Australia’s biggest wind farm comes to the Sunshine State

By 2019, 123 turbines will be spinning 453MW of energy at Coopers Gap Wind Farm, between Kingaroy and Dalby in Queensland. The announcement on August 17 of Australia’s biggest wind farm is the result of creative collaboration and supple engineering solutions.

GE will supply and install 123 turbines for the farm,  owned  by the Powering Australian Renewables Fund (PARF), a partnership between AGL Energy and the Queensland Investment Corporation.

AGL managing director and CEO Andy Vesey said: “More than 800 MW of projects have now been vended into PARF in its first 12 months of operation, following the earlier transactions involving the Silverton wind farm project and Nyngan and Broken Hill solar plants in New South Wales. The strong support we have received from our equity partners and lenders for these projects is testament to the readiness of the private sector to invest in Australia’s energy transformation.”

“Coopers Gap is our fifth wind farm to begin construction in Australia this year,” says Pete McCabe, global president and CEO of GE Renewable Energy’s Onshore Wind business.

The project is a significant milestone because by 2019 it will bring the total output of GE’s installed wind capacity to almost 1.4GW in Australia.

“That’s the largest number of megawatts in a single year by any GE onshore wind country outside the United States, ever,” says McCabe. “Australia is a great market for wind, and today is GE’s second largest region globally for our Renewables business. While we see lots of opportunities in Australia, we need to continue to have policy certainty to drive investment.”

“We only began working on our bid last November, and found there was a lot of physical complexity with the site, and the whole project,” says Jackie Brown, commercial leader for GE Renewable Energy Asia Pacific. “The government’s wind planning code was still evolving, the DA was being finalised and negotiations with one landowner were ongoing. Our team had to work with our client to solve some significant engineering and project challenges.” 

Coopers Gap is GE’s first foray into wind in solar-loving Queensland (the Sunshine State has only a couple of wind farms, though more are coming). GE will supply and install 91 3.6MW turbines with 137m rotors, 32 3.8MW turbines with 130m rotors and has a 25-year service agreement to repair and maintain the wind farm, at Cooranga North, about 250km (155 miles) north-west of Brisbane.

Once complete, it will generate enough energy to power the equivalent of more than 260,000 homes and reduce carbon emissions by around 1,180,000 tonnes annually. The project is critical to AGL’s mission to decarbonise all of its electricity generation by 2050.

“AGL’s commitment to a lower emissions future is clear,” said Geoff Culbert, president and CEO of GE Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. “The company announced earlier this year it would ramp up investment in renewable energy and close all of its existing coal-fired  generation by 2050. This wind farm represents a significant step towards that goal and we are proud to be a part of that.” 

Culbert is proud, too, of how his team conquered the technical challenges for customer AGL. “There’s a variety of terrain—some is flat and some is mountainous—the wind conditions change a lot between night and day,” says GE’s technical leader Nicky Lewis-Hughes, who took the baton from Megan Jackson when she went on maternity leave in July.

“Megan did many layouts and we had fantastic support from GE’s engineering teams in India and Europe, who were turning around all the checks in double-quick time for us,” says Jackie Brown.

The site was still proving more complex than standard industry modelling techniques were up to, but the GE engineering team believed it was possible, so senior micrositing engineer for GE Wind Energy Dr Joerg Winterfeldt came out from Germany to meet with AGL and their consultants.

“He’s a boffin’s boffin,” jokes GE’s Peter Cowling, general manager of renewable sales in the region for GE Renewable Energy. Armed with extra information about the tricky Coopers Gap terrain and climate, Winterfeldt “rewrote his software so that he could model this complex site, which didn’t respond to normal linear logic,” explains Cowling. “We had just designed the Silverton Wind Farm for AGL, but the wind behaves very differently in this location—a combination of the topography and the semi-tropical climate—so we had to come up with a solution.”

3MW platform cutaway

The successful formula included custom-designed 115-metre towers for the 3.8MW turbines, “to get the optimal wind speed”, says Lewis-Hughes. The engineering team had to ensure that the design of the taller tower avoided resonance frequency issues—vibration when the blades turn—and also fit within the logistical puzzle of not being too heavy or wide to traverse all the roads and bridges from port to site.

In less than two years, those mighty towers and their rotors will come online, and GE’s installed wind capacity in Australia will reach almost 1.5GW. The GE Renewable Energy team is understandably excited. “The Silverton and Coopers Gap wind farms represent more than $1 billion of investment in renewable energy by AGL and its partners,” says Peter Cowling.

Construction of Coopers Gap is expected to create 200 jobs, with an additional 20 ongoing operational jobs. “Coopers will be a massive wind farm and it’s significant that it’s in Queensland where, yes, the sun is fantastic, and solar has already been widely exploited on a utility scale and on rooftops. That in itself can cause challenges with the time of day of generation. Wind tends to be more spread out, day and night, and that helps fill in the gaps around solar generation. It’s a great mix for Queensland.”

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