It may be isolated, but far flung Lord Howe Island is $4.5 million closer to becoming the first community in Australia to generate most of its own power using renewable energy and slash its diesel use by 70 per cent in the process.
The Lord Howe Island Board, which manages the island’s infrastructure and services, has been awarded a multi-million dollar grant by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to create a 1MW hybrid renewable project harnessing and storing wind and solar power, with a target of achieving a 70 per cent renewable energy power system by 2018.
If successful, the project is likely to serve as a strong, practical example of how renewable energy can be directly translated into hard economic benefits.
Self-sufficiency is a serious business when you live on an island 600kms east of the NSW mainland and a boat comes in once a fortnight from Port Macquarie with supplies that includes diesel for the island’s generator to provide power to 350 residents and 400 tourists.
It costs around $1.70 per litre to ship diesel in, compared with an average NSW price of $1.58 per litre and the island’s board subsidises electricity for islanders due to the high cost of generation.
If the renewable hybrid power project goes ahead, a study by Powercorp on the island’s energy supply says it expects the cost of a unit of energy to plummet to less than half of the cost of supplying it solely by diesel generation.
It’s firm evidence of those kinds of economic savings that are in turn likely to help other remote communities and local governments get their own renewable power projects.
Lord Howe Island Board chief executive Penny Holloway told Government News that the board was applying to NSW Treasury to fund the remainder of the $11.6 million project. If the money is secured, which should be decided early next year, the board is hoping to begin straight away importing two two-bladed, 55-metre wind turbines (half the size of mainland turbines), solar panels and battery storage, using diesel as back-up.
“There will be a saving on diesel fuel,” Ms Holloway said.
“People will still have to pay electric bills because we will still have to pay for running the system but hopefully ones that people can afford to pay.”
NSW Treasury has already given the island’s board $65,000 to prepare a business case supporting its funding bid, which will include building a wind mast the same height as the Vergnet turbines it will later erect.
Building the wind mast will also measure wind and assess the turbine’s impact on birds and bats as part of the bid’s environmental assessment. An engineer will also be employed to complete a technical feasibility study and pull together a design.
Ms Holloway said generating renewable energy could also make it easier for people to run electric vehicles on the island, where the speed limit is 25km and there is only 10km of road, as energy would be more reliable. However NSW Roads and Maritime Services would first need to permit the registration of the small electric vehicles, which look a bit like golf buggies.
But it’s the creature comforts that mainlanders take for granted that underscore the need for and benefits of energy security on Lord Howe.
A good, steady renewable power supply could lead to the lifting of a blanket ban on air conditioning currently in place on the island, Ms Holloway said.
ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said the project would help other remote Australian communities pursuing similar, off-grid projects in the future by sharing knowledge on planning and construction and so reducing costs.
“The project is designed to demonstrate the cost and reliability of deploying a high penetration renewable hybrid system in a remote location,” Mr Frischknecht said.