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Progress for New South Wales REZ, as government pledges AU$1 billion for ‘storage CEFC’

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New South Wales has submitted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for its Central-West Orana Renewable Energy Zone (REZ), making it the first REZ to reach the development “milestone”.

The government of the Australian state is developing at least five separate multi-gigawatt REZ facilities, connected to the grid and using long-duration energy storage (LDES) to partly replace traditional centralised power plants.  

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Roughly 20,000km2, Central-West Orana REZ will be built near the villages of Dunedoo, Mudgee and Dubbo, which are in a rural area about 330km north west of Sydney.

The government is putting renewable energy capacity onto it through competitive tenders and received 27GW worth of expressions of interest (EOI) in 2020, well above its planned capacity. It has been a similar story for other REZ calls for prospective bidders in NSW, most recently the Illawarra REZ in August 2022.

The filing of its EIS is a critical step in the cycle of approvals and “demonstrates our commitment to ensuring NSW households, businesses and industry can access clean, affordable and reliable energy as coal-fired power stations retire,” NSW’s minister for energy Penny Sharpe said.

The EIS is on public exhibition for a month, through EnergyCo, the state-run energy corporation tasked with delivering the REZ.

The government kicked off the Central-West Orana project in earnest last November when it officially declared the REZ. Its planned grid export capacity will be an initial 3GW when it goes online by the middle of this decade.

EnergyCo said in August that the government plans beef up the network further to accommodate 4.5GW of export by 2030. The government is exploring options for the REZ to eventually reach 6GW export from mostly wind and solar PV resource by 2038.

Minister Diane Sharpe also noted in a statement made 28 September that it is planning to also include 2GW of long-duration energy storage.  

State budget includes AU$1 billion for storage, firming resources

A couple of weeks ago, the state government, headed up by Premier Chris Minns’ Australian Labor Party, committed AU$804 million (US$514.7 million) funding for its Transmission Acceleration Facility. The facility aims to speed up the process of connecting REZs to the grid.

That was among energy transition investments announced in the Labor Party’s budget for the current 2023-2024 financial year. The other big one was the creation of a so-called Energy Security Corporation which would invest into energy storage and firming resources on behalf of the state.

The government compared it to the role played by the national Clean Energy Finance Council (CEFC), which invests in and helps finance commercial clean energy projects across a range of technologies.

The Energy Security Corporation could invest into resources such as pumped hydro energy storage (PHES), community batteries and virtual power plants (VPPs), with the government committing AU$1 billion to its creation.

In July the state gave planning approvals to two large-scale BESS plants adding up to 270MW output which would be in the Central-West Orana REZ, while New South Wales is also home to Australia’s biggest BESS project in construction, Waratah Super Battery, a “giant shock absorber” for the grid, as the government has described it.

Premier Minns and energy minister Sharpe have both said that policies such as increasing privatisation under the previous government of the Liberal Party have put New South Wales behind schedule in pursuing net zero emissions. Labor has recommitted to that goal and the implementation of the state’s Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap that set out the path to achieve it, including plans for the REZ developments.

That roadmap had been put in place in 2020 and included the 2GW LDES capacity in the Central-West Orana’s design from the outset along with 12GW in total of renewable generation across the five REZs.

An interactive map on the EnergyCo website shows the different clean energy projects proposed for the Central-West REZ and relevant transmission network infrastructure projects.  

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