4 GW Walcha project moves forward, massive solar+battery component seeks approval

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It has been a busy weekend for the Walcha Energy Project, a 4 GW wind, solar and pumped hydro energy storage hub proposed for the New England tablelands of northern New South Wales. A scoping report has been submitted for a massive solar+storage renewable energy hub, Danish wind giant Vestas has acquired a majority stake in the first wind development with a potential capacity of up to 700 MW, and feasibility studies for a pumped hydro energy storage component of the project have progressed to the next stage.

Project developer Walcha Energy has lodged the scoping report with the NSW Department of Planning & Environment for the 700 MW Salisbury Solar Farm to be located on the Salisbury Plains south east of Uralla. The report also includes a 100 MW/150 MWh battery energy storage system, a new 330 kV substation that will operate as a new grid ‘hub’ supporting the development of the New England Renewable Energy Zone (REZ), and associated transmission infrastructure.

Located about 30 km south of Armidale, the Uralla hub will serve as the connection point for the first stage of the Walcha Energy Project, and will allow other developers in this part of the New England REZ to also connect, reducing system costs by providing a single connection point. The project is aligned with the plans of the NSW government, AEMO and transmission operator Transgrid with the view to expanding the NSW-QLD transmission transfer capacity, notably the development of the second interstate connector.

Giant step forward

In another major announcement, the project developers revealed global wind energy giant Vestas has acquired a majority stake in the Winterbourne Wind Farm from the developers. The project has a potential capacity of up to 700 MW and is the first stage of the wind component of the Walcha Energy Project.

The Vestas investment will accelerate development of the Winterbourne Wind Farm, a small percentage of which is owned by community stakeholders. “A key feature of The Walcha Energy Project is the unique community benefit model, including an ownership interest in the Winterbourne Wind Farm,” said Mark Waring, Director at Walcha Energy, noting the company has been engaging with the Walcha community for more than 14 years.

The developer has pledged to assist Vestas with land, community engagement and grid strategy. According to Vincent Dwyer, the principal of Energy Estate, the Vestas investment is a “giant step forward for the project”.

“We are fortunate to be working with Vestas as the world’s leading wind OEM to unlock the clean energy potential of Walcha, to foster responsible develop in the REZ and to enable new economic development opportunities in regional NSW in collaboration with the local community,” he said.

Vestas is already a partner at another Australian gigawatt project, the 11 GW Asian Renewable Energy Hub. The project proposed by a consortium comprising Vestas, Intercontinental Energy, CWP Energy Asia and Macquarie Group aims to export power to Southeast Asia via subsea cables and supply big miners and green hydrogen projects in the Pilbara region, in northwest WA.

As for the Winterbourne Wind Farm, the next step will be an environmental impact assessment to support a development application in 2020. The wind farm is planned to commence operations in 2022.

PHES feasibility study

The Walcha renewable energy hub also comprises a pumped hydro power facility which should make the project fully dispatchable. In November 2018, Tamworth Regional Council signed a memorandum with the developers of the Walcha project and Arup to explore the option of Dungowan Dam. This feasibility study has now entered the next phase.

Over the next three-four months, the work will involve an analysis of upper and lower reservoir options, and look at how the water security can be enhanced through the design of the PHES scheme and expanding the existing catchment against the background of continuing drought in NSW.

Once completed, the Walcha Energy Project will become the largest single renewable energy project developed in the National Electricity Market  – Australia’s main grid covering the eastern and southeastern states.