Located 270 km north-west of Townsville, Kidston was once home to the largest open-cut gold mine in Australia. The mine’s closure in 2001 decimated the small town’s population, but Genex’s renewable energy hub promises to bring much-needed jobs to the region.
Clean Energy Council member Genex Power, an Australian company listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, is developing a $1 billion renewable energy hub in the Queensland town.
The renewable energy hub is comprised of three large-scale projects, a 50 MW solar project (stage one), which is currently under construction and expected to begin generation in Q4 2017, a 250 MW pumped hydro storage project and an integrated 270 MW solar project (stage two).
The development of stage one currently employs 120 workers, and more than 500 workers are anticipated to be needed for stage two. Given the scale of the projects, employment has been sourced from across Australia, but Genex has prioritised local employment wherever possible to provide opportunities for regional communities.
“The Genex Power Project has given me the opportunity to gain employment and to set in place some training programs that will help me to gain experience in other areas”, said Luke Ryan, one of several local residents employed by Genex directly. “There are not very many employment opportunities in the Kidston area, so I am extremely grateful to gain employment with Genex”.
Genex is utilising much of the infrastructure that was left behind after the mine’s closure, including the flat, consistent tailings dam as the site of the 50 MW stage one solar project and two huge mining voids, which are now filled with water, as the upper and lower reservoirs for a pumped hydro scheme. The company is also taking advantage of an existing transmission line to connect directly to the national grid and an accommodation camp, airstrip, substation and solid road access that were built to service the mine operation.
“The site is absolutely ideal. It is situated within the highest solar resource zone of the country, giving our solar projects one of the highest capacity factors in existence”, said Genex’s Executive Director Simon Kidston. “We are also able to utilise the two mining voids as reservoirs for our pumped hydro project, saving significant amounts of construction cost and time”.
Pumped storage hydro is the most abundant form of energy storage, comprising more than 99 per cent of all worldwide storage due to its large-scale efficiency, 100-year plus project lifespan and low operation costs. By releasing water through a turbine/generator mechanism into a lower reservoir during peak demand periods, Genex can help stabilise the grid and take advantage of higher wholesale electricity prices. Once prices decline, particularly overnight when demand is low, the water is pumped back up into the upper reservoir, essentially recharging this giant water battery.
The integration of the 270 MW stage two solar project with the 250 MW pumped hydro project enables Genex to provide dispatchable solar power during the morning and evening peak periods, which is the first time this approach has been adopted anywhere in the world.
“Our second stage solar project will power the pumping cycle during the day, allowing us to recharge the hydro scheme, releasing the solar energy produced during the highest price points of the evening, creating renewable energy on tap”, said Mr Kidston.
The renewable energy hub has both federal and state government support, with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Clean Energy Finance Corporation providing financial support for stage one and the Queensland Government providing a 20-year revenue support deed. The hub was recently declared a “critical infrastructure project” by the Queensland Government, with Queensland State Development Minister Dr Anthony Lynham saying that the project will “help deliver a reliable renewable energy source and support hundreds of jobs”. In addition, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has announced first-stage board approval for potential concessional debt funding for stage two of the project.
Further to stage two, Powerlink Queensland will develop a 275 Kv transmission line to enable a grid connection for the integrated projects, resulting in further economic stimulation and job opportunities for the region.