A simple graph compiled by the Australian Market Energy Operator may hold the key to the successful completion of a major North-West Queensland electricity project.
The long-time proponent of the Copper String project, which would link Mount Isa and Cloncurry to the state’s electricity supply system with a 1000km-plus alternating current transmission line, believes renewable energy can now drive the project forward.
John O’Brien said AEMO’s Integrated System Plan for 2018 showed just one region in Australia, a ‘clean energy hub’ planned for North-West Queensland, would have the highest possible score for both solar and wind energy quality.
“This plan identified (the area with) the best (potential) renewable resources in eastern Australia as being the North Queensland Clean Energy Hub,” Mr O’Brien said.
“It is the only region that has A-quality solar and A-quality wind.”
Mr O’Brien said advances in renewable energy technology and market conditions meant the integration of those renewables with large mining operations made the transmission project much more economically viable.
“The State Government has asked Powerlink to look into connecting electricity generated by the North Queensland Clean Energy Hub into the east coast supply,” he said.
“Powerlink has issued a report on this to the Government, although no one knows what it says, and the Government is still considering that report.
“(However) the high quality of renewables makes this connection desirable and the cost of those renewables is quite competitive, while the cost of gas is very high and the North-West currently gets its electricity from gas-fired power stations.
“So if we combine those very good renewable resources with the large mining and community load we already have in the North-West and the market structure of the east coast, we can have a massive impact on both the electricity price in the north-west and on the east coast, because we will be bringing into the Queensland system some of the best and cheapest resources available.”
Mr O’Brien said the Copper String proposal had garnered widespread support, including from some of the region’s biggest base metal miners and community organisations like MITEZ.
“The wholesale cost of energy in the north-west is probably twice as high as the cost of wholesale energy on the east coast,” Mr O’Brien said.
“The big users, like some of the bigger miners, are aware of this difference because they buy on both the east coast and in Mount Isa.
“The Copper String project is about changing the electricity supply economics in the north-west so that users can buy under the same conditions that apply in eastern Australia.”
Mr O’Brien said government support had given the project even greater impetus.
“We are very engaged with both sides of government at a federal level (in terms of pushing the project),” he said.
“We met with the Prime Minister in October last year and as a result of that we got a grant of $4.7 million to accelerate our process.
“I met with (shadow treasurer) Chris Bowen in Mount Isa recently and he said ‘this project has bipartisan support’.
“We also have very good engagement with the State Government and we have submitted an IAS for consideration by the Coordinator-General. We believe the department has all of the information they need to consider the project for Coordinated Project status, which would optimise that development process.
“The other recent milestone is that we have registration with AEMO as an Intending Participant, which we need to gain access to the system data necessary to be able to carry out the technical analysis to connect to the national grid.”