TWO renewable energy projects slated for the Upper Hunter are spearheading the region's transition away from coal to a low-carbon economy. Matthew Kelly from the Newastle Herald reports:
A proposed 250 megawatt wind farm at Bowman's creek east of Muswellbrook and a 25 megawatt solar farm on the site of the former Drayton colliery would provide power to more than 100,000 homes when operational.
Tony Wood, Energy Program Director for the Grattan Institute told a recent Upper Hunter economic breakfast 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.
Renewable energy company Epuron, which is behind the Bowman's Creek wind farm project, has approval for eight wind farms across the state that have a combined output of 4000 megawatts.
The company is completing a feasibility study into the 70 to 80 turbine Hunter project, which is likely to be valued at about $550 million.
"There is a good wind resource. We are currently conducting wind monitoring to confirm this and to identify the most prospective locations," project manager Julian Kasby said.
"The area also has extensive existing high voltage transmission lines suitable for connection."
Malabar Coal is working to finalising a development application to build a solar farm on a portion of the old Drayton Mine site outside of Muswellbrook.
It is estimated the project would generate about 50 jobs during construction and ultimately provide power for 10,000 homes.
"When we looked at it, it made great sense to put a solar farm here," chairman Wayne Seabrook said.
"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."
Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush the said the prospective projects were welcome.
"I think there is an understanding and acceptance in the wider community that energy transition is happening. There's no problem with solar and wind providing they create jobs and generate affordable energy," he said.
Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon agreed.
"It makes perfect sense, both of these projects are ideally situated next to existing power transmission infrastructure," he said.
"Most people accept that coal is not going to be with us forever; it's probably got another 15 years in it. In the meantime we have an opportunity to develop and invest in new clean energy technologies that will provide the jobs in a low carbon economy."
The projects are in addition to the proposed $200 million Koyto energy park outside of Scone.
The park, which received fast-tracked state government approval a decade ago would feature 34 wind turbines and 100 hectares of solar panels.
The Department of Planning approval also approved plans for a $117 million, 55 megawatt solar energy project at Vales Point power station late last year.
The project, which could potentially power 20,000 homes, will be built on a 80 hectare area of rehabilitated ash dam that forms part of the broader power station site.
The project will support 100 construction jobs over the 18-month construction period.
Mr Wood told the economic breakfast that Australia's thermal coal exports appeared stable in the short to medium term.
However, in the longer term, the risks were on the downside and could accelerate quickly.
He compared Australia's response to preparing for these trends with the five stages of grief.
"Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes us eventually able to navigate loss. We are currently struggling with denial," he said.
"In the denial stage, we are able to find data and opinions to support our preferred view of the world and ignore the data that say otherwise.
"Ultimately, the accumulating, quantitative and qualitative data should lead to acceptance and strategic planning."