Hydro Tasmania's massive wind play

Hydro Tasmania has announced plans to build Australia's largest wind farm, for as much as $2 billion. But it requires major transmission augmentation to become a reality.

* This article has been updated following the official announcement from Hydro Tasmania.

Australia has a new wind project we may be able to call our largest, at least for a year or two.

This afternoon Hydro Tasmania has announced it is considering building a 200-turbine wind farm on King Island that would carry a price tag in the realm of $2 billion. The project is at the pre-feasibility stage, with community views sought before deciding whether to pursue a full feasibility study in April next year. The company said it has been looking into the concept for the past 15 months.

"It is most important that we seek the views of the King Island community," Hydro Tasmania Chair David Crean said. "Their support is crucial for the project to go to the full feasibility stage."

If eventually approved, construction would begin in 2017 with completion in 2019. As such the timeline allows it to be built in time to contribute to the 2020 renewable energy target.

Using 3MW turbines, the development will generate around 600 MW of electricity. This would make it Australia’s largest wind farm, deposing the soon to be finished 420 MW Macarthur wind farm in Victoria.

Hydro’s new project, if it proceeds, has the benefit of being able to capitalise on some incredibly strong wind speeds on King Island, but will require an augmentation beyond the existing capacity of BassLink interconnector between Victoria and Tasmania. The cost of $2 billion is on the high side for a 200-turbine development – it would usually come in under $1.5 billion – highlighting the significant spend needed on infrastructure to connect the project to Victoria.

"While sitting in the path of the world-class wind resource that is the Roaring 40s makes King Island the perfect location for such a project, it is important to emphasise that it is very early days,” Dr Crean said.

Wind’s progression

How quickly we move forward. In 2003, our largest wind farm was the just completed 52.5 MW Challicum Hills development, owned by Pacific Hydro. In the same year South Australia’s first wind farm opened. Wind now provides a quarter of the state’s electricity supply.

The Macarthur wind farm will be fully operational in February next year and when open will trump Infigen Energy’s 278.5 MW Lake Bonney wind farm (completed in three stages) and Acciona’s 192 MW Waubra wind farm as the largest in the country. Other mega wind projects include AGL’s Silverton project with approval for 1GW, the 750MW Kennedy Wind Farm and Wind Prospect’s 513MW Dandaragan project north of Perth. Of course each of these, just like King Island, would require major transmission augmentation to become a reality.

Kennedy remains up in the air, with the website for the development still insisting construction will begin in 2012. It definitely will not – and may never happen. Silverton meanwhile, is to be built in stages, the first of which will be 300 MW in 2015, leaving Hydro to potentially claim top spot on the biggest list late this decade.

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