Silverton’s new treasure: Wind

A high-energy blockbuster is about to start production just outside Silverton, the historic silver-mining town and famed film location near Broken Hill, NSW. Movies shot in the quintessential Australian outback setting include Mad Max and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The town will soon be abuzz again, as hundreds of workers arrive to harvest a fortune that’s way more certain than either silver mining or movie making: wind energy.

AGL Energy’s (AGL) Silverton Wind Farm has been many years in the planning, with approval from the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) arriving as an early Christmas present on December 23, 2016, and final investment confirmation from AGL’s Powering Australian Renewables Fund (PARF) announced on January 19.

The $450 million wind farm is the first greenfield development (in red dirt!) under the PARF, AGL’s financing initiative, which is designed to unlock investment in renewables and is a key plank in the energy company’s commitment to decarbonising its generation.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about whether people want to invest, what the market looks like and what’s standing in the way of large-scale renewable investments,” AGL’s managing director and CEO Andy Vesey told the Clean Energy Summit in July 2016, on the day the PARF was unveiled. “Under the premise that actions speak louder than words … we decided we would tackle this and make it happen in the near term, not waiting for everything to be resolved. And that was going to require a good part of innovation.”

The fund has a planned investment of between $2 and $3 billion and a generation target of 1,000MW, or enough to power 400,000 Australian homes.

GE, in consortium with civil engineering construction company CATCON, has been awarded the construction of Silverton Wind Farm, which will see the installation of 58 GE 3.4MW 130-metre-rotor wind turbines, sitting on 110-metre towers. “These will be the first GE 130-metre rotors in Australia and also the largest,” says Peter Cowling, General Manager, Renewable Sales Asia Pacific for GE, “and we expect it to be one of many projects using that turbine.”

“We have an enormous amount of respect for AGL’s knowledge and professionalism in procuring and operating wind farms,” says GE’s Cowling. “It’s particularly exciting, and a real honour, that our consortium’s been chosen to deliver the first greenfield PARF project in the challenging conditions at Silverton.”

Even in these extreme conditions, the GE turbines are robust, “temperature-tolerant machines” and will be able to operate within their standard-configuration temperature range, which goes up to 45 degrees Celsius.

The turbines will operating in extreme Australian conditions.

“It’s pretty serious Australian desert,” says Cowling. “It can also flood, which is why the fourth Mad Max wasn’t filmed there, because it was so green when they went to film it! It’s quite remote and the conditions are quite extreme.”

Community impact is also top of mind for AGL and GE, with years of considering submissions and hosting drop-in meetings already completed, and more to come. “The way you do [wind projects] is critically important,” AGL’s Vesey told the 2016 Clean Energy Summit. “Full engagement with the communities, listening to their voices, taking concerns in a very real way, and ensuring that there is significant social equity distributed by these benefits is very, very important.”

Capacity from Silverton Wind Farm’s stage one — the GE 3.4–130 turbines — will be up to 200MW, generating approximately 780,000 MWh of energy annually, enough to power more than 136,000 average Australian homes. The renewable energy produced will reduce CO2 emissions by 655,000 tonnes annually, the equivalent of taking 192,000 cars off the road each year.

The site lies in the Barrier Ranges of NSW, with its south-western boundary about 5km north of Silverton and 25km north-west of Broken Hill. The turbines will stand over the Mundi Mundi Range in the southern portion of the wind farm and Mount Robe Range in the northern part.

Power from the Silverton Wind Farm will run back to Broken Hill and into the National Electricity Market (NEM), via the NSW grid. The step change in wind power, says Cowling, is that “super-large rotors, such as the ones we’re installing in Silverton, and large wind farms are driving efficiencies that are coming through to the levelised cost of energy”.

With investment now confirmed for Silverton Wind Farm, construction will begin immediately, with completion expected in the middle of 2018. And, in the spirit of all good blockbusters, here’s a plot teaser from Cowling: “We’re excited that this project includes some unique digital features that we’re hoping are going to become standard practice in new wind farms.”