To build a wind farm, it takes a village…

Wind-farm prospector Frank Boland first met with farmers at the Lion of Waterloo in 2009, to discuss them hosting turbines on their land. Late the previous year, Boland, who leads the development team for renewable-energy company Infigen Energy, had used meta-scale wind modelling to identify Bodangora, near Wellington in central NSW, as a prime area to farm wind. The historic local pub where he met landowners was once a passenger stop for Cobb and Co coaches and boasts a plaque proclaiming the paddock behind the tavern as the site of the last pistol duel in Australia.

While no weapons have been drawn, renewable-energy development in Australia has had its share of protracted struggles in recent years. The development of Bodangora wind farm, however, is a tale of patience, collaboration and cooperation, with a happy ending in sight: next month, construction starts on the 113.2MW wind farm, which will generate enough electricity to supply the equivalent of 49,000 NSW households a year, avoiding greenhouse-gas emissions equivalent to approximately 8 million tonnes* of CO2 in the electricity sector.

GE will install 33 3.43MW wind turbines at the Bodangora wind farm.

The $236 million Bodangora wind farm will be built with investment support from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and German bank NORD/LB, as well as Infigen’s own equity. A power-purchase agreement (PPA) with Energy Australia, for 60% of the annual output until December 2030, enables Infigen to contract the balance to its own customers, or sell it on the spot or wholesale-energy markets.

The farm will be built by GE and CATCON under an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract, with GE supplying its latest 3.43MW wind turbines, 33 in all.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is providing funding towards construction of the project. “The CEFC is playing its part in supporting and encouraging overseas funding for a project that created home-grown jobs and enhances Australia’s energy security,” said Oliver Yates, chief executive of the CEFC.

“Together with the CEFC, we are proud to have been able to support Infigen and GE with Bodangora wind farm by providing a long-term financing package,” said Olaf-Alexander Wiedemann, NORD/LB Asia-Pacific’s CEO, adding that his company “is committed to developing its presence in the Australian energy market, with renewable-energy generation at the core of our strategy.”

Infigen will operate the farm, and estimates 120 jobs will be created in the construction of the wind farm, and seven full-time jobs during its operating life.

Surveying the site at Bodangora.

Wind farms are complex projects, and community cooperation is paramount. At Bodangora, Infigen’s Frank Boland had found an area that required minimal additional infrastructure. “It had two transmission lines running just south of the site, and Wellington is a real hub of the NSW grid, which made it ideal,” he explains. “We have abundant wind from the south-east, the terrain is quite manageable, the gradient is not too steep, and the area is farmed—so minimal clearing would be needed, and there are a lot of existing tracks. We could find no other environmental constraints, and believed we had a reasonably supportive community.”

In 2009, Boland called the farmers whose land fell within the area he’d traced on topographical and cadastral maps based on the wind speed modelling, and invited them to that first meeting at the Lion of Waterloo. He had one firm “no”, but five farmers were happy to chat.

Several meetings—open to all comers within the broad area he’d traced—followed, and Infigen “defined the project from those discussions,” says Boland. “We didn’t come in and say ‘this is exactly how the boundaries need to be’; we had a collaborative approach and tried to maximise participation.”

Infigen also organised two bus trips for hosting landowners and the general community to visit two of its other wind farms in NSW: Woodlawn, which was under construction, and the already operational Capital wind farm. “Back in 2009, there weren’t too many wind farms installed,” says Boland. “So it was helpful to set the scene for people, and we found it was the tipping point for quite a few of them. At Woodlawn, we arranged for them to have lunch at the Loaded Dog hotel in Tarago with local real-estate agents, farmers and neighbours, who gave them an unbiased view of what a wind farm’s like.”

About a year ago, Infigen, CATCON and GE hosted an information day for local contractors. “We had around 80 people come through,” says Boland. The idea was to explain what skills and services would be required for the wind farm’s construction, “so that local people could get familiar with the different roles and opportunities, and have time to upskill if necessary.”

GE had become a development partner in 2015, working with Infigen to co-develop the project over the past 18 months. “For GE, it is an example of three of our businesses working together with Infigen to make Bodangora happen,” says Jason Willoughby, managing director, GE Energy Financial Services (EFS) for Australia and New Zealand. “The power of collaboration between Renewable Energy, EFS and our Global Growth Organisation made us a critical partners with Infigen, not just with financing, but with some of the final negotiations for the PPA and development approvals.”

Six farms are hosting the 33 turbines, and one is hosting transmission lines. In a first for Infigen, one of the turbines has been designated as the community turbine, with 2% of its revenue going to one of two community benefit funds. Boland explains that a fixed amount will go to a council community fund, and 2% of the revenue from the community turbine will be deposited into a community enhancement fund, administered by an elected committee.

“The payment they’ll get into that fund is specifically linked to the performance of the turbines,” says Boland. “In a windy year, the community will receive more, and because the project only has a 60% PPA, it has a real market aspect to it. If there’s a high-price period, then the community’s going to reap the benefits.” An estimated $3 million will flow into these funds over the life of the farm, and an estimated $15 million of economic benefits will flow to local businesses during that time.

For Frank Boland, the turning of earth for the first turbine hardstand sometime in May will be the happy culmination of shepherding the project since 2009. “I have fond memories of dealing with the local farmers and understanding their lives over the past eight years, and working with them to design a project that’s complementary to their existing farming practices,” he says. “The area’s really ideal for wind farm, and seeing how Infigen’s other wind projects have changed communities, I know that it’s not just going to be just the host landowners who benefit, but all of the other parts of the community who embrace it.”

*Calculation includes transmission losses and NSW emissions intensity factor of 0.9 tCO2e/MWh

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