Wind farm and hydro project due online in southern WA to help power energy solutions big and small

Regional Australia is becoming the heartland for the country’s energy future with renewable projects popping up across the landscape.

Following a week of major power outages across the south of Western Australia two projects near the south coast of the state typify the growth — at one end of the scale is a $200 million project, and on the other a grassroots hydro plan — both soon to come online.

Walpole, a small coastal town in Western Australia popular with tourists and people wishing to escape city crowds, is home to a world-first pumped hydro project.

Developed by engineer Colin Stonehouse, the scheme is designed to end Walpole’s long-running power outage problems.

wind farm and earthworks from the air

These two renewable projects — a wind farm and pumped hydro — in the Great Southern are at opposite ends of the scale.(ABC Great Southern: Mark Bennett)

Mr Stonehouse has likened it to a small-scale Snowy Hydro, carved as it is into one of the town’s luscious green hills.

The dam on top of the hill releases water through a pipeline, spinning a turbine on its way to the bottom dam. 

The resulting energy is stored in batteries, as solar power is used to pump the water back up to the top dam.

The project was due to be up and running by the end of last year, but Mother Nature and a construction boom have held it back.

aerial of land clearing

The pumped hydro scheme near Walpole on WA’s south coast has been delayed by weather and a costruction boom. (ABC Great Southern: Mark Bennett)

“We are running behind schedule,” Mr Stonehouse said.

“Things have impacted us on timelines; we had very inclement weather through the last wet season. 

“And the construction is challenging in the current building climate to finding operators finding people to do the work.”

The turbine and generator are in place, ready to provide instant power to Walpole when the grid goes down — an all too familiar scenario for parts of regional WA this week. 

Man with curly long hair standing at end of a wide section of water pipe

Colin Stonehouse is the brains behind the Walpole project.(ABC Great Southern: Mark Bennett)

“It’s got the two battery banks here and the connection cabinet there,” he said.

“This battery bank here is equivalent to about 20 Tesla power walls.”

Mr Stonehouse expects the dams to fill with enough water by mid-year to operate the system. 

Major wind farm ready to switch on

wind farm in paddocks

Flat Rocks Windfarm near Kojonup in southern WA includes 18 turbines and is due to connect to the grid in coming weeks. (ABC Great Southern: Mark Bennett)

A couple of hundred kilometres up the highway is a new $200 million wind farm on a giant scale just a few weeks away from full commissioning. 

The giant wind turbines, with blades stretching about 200m into the sky, are visible from tens of kilometres away. 

Flat Rocks Windfarm sits in the state’s blue-ribbon agriculture heartland, between Kojonup and Tambellup.

Its 18 wind turbines are dotted throughout grain and sheep paddocks.

It will feed the grid almost 76 megawatts.

It is not just a large scale on the ground; mining giant BHP is purchasing the power to offset its carbon footprint.

Another similar-sized farm is planned nearby, with a deal struck with state water authority Water Corp to offset its desalination plants.

The stage one Flat Rocks Wind Farm has a life span of 25 years with the land beneath eventually returning to agriculture, although the project was met with some opposition from nearby property owners.

In a recent statement, Enel Greenpower said it would soon begin noise monitoring of the turbines and had connected to Western Power’s 132-kilovolt line. 

Kojonup farmer Rohan Thorn agreed to lease a part of his land for the turbines.

Mr Thorn, whose parents own shares in the farm’s developer, Moonies Hill Energy,  told the ABC at the start of the project that he viewed it as part of the bigger picture.

“A lot of people have this ‘not in my backyard’ attitude — ‘I don’t want to see turbines, but I don’t want to see a coal mine in my backyard either,'” he said.

“I see it as a reminder that we’re doing something good here.”

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