Environmentalists are hailing the NSW government’s $79 million proposal to build another renewable energy zone in the state’s north, but a business group isn’t sure it makes economic sense.
The NSW government plans to make the New England region the site of an 8000-megawatt clean-power hub as it seeks to replace existing power stations as they retire over the coming decades.
The renewable energy zone, to be built in stages, will bring multiple new generators online and is expected to eventually power 3.5 million homes.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the new energy project would also lower electricity bills and create 2000 jobs during construction and 1300 ongoing jobs.
“Regional NSW is the best place in Australia for renewable energy investment and the jobs it creates, and this funding allows us to unlock that potential,” he said in a statement on Friday.
Energy Minister Matt Kean said the “astounding” interest in NSW’s first renewable energy zone in the central west region prompted the government to think even bigger.
But the Australian Energy Council, representing 22 power companies, questioned the timing and location of the New England project.
The council noted the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated System Plan preferred short-term renewable funding be allocated closer to the existing grid or to sites deemed superior in other states.
“The cost savings of harvesting sun and wind energy a long way from population centres often do not outweigh the cost of transporting it long distances,” AEC chief executive Sarah McNamara said in a statement.
“It is crucial that each project is shown to be economically justifiable in its own right, consistent with the ISP and places downward pressure on customer bills.”
Greenpeace Australia campaigner Elizabeth Sullivan, however, applauded the investment which she described as the “biggest in the state’s history”.
“(It) puts NSW on the path to a clean economic recovery with cheap, plentiful, renewable energy,” she said in a statement.
“The potential gains are almost limitless, particularly at a time when business needs certainty more than ever.”
She added that the plan has been welcomed by locals in the nearby town of Narrabri who continue to oppose a controversial coal seam gas project proposed by Santos.
“This demonstrates that the state’s energy needs can be met without poisoning our land and water with gas projects like Narrabri, bravely opposed by thousands of locals,” Ms Sullivan said.