NSW’s New England region is expected to attract investment of almost $13 billion in new wind and solar generation and transmission thanks to the state government’s plan to develop a massive Renewable Energy Zone in the area, but may raise concerns about lagging investment in “firming” generation.
The state’s second proposed REZ in the Armidale region, to be formally announced by deputy premier John Barilaro on Friday, is intended to involve some 8000 megawatts of generating capacity. He said the $75 million initiative would lower power bills, create jobs and make regional NSW “the home” of renewable energy investment.
Some 8000 MW of wind and solar generation could be located in New England in NSW. Stock Photo NSW energy and environment minister Matt Kean said the nine-fold level of interest in the state’s pilot REZ in the central-west around Dubbo meant it made “absolute sense to go even bigger” with the New England one.
A request in May for expressions of interest for 3000 MW of new generation for the central-west REZ attracted a huge 27,000 MW of proposals.
Renewable energy zones, which involve coordinated upgrades to the transmission network to enable multiple new generating plants in a region with strong renewables resources, are a central pillar in NSW’s electricity strategy, announced last November.
Advertisement Under that strategy, the government is aiming to have sufficient capacity to cope with the state’s two largest power generating units being offline during a one-in-10-year heatwave, but with a generation mix that helps reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
NSW is the state due to see the country’s next major shutdown of a baseload coal plant, with AGL Energy set to close the Liddell generator in the Hunter Valley in April 2023. Meanwhile, investments in fast-start gas or pumped hydro plants that could help fill in the gaps between weather-dependent renewable power have been delayed, although the Snowy 2.0 storage project is proceeding.
Solar stocks, poor performers in recent years, have roared to life recently.
The news of the super-sized New England REZ comes after the Clean Energy Council reported this week that confidence among investors in clean energy in NSW had risen since December despite COVID-19. It put the improvement down to the amendment of planning laws that allow for large-scale battery storage systems, along with the government’s commitment to three REZs. A third REZ is planned in the state’s south-west.
Clan Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said that while grid bottlenecks and a lack of federal energy policy remained a concern, initiatives by state governments to expand renewables energy had heartened investors. Investor confidence also surged in Queensland and was marginally higher in Victoria.
Still, the energy networks industry peak body has questioned whether the zones run counter to an agreement signed by all states and territories in 2004 to pursue a nationally consistent energy market. Energy Networks Australia said that legislation passed in Victoria earlier this year allowing the state to ‘go it alone’ on transmission investment, and minimum demand measures in South Australia, also posed questions around that commitment.
The renewables zone in New England, which would build on large wind and solar projects at Glen Innes and Armidale, would be able to power 3.5 million homes.
“The New England REZ is expected to attract $12.7 billion in investment, support 2000 construction jobs and 1300 ongoing jobs – all while lowering energy prices and future-proofing the regions,” said Mr Barilaro.
The Nature Conservation Council of NSW’s acting chief, Jacqui Mumford, said the North-West REZ would generate clean energy jobs and economic activity that was needed after the summer bushfires, drought and COVID-19. But she called for NSW to move faster towards zero- carbon energy, urging an end to coal and gas power production by 2030.
AGL Energy chief executive Brett Redman said last week the utility planned to run its Bayswater coal generator in the Hunter Valley until 2035.