Contracts are out for major SA construction works on Project EnergyConnect


ElectraNet has awarded two infrastructure providers with deep expertise in renewable energy and large-scale projects the main construction contracts for South Australia’s section of Project EnergyConnect, the long-planned high-voltage electricity connector between South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria that is set to open up renewable-energy grid connections in its path and help stabilise the National Electricity Market.

Downer Group — the engineering, construction and procurement company involved in projects such the 349 MW Limondale Solar Farm and the Chichester solar project powering Fortescue’s iron ore operations in the Pilbrara — may have exited the Australian solar scene early last year, citing grid-connection risks and a lack of new investment, but Downer Utilities Australia will be a major enabler of future renewable energy flows as the chosen transmission-lines contractor to Project EnergyConnect.

Steve Masters, Chief Executive of ElectraNet, explained when he announced the contracts this weekend, that transmission works “include approximately 200 kilometres of 330 kV new transmission lines between the SA/NSW border and the new Bundey Substation near Robertstown,” and a further 10 km of 275 kV lines from Bundey to Robertstown.

“Downer is pleased to be involved in this critical infrastructure project which will improve power security and reliability to South Australia and the National Electricity Market as a whole,” said Grant Fenn, CEO of Downer EDI.

High voltage soon to rock and roll!

Substation works, including the construction of the new Bundey facility and augmentation of Robertstown and Tungkillo substations, have been awarded to Consolidated Power Projects Australia, specialists in high-voltage infrastructure.

Consolidated Power Projects has engineered the grid connections of many an Australia’s wind farms and more recently big batteries; its contracts have included Crookwell 2 Wind Farm, Snowtown Wind Farm, the Hornsdale Battery Energy Storage System and Wandoan South Battery Energy Storage System. 

It also designed and built grid connections for four New South Wales solar farms, at Dubbo, Narromine, Griffith and Parkes.

“With the contractors now appointed, more information about opportunities for subcontractors to support the delivery of the project will become available,” said Masters.

Doing the electron shuffle

ElectraNet confirmed in June that it had made the Final Investment Decision to go ahead with the South Australian section of the interconnector from Robertstown to the NSW border, at an estimated cost of $457 million.

Transgrid secured government approval for the first stage of the much longer section of the 900 km connector on the NSW side only late last month. Transgrid’s share of the deal is costed at $1.8 billion.

Acting CEO of Transgrid, Brian Salter said of Energy Connect, “The project will be the critical missing link in the NEM, connecting more renewable generation and reinforcing connectivity between the state grids of NSW, South Australia and Victoria.”

Downer intends to immediately start preliminary work on the project with major construction commencing in early 2022 and commissioning of the transmission line to be “underway in 2023”.

The critical project has been before the regulators and in approvals since 2018, and almost came unstuck this year when Transgrid was unable to finalise its financing arrangements. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation stepped in with a $295 million hybrid security instrument, the biggest investment it has made in its history, which encouraged the private sector to jump on board with more debt facilities.

On both sides of the states’ divide, studies are still underway to assess environmental, social and engineering considerations related to EnergyConnect which is expected to generate 1,700 jobs during construction and increase real incomes in regions hosting the interconnector by $163 million in South Australia and $209 million in NSW.

The project’s Environmental Impact Statement is currently being assessed by the South Australian Government’s Planning and Land Use Services.

Masters said that the awarding of the ElectraNet contracts “is a significant milestone for this landmark electricity infrastructure project”, and assured South Australians that the company’s comprehensive procurement and selection process had resulted in “the best value for money and quality”.

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