Western NSW is leading the way when it come to renewable energy with 33 projects either planned, being constructed or operational in the region.
A total of nine wind power projects will generate more than 2750 megawatts of electricity that will flow into the grid, while 23 solar projects will generate a further 2033MW.
NSW Renewable Energy Advocate Amy Kean said the state was experiencing a “solar boom”, with 30 new large-scale solar proposals entering the planning system in 2017 alone.
“This boom is happening right across regional NSW, which is supporting jobs and investment in regional communities while diversifying our energy mix,” he said.
“The NSW renewable energy project pipeline has never been stronger, with around 12,000 MW of large-scale projects either approved or seeking planning approval.”
The biggest projects for western NSW are two wind farms in the planning process, the 1122MW Uungula Wind Farm at Wellington and the 1008MW Liverpool Range Wind Farm at Coolah.
When it comes to solar, Nyngan is currently home to the largest operational farm in Australia, the 102MW Nyngan Solar Farm. It generates enough electricity to power 38,000 homes every year.
However two significantly larger projects are in the planning stages for Wellington, the 300MW Wellington North Solar Farm and the 260MW Suntop Solar Farm.
Wellington is a contender to become the renewable energy capital of the state with seven projects that will generate a total of 2235MW.
By comparison, Lithgow’s Mt Piper coal-fired power station generates 1400MW.
The increased interest in wind and solar power has added benefits for consumers, with the Australian Energy Market Commission predicting energy prices will start to fall from mid-2018.
“Prices rose sharply this year by almost 11 per cent on a national basis as consumers felt the impact of Hazelwood and Northern coal-fired plants retiring and the lack of replacement investment, combined with high gas prices,” AEMC Chairman John Pierce said.
“But we expect these price rises will be reversed over the next two years as around 4,000 MW of Renewable Energy Target-funded wind and solar generation enters the system.”
Project manager for ib vogt’s Dunedoo Solar Farm Andrew Wilkinson said he expects 2018 to be the biggest year yet for projects.
Mr Wilkinson said there had been strong interest in renewable energy in Australia at the start of the decade but that dropped away when Australia’s commitment to renewables wavered.
While other countries such as the United Kingdom, France Germany and Italy got ahead, he believes Australia will start to catch up.
“2017 has been a year for planning, now there are a lot of projects across NSW and also Queensland and in 2018 there will be a lot more projects in construction,” he said.
Mr Wilkinson said Australia still hadn’t sort out its long-term energy policy, but with NSW looking to retire coal-fired plants, and with solar farms comparatively quick to establish, more will come.
“It takes five to eight years to build a coal-fired power station whereas a solar farm can be up and running in less than two,” he said.
“The technology is constantly improving and becoming cheaper which will make it more attractive but Australia needs to sort out its mid-to-long term energy policy.”
Western NSW may be able to benefit economically from its renewable energy uptake in the long-term, with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency suggesting Australia could export clean energy as a replacement for coal.