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New renewable energy zone to almost match NSW’s coal-fired capacity

The government will spend $79 million to assist with the acceleration of new grid connections needed to absorb the expected jump in new wind and solar farms for the region, or about twice the investment for Central-West Orana zone. The money will also help pay for community consultation efforts.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro highlighted the zone’s benefits in terms of regional jobs and also lower power prices that would likely follow as capacity is added to the grid.

The new zone would “attract $12.7 billion in investment, support 2000 construction jobs and 1300 ongoing jobs – all while lowering energy prices and future-proofing the regions,” Mr Barilaro said.

NSW now has about 10,000MW worth of coal-fired power stations, a figure that will drop to about 8240MW assuming AGL’s Liddell plant closes as scheduled in 2023.

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While intermittent electricity sources are typically available for fewer hours across the year than coal, gas or hydro plants, more solar and wind farms are likely to be built with storage options, making them readily dispatchable at night or when the wind isn’t blowing.

Dylan McConnell, an energy analyst at the University of Melbourne, said the 8000MW if achieved would almost triple the current large-scale solar and wind capacity in the state of about 3300MW.

The New England zone alone could meet about 30 per cent of NSW’s existing annual use based on the 2019-20 figures, or about double Liddell’s output. Large-scale renewables met about 9 per cent of supply last financial year, rising to 13.5 per cent when rooftop solar is added in, Dr McConnell said.

With new solar farms costing as little as half that of new coal-fired power plants, the main challenge for developers has been to secure grid access. While NSW has a pipeline of some 116 large-scale renewable energy proposals for more than 18,000MW of capacity, fewer than one in 20 are able to connect to the network.

A $2 billion agreement signed by NSW and the Morrison governments earlier this year aimed in part to underwrite the increase of new transmission to support the rush of renewables.

Sally Hunter, a People for the Plains spokeswoman, said her group welcomed the backing for more renewable projects, contrasting it to the government’s recent recommendation to support the $3 billion-plus coal seam gasfield proposed by Santos for the region.

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“Renewable energy gives Narrabri locals sustainable and community led opportunities to create jobs for the long term,” Ms Hunter said.

“This goes to show that the groundwater beneath Narrabri doesn’t need to be put at risk by Santos’ polluting gas field – we can have exciting new jobs and industries without considering this destructive proposal.”

The Central-West REZ may also likely end up unlocking more than 3000MW because of the complementarity of energy resources in that region, the NSW government says.

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