Musselroe Wind Farm: Tasmania’s wind farm milestone

Tasmania’s much-anticipated 168MW Musselroe wind farm is now fully operational and is feeding power into the state’s grid. Energy Source and Distribution looks at the Hydro Tasmania-led project and discusses why the investment, $395 million in the making, is such an important milestone for Australia’s renewable energy landscape.

In April, Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings and Deputy Premier Bryan Green visited north-east Tasmania to mark the start of power generation from the Musselroe Wind Farm, the biggest wind farm development to date in Tasmania. Now fully operational, wind farm will generate 16MW: enough energy to supply the needs of up to 50,000 homes, equivalent to the residential power needs of Burnie and Devonport.

Premier Giddings described the wind farm as a milestone for Tasmania.

“This has been a huge development, which has delivered jobs for Tasmanians, opportunities for local businesses and a significant boost for the north-east economy,” she said.

“It builds on Hydro Tasmania’s partnership with leading Chinese energy company Shenhua, which is securing investment and jobs in our renewable energy sector.”

The development is the second project that has seen Hydro Tasmania receive financial support from China’s Shenhua following the Woolnorth wind farms, which are fully operational. The two parties are working on further developments that could see as much as $1.6 billion invested.

Location

Lying south of the 40th parallel in the path of prevailing westerly winds, Tasmania has excellent resources for the generation of wind power. The Musselroe Wind Farm site is 100km north-east of Launceston and 20km north of Gladstone. It is located at Cape Portland, an agricultural property of 5500ha owned by Hydro Tasmania, encompassing coastal plains, lagoons and dune systems.

The Musselroe Wind Farm has 56 Vestas V90 3MW wind turbines, with a total generating capacity of 168MW. The project includes the construction of a 48km-long transmission line to connect the wind farm to the electricity grid at the town of Derby. It will generate enough electricity for 50,000 Australian homes, equivalent to the residential power needs of the people of Burnie and Devonport. When fully operational, Musselroe Wind Farm will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 450,000 tonnes each year.

Environmental values

The Musselroe Wind Farm is located in an area that has significant biodiversity values. During the assessment and approvals phase of the project, intensive surveys and studies were conducted to assess the potential impact on native animals and plants, and on resident and migratory birds that use the site. This information was used to establish zones that were excluded from development and as input into the final layout and location of roads, cable trenches and turbine foundations.

Investigations during the development phase of the project showed a wide array of birds visit parts of the wind farm site. In particular, the north-western part of the property, which contains coastal sand dunes and shallow lagoons, is an area favoured by migratory wading birds that spend some months every year in the area. Many of these birds have listed conservation status on Tasmanian and Commonwealth government lists. Flight paths of birds into and out of these areas were identified through long-term studies over several years and wind turbines in areas near flight paths were located with input from local Birds Tasmania members to minimise any likely impact on birds. During operation of the wind farm, an intensive monitoring program will continue to look at bird use of the area.

Around 40 per cent of the property was excluded from development in “No Disturbance” zones. Most of the coastal lagoon and dune systems were included in these zones, to protect bird habitat and potentially sensitive Aboriginal cultural heritage values. The final footprint of the project, including roads, hardstands and control building, represents less than
1 per cent of the total site area.

The project received planning approval from Dorset Council, with conditions from the Tasmanian environment protection agency in 2004. The project also received approval from the Commonwealth Government under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) in 2005. The many conditions stemming from these approvals have been managed during construction via Environmental Works Plans and the on-site environmental team.

Aboriginal cultural heritage

The wind farm is being developed on land known as “tebrakunna” to the Pairrebeener Aboriginal group, who are the traditional owners.

It is still important to many members of the present day Aboriginal community. It is important for spiritual reasons, being the land of the Ancestors to which today’s Tasmanian Aboriginal people belong. It is also important because of the historic events that have occurred there and the historical connections that have continued into the present. The history and abundant cultural resources make it an important place for community access and cultural education.

Detailed surface and sub-surface surveys were undertaken with Aboriginal Heritage Officers during the investigation and planning stages of the project. Where Aboriginal artefacts were discovered, the footprint of the roads and hardstand areas were adjusted to avoid these sites. The project team continued to consult with the Aboriginal community as construction proceeded. As part of their induction to the wind farm site, construction team members attended onsite cultural awareness training presented by members of the Aboriginal community.

The project construction team has continued to foster strong relationships with local Aboriginal Elders and have facilitated access to the site for them to Walk Country. These relationships have resulted in further positive outcomes, such as support for local organisation Melythina Tiakana Warrana (Heart of Country) Aboriginal Corporation to host an onsite community ceremony to honour the Ancestors. An important collaboration is also to share the cultural story of the tebrakunna area through displays and interpretation at the wind farm visitor’s centre.

Community engagement

The project has put a high priority on community engagement. During construction many different modes have been used to reach people. Information sessions in local townships; video updates available online and at regional visitor centres; and newsletters and community events were all used to help local community members feel connected to this exciting project happening in their backyard.

Barry Jarvis, Mayor of Dorset municipality, said: “The anticipation and the excitement for it to start really captured the imagination of the local community and we’ve been only too happy to be a part of this exciting venture and economic driver for the state. It’s been a great outcome for all concerned.”

More than 1150 people attended a Community Open Day in May 2013, with very positive feedback from those who attended and had a chance to look around the almost-completed wind farm.

Hydro Tasmania also ran an education program during the construction phase, which included site visits for participating schools. More than 600 students from seven regional schools visited the Musselroe site with their teachers and some parents. Construction was still underway, with the main focus on erecting the tops of towers and lifting nacelles, hubs and blades into position, using a 1200-tonne crane.

The education program was run by Merren Wilkinson and David Jamrozik from Hydro Tasmania.

“We’ve been working with regional schools throughout last year, with a focus on renewable energy in general and wind power in particular,” Merren said.

“The site visits were a great way to consolidate students’ learning, by experiencing things in real life that we have discussed in the classroom – and the kids were very excited to be able to inspect a wind farm in their own backyard.”

Commissioning

The weakness of the connection location into the Tasmanian transmission network has brought challenges beyond what would be expected for a typical wind farm. Additional reactive power equipment has been required to support power system security and stability.

Generation from the wind farm has continued to build over the past couple of months as a thorough testing and commissioning program advanced.

The wind farm is on track to be operating at full output at the end of July.