Wind farms may be the ‘Formula One cars’ of future power systems?

Renewable Energy

Tasmania sees plenty of opportunities for power generation rather than simply selling to the mainland. (Supplied: Goldwind Australia)


Tasmania is embarking on a new era of energy production, with multi-million dollar wind farms being constructed, and plans for billions of dollars of more projects in the pipeline.

Key points

  • Tasmania could be 95 per cent renewable energy self-sufficient by the end of the year once Cattle Hill Wind Farm is in full operation
  • If all proposed Tasmanian wind farm developments go ahead, the state will have more renewable energy than it needs
  • The wind farm boom has created hundreds of Tasmanian jobs and could help attract more industries

The boom is creating work for steel and civil engineering companies.

So is Tasmania on a verge of a wind farm boom, and where will all the power go?

Steel fabricators are busy welding, civil engineers are busy planning, and millions of dollars is being spent upgrading roads to allow huge wind farm parts to be transported to construction sites.

But does the island state really need a lot of wind farms?

“There [are] some reservation in terms of how much more does Tasmania actually need from wind farms,” said Ray Mostogl, from the Tasmanian Minerals, Manufacturing and Energy Council (TMMEC).

“[And another question is], is Tasmania just building these wind farms for the rest of the country to use?”

A new era for wind farm developments

Two major wind farms — Cattle Hill and Granville Harbour — are currently under construction in Tasmania, and at least another four are being planned.

Goldwind Australia has three of its 48 turbines installed at its Cattle Hill site in the central highlands near Waddamana, and it wants the $300 million project completed by the end of this year.

Once operational, the farm will feed around 144 megawatts of energy to Tasmania’s grid, enough to power 63,000 homes.

Wind farm under construction.
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Construction at Cattle Hill Wind Farm is scheduled to be completed before the end of the year. (Supplied: Goldwind Australia)

Launceston-based steel fabrication business Haywards is making 20 per cent of the Cattle Hill tower parts at its workshop at Western Junction.

Steve Edmunds, Haywards managing director, said the project had allowed the company to employ extra staff, with 30 full time employees, plus 30 subcontractors working day and night to get the towers finished on schedule.

Haywards managing director Steve Edmunds.
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Haywards managing director Steve Edmunds said he had employed more staff to get the turbine towers built. (ABC News: Manika Dadson)

“It’s important for us to keep the ability and capability to be able to do wind farms, it’s certainly a way of the future,” Mr Edmunds said.

“I think it’s important to try and increase the renewable energy that Tasmania can supply into the mainland market.

“We have a fairly stable requirement here in the state, but if we can produce the power and have the ability to work that in with the hydro schemes, I think that would be terrific.”

Welding wind turbine at Haywards.
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Towers being welded at the Haywards factory will be used at the Cattle Hill project. (ABC News: Manika Dadson)

John Titchen, Goldwind Australia’s managing director, said the company’s main aim for its Cattle Hill farm was to supply the Tasmanian market first.

“Cattle Hill Wind Farm should produce approximately 5 per cent of Tasmania’s electricity needs,” Mr Titchen said.

“At the moment, Tasmania has about 90 per cent indigenous renewable energy supply, and the Tasmanian Government has the objective of 100 per cent renewable energy supply from Tasmanian sources, and this [wind farm] will close that gap.”

A 112-megawatt wind farm at Granville Harbour is the other wind farm under construction., while UPC’s controversial giant 500-megawatt farms at Robbins Island and Jimms Plains is in the planning stage.

UPC also wants to develop another farm at Rushy Lagoon in the state’s north east.

Low Head has also been touted by another company as a possible wind farm location.

Farms making our energy more reliable: experts

Energy analyst Marc White said the proposed wind farms, combined with solar and hydro storage, would make for low cost, reliable power.

“Wind farms combined with our hydro resources are what we call the perfect dancing partner,” Mr White said.

Turbine at Cattle Hill Wind Farm.
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Tasmania hopes to get all of its power supply from renewables. (Supplied: Goldwind Australia)

“Our hydro storages and our hydro generators, they’re the freight train of the system. They chug through and keep the system stable.”

“The renewable energy generators such as solar and wind, they’re more like what we call the Formula One cars.”

But experts believe, should all the proposed farms be developed with the market as it is, Tasmania will have more power than it needs.

Excess power from the island state is pumped to mainland Australia through a cable under Bass Strait.

If the state needs power, the cable also acts a lifeline, as energy can be pumped back to it from Victoria.

Project Marinus, which has been tasked to look at the feasibility of a second underwater power cable link, found earlier this year that another cable would “enable lower cost, on demand, and reliable renewable generation” for the country.

Some Tasmanian wind farm developers, especially those behind Robbins Island, hope the Marinus link will soon become reality, to help them distribute power to more consumers nationwide.

“There’s a little bit of conflict around the interests of consumers and the interest of developers [for the second interconnector],” Mr White said.

Wind turbines in snow.
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Three of the wind turbines in place at the Cattle Hill Wind Farm. (Supplied: Goldwind Australia)

Who pays and where does the power go?

Mr Mostogl said as Tasmania already had enough energy to sustain itself, it raised questions about who should pay for the proposed Marinus link, the second undersea cable to the mainland.

“Tasmanian consumers pay for the grid, so is it appropriate for every Tasmanian consumer to pay extra, not for the power that we need, but for the power that somebody else uses?” he said.

Wind turbine manufacture in Tasmania
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Wind turbine manufacture could continue in Tasmania if more proposed wind farms go ahead. (ABC: Manika Dadson)

A 2017 report by energy policy expert John Tamblyn into the potential of a second interconnector found if Tasmania lost a major energy user and had excess energy, it would improve the case for another interconnector.

So what happens to all the proposed wind farms if the dream of a second interconnector is never realised?

Mr Mostogl said it could be “pointless” having so many windfarms in Tasmania if a second interconnector is never built.

“The short answer is ‘yes it probably is pointless’ because those people building the wind farms need to get a return and they’ll only get a return if they can sell electricity,” Mr Mostogyl said.

“If we’ve already got a saturated market, which we largely have in Tasmania, then the second interconnector is the main mechanism to drive the use of the energy,” Mr Mostogl said.

Wind turbine towers in shed.
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Haywards is making 20 per cent of the wind turbine parts for the Cattle Hill project. (ABC News: Manika Dadson)

‘Golden opportunity’ in excess power

But he also believed the wind farm boom could also provide a new “golden opportunity” for the state, even without a second connector.

“The alternative is to actually attract more consumers and more industry to Tasmania to use the power on the island,” Mr Mostogl said.

“Now that’s a game changer, because not only do we get the benefit of the construction of the windfarms, but we’ve got hundreds of thousands of jobs for people using that energy to make products and to upskill and that’s ongoing for generations.

“Using the extra energy on the island is probably the gold star in this whole equation.

“Generating energy and sending it to the rest of Australia is probably a silver star.”

For company like Haywards, who are reaping the benefits of wind farm construction jobs, they hope the boom continues.

Wind turbine towers being moved in yard.
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These wind turbine towers will be used at the Cattle Hill Wind Farm. (ABC News: Manika Dadson)

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