Australian electricity generator and retailer Snowy Hydro announced earlier this month that it has signed 8 wind and solar contracts which are expected to total 888 megawatts (MW) and will provide electricity to 500,000 households.
While Snowy Hydro has a range of power generation sources — including the eponymous hydropower, as well as gas and diesel — the company is responsible for one of the great infrastructure achievements in Australia’s history, the 4.1 gigawatt (GW) Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, which boasts 9 hydro-electric power stations and 16 large dams located mainly in the Kosciuszko National Park, in New South Wales. Constructed between 1949 and 1974, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme is the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia.
Moving forward, however, Snowy Hydro is looking to other renewable energy technologies, and on November 1, the company announced that it had signed 8 wind and solar contracts worth 888 MW which are expected to generate approximately 2.8 terawatt-hours worth of electricity each year. The max price for the projects was below AU$70/MW-hour (MWh) for up to 15 years — well below the current wholesale price of electricity in the National Electricity Market, and also below the so-called “baseload” electricity provided by coal generation.
Snowy Hydro revealed that its advertised Renewable Energy Procurement Program received more than 7,600 MW worth of submitted projects, which were pared down to the awarded 888 MW, four solar and four wind, projects.
Worth noting is the fact that the price for the projects — which, though unspecified, we know was at least below AU$70/MWh — includes firming. “In simple terms,” Snowy Hydro explained in their press release, “‘firming’ works by transforming intermittent energy into reliable energy so it’s available on-demand when a customer needs it. While the energy output of individual projects varies, Snowy Hydro’s power stations can work in combination with wind and solar, creating ‘firm’ reliable energy.”
The move comes amidst significant turmoil in Australia’s renewable energy sector, caused primarily by the country’s Federal Government, which publicly support the coal industry and shuns, belittles, and handicaps the renewable energy sector. However, the fact that Snowy Hydro is moving forward with its own renewable energy plans is proof that the technology is stronger than political opposition, and that the economics of renewable energy can withstand political pressure.