WA’s Esperance Shire turns to renewables to address high electricity prices

The Western Australian shire of Esperance has revealed plans to trial a variety of renewable energy technologies, including big solar and wind, to address the prohibitively high cost of electricity supply in the region.

The Esperance council said the trials were part of the shire’s plans to address its long-term sustainability and growth, as electricity prices soared and the town’s two ageing wind farms neared closure.

Built in 1987, Esperance’s Ten Mile Lagoon wind farm – Australia’s first commercial and experimental example – reached the end of its design life last year.

Government-owned utility Synergy, which operates the Ten Mile Lagoon and Nine Mile Beach winds farms, says the turbines at Ten Mile could safely keep operating for another five to seven years, but that it would not replace them when the facility finally closed.

Currently, the two wind farms can supply up to 20 per cent of the town’s electricity.

Fossil fuel power costs in the region, meanwhile, had become high enough to hinder efforts to expand the town’s economy and population in years to come, the council told ABC Online.

Shire president Malcolm Heasman said the idea of attracting trials of renewable energy was floated by the shire as part of its future planning strategy.

“I think there’s a lot of energy that can be harnessed that we’re not even remotely touching at the moment,” Heasman told the ABC.

“The obvious one is solar power, and we would need to look at the feasibility of trying to establish a reasonable solar-powered system in Esperance.

“The big issue will be the storage of that power and how we feed it into our network that we have and whether or not it’s an economic source of power as well,” he said.

“I suspect that we would have to run a pretty comprehensive feasibility study because it’s going to require the attraction of a fair bit of capital investment and you’re not going to attract that capital without having some runs on the board.”

Esperance’s push to develop renewables comes as its nation-leading wind farms – Ten Mile Lagoon and Nine Mile Beach, built in 1987 – near closure, after the former of the two reached the end of its design life last year.

Government-owned utility Synergy, which operates the two winds farms, says the turbines at Ten Mile could safely keep operating for another five to seven years, but that it would not replace them when the facility finally closed.

Currently, the two wind farms can supply up to 20 per cent of the town’s electricity.

Emeritus Professor of physics and energy studies at Murdoch University, Philip Jennings, said Esperance was a pioneer site for wind because of its excellent and reliable resource.

But Esperance’s solar resources are also “very good”, according to Jennings.

And he has recommended the council keep an eye on the emerging wave power work going on in the state – with Carnegie Wave Energy’s CETO-5 array recently connected to the local grid in Perth, achieving a world first.

“All along the south coast there’s enormous potential for both wave and wind power and that’s the sort of technology that might want to be looking at.”

© 2015 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson

Giles Parkinson regularly contributes unique content to Solar Choice News. Giles is the founder and editor of clean energy industry news service RenewEconomy. He is a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Financial Review, a columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the founding editor of Climate Spectator.
Giles Parkinson