Civil contractors prepare the foundation for one of 53 turbines at the Mt Emerald Wind Farm. All images: Ratch Australia.
BY ELIZABETH FABRI
EARLY construction obstacles – including unexploded WW2 bombs – have not stalled development of Ratch Australia’s $380 million Mount Emerald Wind Farm, with the foundations now being poured ahead of a planned start date in September 2018.
Described by Ratch Australia’s construction director Rene Kuypers as one of the “most challenging” projects he has worked on, the 180 megawatt (MW) Mount Emerald Wind Farm has involved a vast amount of planning and preparation.
The greenfields project itself sits on a 900m elevated site, surrounded by sparse natural scrubland and rocky outcrops that will soon be home to the largest wind farm ever seen in Queensland, with turbines standing more than 30 stories tall.
The original plan involved the erection of 75 turbines, but after industry and community consultation, 63 turbines were approved for the site and 53 were agreed to be built.
In late 2016, early construction works began; and a number of site challenges followed.
On top of navigating the site’s steep and undulating terrain and tight environmental regulations, the region’s history as a World War II mortar training facility was brought to the surface when a small number of unexploded devices were uncovered during earthworks.
Mr Kuypers said during clearance surveys of the area, specialised consultants identified six confirmed unexploded ordnance (bombs), as well as 150 exploded or remnant items, predominantly mortar tail fins.
“Strict protocols were followed to allow the device to be removed or disposed of before works can continue in the area,” he said.
“Protocols included establishing an exclusion zone, defence department inspection and if required disposal/removal, followed by final inspection and re-opening.”
The company also had to ensure the natural heritage of the region was preserved; collecting 1000 artefacts to be analysed and returned to site, as well as implementing a number of measures to protect local flora and fauna.
“Cairns based environmental consultants painstakingly assessed all construction zones to identify endangered plants,” Mr Kuypers said.
“These plants are avoided wherever possible, however in some cases ecologists are having great success in relocating them to new homes away from construction.”
The consultant also placed specialised traps across the designated construction zones to capture any northern quolls within the site.
“The initial estimate of the quoll population on site was around 55, however, work to date has seen 90 individuals captured and collared with all seemingly going about their business in an undisturbed manner,” he said.
With earthworks hurdles now behind them, Ratch and its contractors were focused on ramping up construction activities on site.
Global wind energy leader Vestas is responsible for construction of the project along with major subcontractors Consolidated Power Projects (CPP) and Civil & Allied Technical Construction (Catcon).
In August, the project reached an important milestone when the first of the 53, 800-tonne foundations were poured.
A month later on 20 September, the first shipment of freight for the tower sections arrived at Cairns Port, followed by the arrival of the first wind turbines blades, weighing 16 tonnes each.
The blades will be transported directly from the wharf to a newly constructed project cargo laydown area, purpose-built by Ports North to accommodate the components before they are transported by road to the windfarm site.
Mr Kuypers said the project featured two types of wind turbines from Vestas’ 3MW platform, Vestas V112 and V117 models, to take advantage of the site’s specific characteristics.
“Vestas’ 3MW platform is designed for a range of wind conditions, and is highly regarded for delivering industry-leading reliability, serviceability and exceptional energy capture,” he said.
“Each turbine features a three-blade rotor controlled by a microprocessor pitch control system, and based on the prevailing wind conditions, the blades are continuously positioned to optimise the pitch angle.
“All turbines of the 3MW platform have an increased nominal power and advanced sound reduction modes to ensure noise is kept to a minimum and well below the government mandated limits.”
QLD Acting Premier and Treasurer Curtis Pitt said the new arrivals would be followed by back-to-back shipments over the coming months, with an estimated 185,000 tonnes of cargo to be delivered.
“The Mt Emerald Wind Farm project represents a significant boost to our local economy, especially for the contractors, suppliers, transport, and logistics companies involved,” Mr Pitt said.
Powerlink will also build a dedicated 275kV substation to connect the wind farm to the network.
The power company was now mobilised on site, undertaking preparation works to connect the wind farm to the existing transmission network via the Woree to Chalumbin transmission line.
Ergon Energy has also agreed to purchase all of the electricity generated by the project through to the end of 2030.
Investing in North QLD
Mount Emerald wind farm is one of 20 renewable projects that have been committed to or under construction in QLD, totalling 1800MW and delivering $3.4 billion of investment.
“Renewable energy is now the cheapest and quickest way to deliver new generation, which is why we’re focusing on securing the next wave of large-scale renewable energy projects in Queensland,” QLD Energy minister Mark Bailey said.
Ratch Australia executive general manager business development Anthony Yeates said given the State’s strong push for renewables, there was “a clear business case” for Ratch to invest in renewable generation in QLD, particularly in the North.
“The region is supportive of sustainable energy because of its need to protect its world renowned natural assets,” Mr Yeates said.
“One of the best things we have found with our operations in North Queensland is that it has always been easy to recruit people to work there, especially from interstate.
“I guess it is the climate and the lower costs of living in the region compared to other major Australian cities that are the major drawcards.”
Mr Yeates said the Mount Emerald Wind Farm started off as an idea by Port Bajool’s John Morris to bring cleaner energy to one of the world’s most sustainability conscious regions and he was “pleased to have helped to make it a reality.”
“[The project] has taken a huge team effort from many different parties over a long period, and we are proud to be delivering a project which is not only low carbon but which will meaningfully add to North Queensland’s energy security,” he said.
Mr Yeates said he believed the local generation would “help reduce electricity prices by minimising costs associated with transmission of power over long distances from further south”.
“The project will insulate the regional electricity market from fluctuations in fuel prices by increasing the diversity of the energy system,” Mr Yeates said.
“It is also hoped that we will encourage a positive investment environment for future projects that will help grow a local renewable generation network to include various forms of solar, hydro and biofuels.”