Billions of dollars worth of large-scale renewable energy are in the pipeline across the Hunter

The Hunter Region is fast becoming a powerhouse for large-scale renewable energy projects that will help drive the region's transition from coal to a low-carbon economy.

Bright future: University of Newcastle has committed to buying 100 per cent renewable energy

 Bright future: University of Newcastle has committed to buying 100 per cent renewable energy

While several of the projects remain in the planning phase or under construction, they will ultimately offset the loss of AGL's 2000 megawatt Liddell power station, which is slated to close in 2022.

Tony Wood, Energy Program Director for the Grattan Institute told a Upper Hunter economic breakfast earlier this year that the Hunter's decision makers needed to prepare for the effects of a global shift from coal-fired electricity generation to renewable sources.

"The direction and drivers of change are clear. Less clear are the scale and rate of change in Australia over the next three decades," he said.

Among the large-scale renewable energy projects due to come on-line in the next decade are a 250 megawatt wind farm at Bowman's Creek, a 250 megawatt pumped hydro scheme at Bells Mountain, a 250 megawatt gas-fired power station at Tomago.

AGL, which is also behind the pumped hydro scheme, is preparing to lodge a development application for the gas-fired power station in mid-November.

Both projects are examples of the company's move to a renewable energy mix.

"Peaking gas power, like the proposed quick-start gas generation plant at Newcastle, can be turned on during peak demand periods or whenever renewables aren't available," a spokeswoman said.

It is also hoped the 113 megawatt Kyoto energy park near scone, which was given state significant planning status more than a decade ago will be built.

The $200 million project will be home to 34 wind turbines and 100 hectares of solar panels and a mini pumped hydro plant.

Malabar Coal is also finalising a development application for a solar farm at the old Drayton Mine near Muswellbrook.

It is estimated the 25 megawatt project would generate about 50 jobs during construction and provide power for 10,000 homes.

"The site is adjacent to the major electricity generation hub in NSW - with the Liddell and Bayswater Power Stations located nearby - and we would have access to high voltage power lines meaning a simple and low-cost connection to the grid," chairman Wayne Seabrook said.

The Department of Planning has also approved plans for a $117 million, 62 megawatt solar farm at Vales Point power station late last year.

Power pump:Pumped hydro works by circulating water from the lower reservoir in the mine void into an upper storage site. Upon demand, water is released and uses gravity to turn turbines and generate electricity.

 Power pump:Pumped hydro works by circulating water from the lower reservoir in the mine void into an upper storage site. Upon demand, water is released and uses gravity to turn turbines and generate electricity.

The project, which could potentially power 20,000 homes, will be built on a 80 hectare area of rehabilitated ash dam.

Distributed energy resources, investment company Enernet Global and Delta Electricity have signed a power purchase agreement for the sale of 87 gigawatt hours of energy from the Vales Point solar farm.

Construction is due to start in the second quarter of 2020 and be commissioned by the end of the year.

Delta Electricity chief executive Greg Everett said the project was an example of traditional and renewable power generation technologies co-existing.

"The partnership with Enernet recognises that both dispatchable power and low emission technologies have a role to play in supporting an affordable, reliable and sustainable national electricity grid," he said.

Greg Wilson, Research group leader in solar technologies at the CSIRO's Newcastle energy centre, said the Hunter Region was "punching above its" weight in relation to the installed capacity of solar technologies.

"We expect to see that trend continue in coming years," Dr Wilson said.

"When you look at the capacity that has come online with the advances occurring in battery storage technology you have a very powerful mix."

The Newcastle Herald reported on Saturday that the number of full-time equivalent jobs in the renewable energy industry nationally rose 28 per cent (3,890 jobs) in 2017-18 from a year earlier.

Half of that employment growth is attributed to large-scale renewable projects, such as those underway in the Hunter.

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thorntonattributed the strong growth in the uptake of renewable energy, particularly in regional areas, to the success of the government's renewable energy target policy.

The policy designed to ensure that at least 33,000 gigawatt-hours of Australia's electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020.

The policy is broken down into small-scale and large-scale projects.

It's a gas: AGL is preparing to lodge a development application in mid-November for a gas-fired power station at Tomago.

 It's a gas: AGL is preparing to lodge a development application in mid-November for a gas-fired power station at Tomago.

The Clean Energy Regulator announced in September that Australia had met the large-scale target more than a year ahead of schedule.

"The industry doesn't need new subsidy, we just need certainty - renewable energy can continue to create opportunities for regional parts of the country for many decades with the right policies in place," Mr Thornton said.

Renewable energy can continue to create opportunities for regional parts of the country for many decades with the right policies in place.

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton

"We've always said that if you set us a target, we will beat it. We've hit the bullseye with a year to go, and it's time to start asking ourselves what comes next."

In addition to renewable energy production, several major Hunter-based organisations and businesses have committed to the purchase of green energy.

The University of Newcastle made history last year when it become the first Australian university to commit to purchasing 100 per cent of its power from renewable sources.

"Social and environmental responsibility is at the very core of our operations. Our students, staff and community told us they want us to demonstrate our commitment to environmental sustainability in a tangible way, so we are extremely pleased to partner with Red Energy to use 100 per cent renewable electricity," vice-chancellor Alex Zelinsky said.

Molycop has signed a long-term purchase agreement with Flow Power to provide renewable energy for its steel manufacturing plant at Waratah.

Molycop's expected offtake of renewable energy is 100,000 megawatt hours per year, which covers more than half of its electricity consumption in NSW.

"This agreement is an important milestone for Molycop, it not only provides strong support to Australia's pipeline of renewable energy infrastructure projects that will also benefit the wider community," Molycop's Australasia president Michael Parker said.

"It also enables us to gain greater control over volatile energy costs."

Logistics company CHEP installed organic printed solar cells on its Beresfield warehouse last year.

Created by University of Newcastle physicist Paul Dastoor, the organic printed solar cells are printed on a ultra-lightweight, laminate material, similar in texture and flexibility to a potato chip packet. The material delivers unprecedented affordability at a production cost of less than $10 per square metre.

University of Western Sydney Senior Research Lecturer on Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability Neil Perry argued earlier this year that the Hunter needed to have strong transition strategies to counteract the loss of jobs in the coal sector in coming decades.

Modelling contained in the analysis study "Weathering the Storm: The case for transformation in the Hunter Valley" showed how a proactive transition process would result in the creation of 595 more jobs than would be lost from coal mining over the next two decades.

This scenario, Professor Perry said, would require significant diversification through building on the region's existing strengths in the agriculture, tourism and manufacturing.

Story by Matthew Kelly, Newcastle Herald 21st October 2019