Coming back from Down Under


September 5, 2013

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According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the furthest distance a boomerang has ever been thrown is 427 metres. It didn’t come back.

Australian wind energy lobbyists are hoping for a far greater feat in the coming months, as the future of large-scale wind energy hangs in the balance.

It’s not all bad news, mind. For a relatively small, but significant development from the Antipodean wind market this week, saw Australian developer Infigen secure planning approval for a 120MW development in New South Wales.

Significantly, the project planners had successfully overcome a well-orchestrated campaign by a local opposition group to derail the project.

This campaign, like many anti-wind protest movements had been driven by claims that wind turbines are detrimental to health and are solely responsible for increasing domestic energy bills.

However, with the Australian Federal Election taking place this weekend, which according to many pollsters may see the election of Liberal party leader Tony Abbott and his Conservative coalition, the future of domestic wind remains far from certain.

Indeed, Abbott and his advisers have already made clear earlier in the summer that they would have an interest in diluting the renewable energy target down from its current level of 41,000GW.

It doesn’t help of course, that the country is the globe’s largest exporter of coal, and is therefore slightly in hock to a carbon heavy industry that provides jobs, tax revenue and security. Any paradigmatic shift away from this status quo will always be difficult to engender.

That’s a frustrating but painful truth, since Australian wind energy continues to offer real potential.

The country’s major urban conurbations are spread around the coast, so a distributed power supply makes sense. By the same token, the centre of the continent is rich in wind resource and free of large conurbations that should, in theory, ensure the relatively easy approval of wind projects.

This, coupled with the proximity of Australia to the emerging Asian economies (and in particular the Chinese wind market) should also act as a key driver.

Goldwind’s 165MW Gullen Range project is a real example of this, where the wind turbine manufacturer has provided 30% in equity for the project.

It’s because of this that – in theory at least – few doubt that Australia could become one of the worlds most successful onshore wind markets.

However, with a potential shift in the political support structures on the cards, and with the energy markets still hooked on carbon, achieving this vision is by no means getting easier.

Australia already has over 50 wind farms in operation and a growing capacity base, so the early-stage momentum is complete.

However, with political support on the wane, there’s a growing concern that once initial investor enthusiasm dwindles, they’ve got themselves an even harder job of getting it to come back.

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