NSW first renewable energy zone attracts 27 GW of solar, wind and battery proposals

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Plans to deliver 3 GW of firmed renewable energy in the New South Wales Central West have generated massive interest from prospective developers. The state government has announced it received 113 registrations of interest, totaling 27 GW and valued at $38 billion, signaling a major job and investment bonanza for regional NSW.

The government program is designed to unlock a huge pipeline of large-scale renewable energy and storage projects in NSW’s first renewable energy zone around Dubbo in the run-up to the planned retirement of its aging thermal-generation fleet. To support the development of the Central-West Orana zone, the government has pledged to provide a four times bigger funding package than originally planned.

On Tuesday, Energy Minister Matt Kean said the NSW Government committed a further $31.6 million to the Central-West Orana REZ, bringing the total budget to over $40 million. “With this funding locked in, we can bring the Central-West Orana REZ from a vision to a reality,” he said. “The Central-West Orana REZ, the first of the State’s three Renewable Energy Zones, will be the modern-day equivalent of a traditional power station, capable of powering 1.3 million homes.”

The pilot REZ in the state’s Central-West aims to deliver 3,000 MW of firmed wind and solar generation that the state government identifies as “the cheapest type of new reliable generation.” It is expected to generate $4.4 billion in investment, create 450 construction jobs and help put downward pressure on electricity prices.

The state’s Central-West has been chosen as a pilot location due to a host of approved and planned projects, relatively low build costs and a strong mix of solar and wind resources. It is part of the NSW government’s long-term plan to deliver three REZs across the state – in the Central-West, New England and South-West regions, building on the NSW Transmission Infrastructure Strategy and in line with the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated System Plan.

Coordinated approach

The new funding announced on Tuesday will be used to coordinate renewable energy deployment within the zone and help identify locations where new transmission infrastructure will be required. “By coordinating development in a strategic way, REZs also help us get the land use planning right, and renewables built in places that work for the community, not just developers,” Deputy Premier John Barilaro said.

The funding will help relevant bodies make strategic decisions to bring multiple new generators online in areas with strong renewables resources and community support. “The Energy Corporation of NSW will oversee the development of the REZ, and this new funding will enable it to coordinate the technical design and planning processes, lead community engagement and oversee the local benefit sharing process,” Kean said.

To assess the technical and commercial options for the development of new high voltage transmission lines, a detailed feasibility study will be carried out by TransGrid. On Tuesday, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced $5 million in funding for TransGrid’s $16.2 million scooping study in support of a major project that can demonstrate a pathway for future REZs across the National Electricity Market.

Noting that new transmission will be needed as the Australian energy system transitions from dispatchable thermal generation to largely variable renewable energy generation, ARENA CEO Darren Miller said: “This study is expected to provide a pathway to achieve Australia’s first true Renewable Energy Zone and provide a blueprint for how others can be created in the future, helping to unlock investment in renewable energy projects, secure new regional jobs and cheaper, emission free energy.”

Jobs and investment bonanza

The coordination of new generation and new transmission infrastructure investment is expected to deliver multiple benefits for local communities and NSW’s entire energy landscape. “Investment in the new infrastructure will enable renewable energy providers to connect to the grid and enable more affordable, reliable and clean energy for New South Wales customers,” Transgrid CEO Paul Italiano said.

The overwhelming interest in the Central-West Orana REZ represents a massive opportunity to create jobs, investment and new revenue streams for regional NSW. According to Member for Dubbo Dugald Saunders, the REZ is a win for the region’s landowners, workers and businesses.

“The Central-West Orana region has huge potential to benefit from renewables jobs and investment,” he said. “My focus is on making sure they are built in the right locations, have strong local support and deliver long term benefits for our community.”

Construction of the pilot REZ in the Central-West region is slated to begin in 2022, following extensive consultation with local communities.