height from 100m to 120m, reduce the permitted number of turbines from 51 to 42, remove native vegetation, and remove the restriction on blade length and replace with a restriction on the lowest swept height of 18m above the ground level.
“We’re waiting over the next month or two for a decision out of the minister and if that decision is positive then that project will be certainly the next one for us to be actively pushing and getting ready towards construction,” he said.
“We certainly see that it’s fundamentally a very good project and we’re looking forward to the decision that is made; if its positive we’re looking to get the project progressed further.”
The project itself had an estimated value of $185m, expected capacity of up to 76.5MW and would generate between 80 and 100 construction jobs and between 5 and 10 operational positions.
ACCIONA’s third project in the development phase was Berrimal wind farm; a 72 MW project proposed for a site 19km west of Wedderburn in Victoria.
The planning application was still under review by the local Buloke Shire, with no estimate on when this would be given the green light.
The project was valued at $150m and according to current plans would consist of up to 24 AW3000 3MW turbines to meet the energy needs of about 36,000 households each year.
If approved the project would also generate 80 construction jobs and five full time operation positions.
Mr Lawrie said the company had no official timing on Berrimal.
“Berrimal certainly does have a future in some way; its probably something that we’re thinking is probably [little further away] than the Mortlake project,” he said.
“We don’t have any immediate [plans] for Berrimal just at this stage but the energy market evolves very quickly so that could easily change.”
Mr Lawrie said beyond the three projects currently in development, the company was open to adding further assets to its portfolio.
“Certainly we’re open to a range of new development opportunities looking at clearly at bringing our current development pipeline that’s well known to market as quickly as we can,” Mr Lawrie said.
“ As a company we are very confident in the future in the Australian market and we recognise that we’re active in all of the mature technologies. In certain parts of the country we recognise that will be solar, and other parts of the country that will be wind, so we’re open to future developments across both those technologies.
Mr Lawrie said ACCIONA had a positive outlook toward the overall market as costs of renewable energy technology continued to decline.
“Clearly the renewables industry is a pretty dynamic place to be,” he said.
“I think that’s reflected in our ongoing ambitions and ongoing investment in Australia; in a broader sense we’re pretty positive towards things.”
“We warmly look forward to working collaboratively with the communities where our projects are based.”