Wind farm Developments in South Australia: Select Committee Inquiry

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1 Wind farm Developments in South Australia: Select Committee Inquiry Introduction REpower Australia is a leading provider of grid connected wind farms in Australia. We directly employ over 170 people, and have built over 900 megawatts (MW) of wind energy projects valued at more than $2 billion in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. In South Australia alone we have delivered six wind farms equating to over 500 MW of installed capacity. As a result of our activities in the State, our employees have had the privilege of becoming part of the local communities around the wind farms, and we have seen the benefits that wind farms can bring, including regional investment and employment opportunities. In addition to our construction activities, we are also developing the Ceres renewable energy project on the Yorke Peninsula. The Project will generate an estimated 600MW of electricity destined for input into the Adelaide power grid, providing significant social and economic benefits to South Australia and the Yorke Peninsula region. Wind energy in South Australia South Australia is a global leader in wind energy development. This is due to its excellent, worldclass wind resource, broad community support for renewable energy, and a stable investment climate for clean energy projects. According to the Clean Energy Council (CEC) 1 South Australia hosts close to 50% of Australia s total wind-generating capacity. This has resulted in over 840 direct jobs, and over 2,400 indirect jobs. Wind energy now accounts for more than 20% of South Australia s electricity production (AEMO), producing enough clean electricity to power over half a million homes (CEC). In it s 2011 South Australian Supply and Demand Outlook, AEMO noted that an increase in wind energy generation is driving down greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation in the State. 2 The CEC has calculated that wind farms in South Australia have prevented over 3.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere. Wind farm development in South Australia has stimulated over $1.7 billion investment in Australian businesses (CEC). South Australians are highly supportive of wind energy. In January 2012, Pacific Hydro released survey results looking at the support for wind farms in regional Australia 3. The research found that community support for wind farms is very high. Close to 70% of people surveyed preferred building wind farms compared to a new gas or coal fired power station. By contrast, 90% of people surveyed in South Australia said they support wind farms Page 1 of 7

2 Ceres Renewable Energy Project We are currently developing the Ceres Renewable Energy Project in South Australia. This project will generate around 600 megawatts of clean electricity and provide significant social and economic benefits to South Australia and the Yorke Peninsula region. The considerable scale of the Ceres Project and its innovative connection strategy will significantly enhance South Australia's long-established reputation as a leader in sustainable energy. The wind farm will generate considerable environmental, economic and social benefits to the Yorke Peninsula community and the State of South Australia, including but not limited to; Enough electricity to power up to 225,000 homes every year; Up to 2,500,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions avoided each year - the equivalent of a 278,000 hectare large tree plantation; Approximately 500 direct jobs during construction and 50 ongoing jobs during the operation period of 25 years. An opportunity for local farmers to diversify their income streams and continue to develop their agricultural pursuits; The establishment of a dedicated fund to support community programs throughout the life of the wind farm; An efficient, direct and secure High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) connection into Adelaide via submarine cable across the Gulf St Vincent, the first renewable energy project of its kind in Australia. The potential to fast-track broadband access to the Yorke Peninsula to coincide with the laying of the submarine cable. Terms of reference Separation distances between wind turbines and residences or communities We do not support the introduction of mandatory separation distances between wind turbines and residences or communities. We do support a scientific, standards-based approach to project assessment that can balance the benefits of a particular wind farm with any impacts. The South Australian planning system ensures that the impacts of individual wind farms are carefully assessed, and that the amenity of local residences and communities is protected. The planning assessment process creates a unique buffer zone around every wind farm based on standards designed to maintain the amenity of neighbouring residences, as well ensuring local environmental and cultural values are protected. The creation of arbitrary separation distances between turbines and residences (as seen in Victoria, and the draft NSW wind farm planning guidelines) risks the creation of buffer zones that: are too large in some instances which unnecessarily impact on the commercial viability of a wind farm; or are too small in other instances resulting in an unacceptable level of impact on the local community. The application of arbitrary setback distances without a scientific basis is inconsistent with the assessment framework applied to the approval of other infrastructure projects. Page 2 of 7

3 The social, health and economic impacts of wind generators on individual landholders, communities and the State Wind farm projects provide a range of benefits for local communities and local businesses, including investment, employment, training and community funding. Investment As a result of wind energy development in the State, South Australia is seeing significant investment in regional areas. In the Government s 2011 A Renewable Energy Plan for South Australia it was noted that South Australia has secured wind energy developments valued at around $2.8 billion. 4 According to the CEC, wind farm development in South Australia has stimulated over $1.7 billion of investment in Australian businesses. A study undertaken by Sinclair Knight Mertz (SKM) 5 for AGL has estimated that construction of the four existing Hallett wind farms in South Australia added an equivalent of 1.15% to the Gross Regional Product of the Mid North Region. Wind farms provide valuable additional and stable income for host landowners benefitting them directly, as well as the local community. A recent CEC study found that a typical 50 megawatt (MW) wind farm pays host farmers some $250,000 per year. 6 Wind farms also provide significant opportunities for local business. The SKM study for AGL indicates that there is strong local business support for the Hallett wind farms, with local contractors employed during construction, and increased activity for a range of businesses in the region, including accommodation and food service providers, domestic electricians, transport operators, machine operators, quarries and concrete businesses. 7 CEC analysis found that a typical 50 MW wind farm is constructed by workers who spend up to $1.2 million locally, and contributes up to $80,000 annually to community projects. 8 From our direct experience, we have seen how local communities benefit from wind farms. Since 2010, REpower Australia has invested close to $41 million in South Australia to support our activities there. Employment The SKM study commissioned by AGL found that the current Hallett wind farm projects created close to 100 full time annual employment positions to support construction of the projects. Employment opportunities were also created for 36 full time service technicians who are required to maintain the wind farms over their 25-year lifespan. Training The development of the wind industry is resulting in exciting new training opportunities. For example, over 700 people applied to be part of our wind farm apprenticeship program, which is being run in partnership with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and is the first of its kind in Australia. The program has so far provided 10 apprentices with the opportunity to develop their skills by working on our wind farm projects which will prepare them for the clean energy jobs of the future. 4 A A Renewable Energy Plan for South Australia Page 3 of 7

4 We are working with universities and educational institutes to develop specialist training for engineering graduates and accreditation for our wind turbine technician training program. Over the past 5 years, we have worked with the SA Government to deliver over 2,500 days of training worth over $700,000 to South Australians, predominantly from the mid north regional area. This training has developed skills in construction, high voltage operation, safety, management and leadership, as well as specific training for the installation and maintenance of wind turbine generators. We are also working with the TafeSA indigenous access unit to set up a pre-vocational program for the Narrunga indigenous community to assist young people from the community to get qualifications and jobs on the Ceres renewable energy project that we are currently developing. As a result of the development of the wind industry in South Australia, and the demand for skilled personnel, a renewable energy training centre has been established at Mt Gambier TAFE. We now use this TAFE to deliver electrical training to our technicians across three states. As a result of our training programs, there are a number of locals from Jamestown in South Australia who have gone on to work on wind farm projects around the world, including in Brazil, Spain, and Nicaragua. These international roles have built leadership capacity and the ability to work across cultural and language barriers in the South Australian workforce. Manufacturing The development of wind farms also results in opportunities for local manufacturing. For example, RPG Australia has expanded its operations at it s Adelaide manufacturing facilities to meet demand for towers for wind farm projects in South Australia. Community funding It is common for the owners of Australian wind farms to establish a voluntary community fund established by its owner to provide support to important community projects. For example, the development of the AGL Hallett Wind Farms has resulted in over $110,000 being made available for community projects. 9 Through our development activities with the proposed Ceres Project in South Australia and the Rugby Wind Farm in New South Wales, we will be working with the community to design a community benefits package for each project that will continue to benefit the community over the life of the wind farm. The need for a peer-reviewed, independent academic study on the social, health and economic impacts of wind generators We continue to welcome peer-reviewed academic studies into the impacts of wind generators. Before a wind farm is built in Australia it must meet a range of strict standards, which ensure that the impacts of individual wind farms are fully understood and are deemed to be acceptable. In particular standards are in place to ensure that wind farms do not pose a risk to health in terms of noise, shadow flicker, blade glint and electromagnetic fields. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is Australia's peak body for developing health advice for the Australian community. 9 Page 4 of 7

5 In its 2010 report, Wind Turbines and Health: A rapid review of the evidence the NHMRC found that: "There are no direct pathological effects from wind farms and any potential impact on humans can be minimised by following existing planning guidelines." In its subsequent Public Statement on Wind Farms and Health released in August 2011, the NHMRC stated: "There is currently no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects." We will continue to support the work of the NHMRC as it continues to review the scientific literature to examine any possible impacts of wind farms on human health. The capacity of existing infrastructure to cope with increased wind power There is a range of measures that can facilitate the expansion of the wind energy industry in South Australia beyond current network constraints. The South Australian example highlights how electricity networks can successfully integrate a significant proportion of electricity from clean energy sources like wind. A major limiting factor to the future expansion of the wind energy industry South Australia is the capacity of existing transmission infrastructure. In 2011, ElectraNet commissioned a study by ROAM Consulting to assess the capacity of wind generation in South Australia. 10 This study found that the current network infrastructure could support another gigawatt of wind generating capacity. The most significant factor that would increase the potential for new wind farm generation in South Australia is an increase in the capacity of the interconnector to Victoria. There are other measures that can help manage an increased penetration of wind energy in the network, including: increased participation of wind energy in the market, including voluntary wind curtailment; complementary supplies, such as co-locating peaking plant (hydro or gas) near wind farms; wind energy forecasting, such as the Australian Wind Energy Forecasting System (AWEFS), to inform the operation of other generators in the network; smarter networks that enable better communication between the energy market and energy users, to facilitate more sophisticated demand side response to changing supply (such as automatic appliance control); storage technologies, including the use of electric vehicles, to store clean energy and feed it back into the network as required. The costs and benefits of wind power in South Australia Wind power delivers a wide range of environmental, social and economic benefits. Investment in renewable energy must occur in order for Australia to move to a low carbon economy. The Large-Scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET) is the main driver of investment in renewable energy projects in Australia. This is an effective and efficient market mechanism that delivers renewable energy at least cost to energy consumers. Wind energy is a mature and 10 Page 5 of 7

6 competitive technology that will deliver the bulk of the investment in clean energy technologies under LRET. Increased investment in wind energy in Australia will have a very small impact on energy prices. In November 2011, the AEMC released a report - Possible Future Retail Electricity Price Movements: 1 July 2011 to 30 June This report found that the most significant driver of rising energy prices relate to investment in aging distribution networks and increases in wholesale electricity prices due to the carbon price. These factors are expected to increase retail electricity prices by over 27%. By contrast, the Large-Scale Renewable Energy Target is anticipated to have a very small impact on energy prices to 2014 (approximately a 1.4% increase on retail electricity prices). The environmental impacts of wind generators and wind power generally Wind farms deliver significant environmental benefits, and have minimal environmental impact. In Australia, the stationary energy sector accounts for around half of our total greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy, low carbon energy and the significant uptake of energy efficiency measures can play a significant role in reducing our reliance on carbon intensive energy supplies. As a mature and proven renewable energy technology, wind energy in particular has an important role to play in reducing the greenhouse intensity of our energy system. Analysis by the CEC indicates that wind energy in Australia has resulted in the avoidance of close to 7.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere to date 12. Increased investment in new wind farm projects will help Australia make the transition to a lower carbon energy supply, delivering ongoing greenhouse gas abatement. In addition to the direct environmental benefits associated with renewable energy supply, wind farm developments are designed to avoid and minimise any impact on the natural environment. Australian wind farms are required to undertake detailed flora and fauna studies during the planning process to ensure that any impact to threatened species and communities is minimised. In some instances, the development of a wind farm project can result in improved environmental outcomes for the local area. For example, Infigen s Capital Wind Farm in NSW has resulted in an extensive and sophisticated tree planting program that is delivering biodiversity and erosion mitigation benefits. At Infigen s Woodlawn Wind Farm in Victoria, 1,000 trees and shrubs have been planted to contribute to native biodiversity, and to build a wildlife corridor on the site. 13 The siting of wind generators in South Australia There are many factors that impact on the siting of a wind farm. The commercial viability of a wind farm is heavily dependent on a range of factors, in particular the wind resource and access to the electricity network. The acceptability of a prospective wind farm location requires detailed environmental and cultural heritage studies, as well as studies looking at impacts on the amenity of the local area, such as noise and visual impact. In addition, consultation and engagement with the local community is a very important part of the development process, and helps inform the location and design of a wind farm html Page 6 of 7

7 For these reasons, there are some parts of South Australia that can t support wind energy development currently such as the Eyre Peninsula due to the high costs associated with connecting to and upgrading the electricity network. The approval process of wind farms in South Australia South Australia has an effective and efficient planning process for new wind farm developments. We broadly support the Statewide Wind Farms Development Plan Amendment released in October of A key factor supporting the expansion of South Australia s wind industry is the effective and efficient planning process for new wind farms. This has underpinned the development of the industry to date, and maintaining an appropriate planning framework will result in the continued investment in new wind farm projects in the State. Page 7 of 7

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