Turbines at the ready

MM82_Reussenkoege2

Five years of hard work have gone into the Hepburn Community Wind Farm, all for just two turbines. But communities all over Australia are asking the team behind Hepburn Wind how they did it, writes Alicia Webb.

Australia’s first community wind farm is heading towards completion. Over the past 18 months the Hepburn Community Wind Park Cooperative Limited (Hepburn Wind) has secured over $11.3 million from over 1000 members (most of them local), Sustainability Victoria and the Bendigo Bank. Having recently placed an order for turbines and clearing numerous other technical hurdles, it won’t be long before Hepburn Wind will have some clean, renewable energy flowing from Leonards Hill near Daylesford, possibly later this year.

Hepburn Wind began five years ago in the towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs north-west of Melbourne. With help from developer Future Energy, the Hepburn Renewable Energy Association presented a permit application to Hepburn Shire in early 2007. Members later offered huge support to the project when its development was contested within the shire. The case received a reported 18 complaints and 320 letters of support.

These days the wind monitoring is all done and dusted. Having gathered three years of data from Leonards Hill, the mast was taken down in January. The cooperative is close to finalising the four major contracts: wind farm construction, grid connection, bank financing and the power purchase agreement. And they’re currently working on a plan with an energy retailer to allow the community and other groups to purchase branded power from the project.

Turbine selection

When it was time to choose a turbine, the technical people behind Hepburn Wind received unsolicited emails from start-up turbine manufacturers wanting to try out their product on a small demonstration installation. Following the global financial crisis in late 2008, it was even suggested that the project could go ahead using second-hand turbines. The technical team knew, however, that as they were building the first community wind project in Australia, the stakes were high and success was critical. It was decided that they could only go with highly regarded, internationally proven brands.

The Hepburn Wind project had a few extra criteria when searching for the right turbine, driven by the local community. Firstly, the turbines had to be very quiet, as the nearest houses are only just over 500 metres from the proposed turbine locations. Secondly, the turbines had a height limitation of 110 metres. If they were any taller the Civil Aviation Safety Authority can require blinking lights to be on at night, which the community didn’t want.

Pinning down a turbine manufacturer was challenging for Hepburn Wind due to the somewhat petite size of the order. Manufacturers more accustomed to receiving orders for 50 to 100 turbines at a time could conceivably push this smaller order to the bottom of their priority lists.

Fortunately, a German company called REpower Systems AG, came through with the goods. REpower already has a significant stake in Australian wind farms, as they are supplying turbines to the large Portland Wind Energy Project in south-west Victoria and six REpower turbines have been spinning since 2006 at Wonthaggi in eastern Victoria. Their machines are well respected internationally and known to be one of the quietest.

The MM82 proved to be the ideal machine for the site. It has a blade diameter of 82 metres and when operating at rated wind speed will generate 2050kW. This means that the two turbines will have a rated capacity of 4.1MW and over time will generate enough power for the twin towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. Having received the order, REpower is currently busy organising contractors to do the civil and electrical works at the site. The final contracts are due to be signed as this article goes to print.

Grid connection

Grid connection for the wind farm has been a major technical hurdle. Powercor, the grid operator in the region, has never connected a wind farm of this size to the distribution network before and so a range of studies has been undertaken in order to ensure that the connection is smooth and doesn’t degrade the quality of the power in the area. Since there will be powerline upgrades in the area at the project’s expense, the Daylesford/Hepburn region is likely to have more reliable power after the wind farm is installed.

Due to the fact that Hepburn Wind is a community project, $15,000 per turbine per year will be put into the Daylesford/Hepburn area so that even the locals who are not investors will benefit from the proceeds of the energy sales. When construction is complete, it will be the closest wind farm to Melbourne, hopefully prompting a steady stream of visitors to the area.

In Europe, community-owned wind projects are commonplace. In Denmark, 5500 turbines are owned by over 200,000 community investors. And now that the first Australian one is close to being built, communities all over the country are asking Hepburn Wind how they did it. Having to take so many steps for the first time and the associated learning curve has meant that work has at times been hard and progress slow. But Hepburn Wind hopes that all the lessons learned will translate into a blueprint for others.

Hepburn Wind is still open for investment. Go to www.hepburnwind.com.au for more information. ReNew will keep readers posted this year on the progress of the Hepburn Community Wind Farm.