Author: Brad Thompson

Source: afr.com

The West Australian government has flicked the switch on renewables-reliant microgrids as part of a plan to cut the cost of supplying power to isolated towns in the vast state.

State-owned utility Western Power has contracted Energy Made Clean (EMC) and joint venture partner Lendlease to build one of Australia’s biggest renewables microgrids, powered by a wind farm and feed-in from residential solar panels, at Kalbarri on the Mid-West coast.

The project is seen as a forerunner of others in towns considered on the edge of the grid which are costly for Western Power to service and suffer from unreliable supply.

The move comes with the WA Government steadfast in its resolve against a partial sale of Western Power despite the potential to put a big dent in state debt – forecast to reach almost $43 billion in 2020.

Western Power, considered an important income generator by Premier Mark McGowan, will own and manage the microgrid.

The five megawatt-microgrid will include a utility-scale 4.5 megawatt hour battery.

It was designed by Western Power after a feasibility study instigated under the previous Liberal-Nationals government in response to concerns about the high cost of supplying towns via long feeder lines.

The town of Kalbarri will remain connected to the main grid for the time being via a 140 kilometre-long line prone to salt and dust exposure which can cause extended power outages.

WA Treasurer and Energy Minister Ben Wyatt said the renewables microgrid option was an economic boost with broad regional potential.

“It is a game changer for regional communities who rely on power from a long feeder line, which is subject to environmental factors which can cause outages,” he said.

The joint venture between Carnegie Clean Energy-owned EMC and Lendlease has secured $25 million in orders in the past four weeks with the Kalbarri project and the Northam Solar Farm project closer to Perth.

Carnegie is also involved in building the world’s first wave-integrated renewables microgrid on Garden Island off Perth for the Department of Defence and a solar and battery storage facility for the CSIRO’s Square Kilometre Array in outback WA.

It is building a smaller scale microgrid for an Aboriginal community in the Pilbara, where Alinta Energy has just won a significant victory in terms of third-party access to WA Government-owned Horizon Power’s electricity network.

Mr Wyatt announced last week that Horizon’s Pilbara network would be regulated by WA’s Economic Regulation Authority in the same way as Western Power’s network in the south of the state.

ERA regulation means Horizon will be obligated to facilitate third-party access to its Pilbara network despite resistance to the change.

Alinta applied for regulation in August after it was unable to reach a negotiated outcome with Horizon.

The WA Government said the move would enable retailers to enter the electricity market and make it easier for generators to connect to the grid.

Flagging the changes in August, it said the Pilbara laboured under an electricity system that was fragmented, high cost and uncompetitive.

Mr Wyatt said a light-handed access regime and system operator model was being developed, with a report due to go to Cabinet next month.

Alinta will have to wait until 2020 for the changes to come into force because Horizon is being given a period of grace to comply with its new obligations.