The 420 megawatt Macarthur wind farm was opened in the state of Victoria on Friday. It is the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere and its 3 megawatt Vestas turbines are the largest in Australia. The Mcarthur Wind Farm is actually the first project to use Vestas’ V112-3.0 MW wind turbines. The project’s expected operating capacity is 35% and its cost was almost exactly one billion dollars.
One billion dollars may sound like a lot of money, probably because it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good deal. The wind farm has an operating life of 25 years and if a 5% discount rate is used for the cost of money, it will generate electricity at about 6 cents a kilowatt-hour. While this is slightly higher than the average price of electricity generated from coal in Australia, it does have the very large advantage of being non-fatal on both the personal and planetary scales. It’s also cheaper than electricity from new coal plants and is a major reason why Australia is extremely unlikely to ever build any new coal capacity.
The wind farm was officially opened on Friday, but has been generating electricity for months. This is one of the advantages of wind power over many other sources of electricity. There’s no need to wait until it’s complete before starting to get power out of it.
Some people have taken the opening of the wind farm as an opportunity to point out that wind power doesn’t supply energy on demand. But in Australia we have a pretty cunning method of getting around this. When we want electricity, we pay people money to supply it to us. I know this might sound like a pretty wild and crazy idea, but it’s just the sort of thing you can expect from a weird place like Australia. As we’re likely to continue to pay money to people who supply us with electricity when we want it, I’m confident our demand for power will continue to be met.
Given the low cost of wind energy and its habit of not destroying the planet, you may expect Australia to be currently building many new wind farms to take advantage of its wide open spaces and excellent wind resources. Unfortunately, this isn’t really the case thanks to politics. Australia is slowly and painfully dragging its way towards an election and so far the opposition appears determined to stuff the wind power genie back into its bottle. As a result, investors are waiting to see what will happen before they go ahead with projects. This, unfortunately, means Australia will end up emitting more CO2 than it otherwise would at a time when we should be going hell for leather at reducing it. I just hope that the point where the politicians now opposing wind power suddenly realise they were actually in favour of it all along comes sooner rather than later.
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