Engel hails Aussie wind progress

Completion of the giant Macarthur wind farm shows the potential of the Australian wind market, now that the country’s political and regulatory set up seems to be heading in the right direction, Vestas CEO Ditlev Engel tells Recharge.

At 420MW, Macarthur is the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest wind farm. The project – which comprises 140 Vestas V112-3MW turbines – is located in the west of Victoria, 300km west of Melbourne.

Operators Australia’s AGL and New Zealand’s Meridian have invested A$1bn ($1.04bn) in the wind farm.

Engel was speaking by telephone from Australia, where he will be taking part in the formal opening of Macarthur on Friday.

“When we signed the order in August 2010 the V112 turbine was still in the process of being developed, and a lot of due diligence was made to move ahead with this new platform,” Engel says.

“When you sign such a big order and such a big infrastructure project you hope things will go well and they have,” he adds, pointing to the fact that the project, which was constructed by Vestas and partner Leighton, has been completed three months ahead of schedule.

Analysts estimate that Australia’s wind market has the potential to install up to 1GW per year given the right conditions.

Engel points to the country’s good wind resources and abundance of land, as well as analyst reports showing that wind is cheaper than both gas and coal fired generation in Australia.

“In Denmark we have 44,000 square km and in Australia we have 8 million square km, so there is a lot of space. The nimby issue shouldn’t be an issue.”

Engel points to “good bipartisan support” for Australia’s 20% renewable energy target. However, the company has no plans to establish turbine production facilities in the country at present, having closed down its previous facilities in Tasmania in 2005.

“We don’t see manufacturing being set up until there is a significantly bigger market, but there are lots of opportunities,” says Engel, noting that Vestas currently has a 50% share of the Australian turbine market.

The turbines for Macarthur were produced in Denmark, although the towers were produced in Australia by Keppel Prince Engineering and RPG Australia.

Output from Macarthur is enough to power 220,000 homes in Victoria and abate over 1.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year.

The project created 644 direct jobs and 2,183 indirect jobs in Australia during the construction phase, and will require 115 direct and indirect jobs over its 25-year lifetime, including 30 full-time staff to operate and maintain the wind farm.