Remote Australia reliant upon clean energy push

4 Jun 2013

Australia’s Gulf region is on the verge of a boom that can be facilitated by greater investment in renewable energy, according to the CEO of Cairns-based development agency Gulf Savannah Development.

Rob Macalister – one of the keynote speakers at All-Energy Australia 2013 in Melbourne on October 9th and 10th – is optimistic about the future in the area, which covers nearly 200,000 kilometres, from Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands through to the Northern Territory border.

Gulf Savannah Development represents the interests of five local governments and key industry stakeholders, including mining and transport companies.

The organisation’s objective is to increase the uptake of renewable energy, reduce the community and industry’s dependence upon fossil fuels and facilitate more investment.  Many remote Gulf communities are not connected to the national grid and much as 50 percent of the region’s population has to find its own energy sources.

He says the Gulf region has a number of world class renewable energy sources, with five new projects currently at various stages of development – three solar, one wind and one biomass.

The first stage of the Doomadgee Solar Farm has just been completed. More than 1,000 solar panels with a capacity of 264 kilowatts have been installed, resulting in a saving of 115,000 litres of diesel fuel each year. There are plans for future expansion of the farm.

A second, well-developed project is the five megawatt Normanton Solar Farm, in which investors are looking to supplement local supply off the grid. “Rather than importing energy 1,000 kilometres via a transmission line, it is cheaper to produce locally,” Mr Macalister says. Investors are looking to finalise a power purchase agreement.

So, too, are those associated with the 80 megawatt Forsyth Wind Farm, which will feed into the national grid. Mr Macalister says there are no reservations about introducing wind farms into the region. There is no opposition from Councils or locals. Communities have been supportive and a number of other wind projects are being looked at.

An integrated food and energy project along the Gilbert River also has a biomass plant as part of its plans, but it is still at an early stage. The intention is for some of the crops it would produce, like sugar cane tops, to be burnt to produce energy.

There is also a proposal for a solar farm for Gregory township, which is likely to be of a similar size to Doomadgee Solar Farm. Mr Macalister says there is no power supply there now, but this would be a good way for the community to embrace clean power and grow as a result.

Mr Macalister says there has been a strong level of community interest in renewable energy over the past five years.

“There is no doubt the investment climate has improved since the federal government introduced clean energy incentives, but both the federal and state government need to maintain policy settings conducive to investors.

“Because we are a growing economy, power demand has jumped and with the development of new projects in the mining and agriculture sectors we forecast a further, significant increase in coming years.

“For instance, one of the new mines that will get going in the next five years will have demand for a 20 megawatt power plant.” Mr Macalister says.

He says there are many prospective mines appearing and because none of them are on the grid, they are all looking at how they get readily available and affordable energy.

“When you look at the costs of trucking in diesel, you have to think about an alternative, cost-effective solution and this is where we believe renewable energy provides a real opportunity.”

Mr Macalister says the transport kilometres covered annually are far more than those associated with city dwellers in terms of trucking in diesel, moving produce and something as simple as going back and forth to boarding school, where many younger residents receive their education.

He says it is important for all stakeholders to plan ahead for the next couple of decades and a key part of that has to do with finding cheap, viable forms of power.

“If the renewable energy target of 20 percent by 2020 gets wound back it will make it harder to attract capital for new projects, so it is important we – as a country – stick to that and then the future is bright.”


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