Hydro Tasmania’s King Island wind project represents a lot more than just an extra 600MW of wind, if it manages to proceed. Instead it could really be seen as a 1000MW wind project combined with an option on a lot more highly flexible hydro generation from Tasmania. Generation that will become increasingly valuable as we increase the penetration of variable wind and solar, and close down coal.
That’s because this King Island wind project and its associated renewable energy certificates can help to underwrite not just a connection between King Island and Victoria, but also a new interconnector between the whole of Tasmania and Victoria. This opens up a range of additional possibilities for renewable energy, while also altering the shape of the national electricity market more generally.
If you look at a map of the region surrounding King Island you’ll see it lies close to the North West tip of Tasmania and a place called Robbins Island (White Rock). There have been a few developers over the years that have eyed this place off with its incredible exposure to high winds off the Southern Ocean.
Woolnorth wind farm, which is only down the road, is considered one of the best wind farm sites in the country (and indeed the world) with average wind speeds rumoured to be in the realm of 9 metres per second. With modern wind turbines you could expect capacity utilisation approaching 50 per cent for such a site, while still employing a cheaper, shorter turbine blade than what is now becoming standard practice for other sites around the country.
In 2010, Eureka Funds Management put forward a proposal for a 440MW wind farm at this location (marked as White Rock – 300MW), following up on an earlier proposal from Pacific Hydro. But it has been viewed as a bit of pipedream, due to inadequate transmission infrastructure. If the King Island project and associated interconnector get built this project will no longer be a pipe-dream.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that two of the biggest electricity consumers in the state, Temco Maganese and Bell Bay Aluminium Smelter are financially struggling and at significant risk of closure in the next few years. According to reports in the Hobart Mercury, former Hydro Tasmania Chairman, Peter Rae, believes that if these plants were to close, the existing Basslink interconnector would have insufficient capacity to export the surplus generation created from their closure.
So the King Island Wind Project could act to solve several problems at once – it would allow Australia to better exploit a currently stranded world-class wind resource; and convert the almost inevitable closure of metal smelters into an opportunity rather than a waste.
Of course one should not count their chickens before they’ve hatched. Hydro Tasmania has been very anxious to emphasise that this project is entirely contingent on receiving the support of the King Island community, and consultation has only just begun. Also for this project to stack up financially and support the construction of the transmission line to the mainland it must be big.
Whether you build a small or large capacity undersea transmission line the costs are pretty much the same so economies of scale are incredibly important. Its large scale will inevitably make it a very prominent feature of the island and so it will attract considerable community interest.
No doubt Sarah Laurie and others afflicted by wind turbine delusionalitis will be spreading all sorts of fear amongst the community over the next few months, so Hydro Tasmania better be prepared.