Power plan for expansion

Solar Turbines Contracts manager Greg Hoffrichter, Esperance Power Station employee Thomas McGhie, Esperance Area Manager Wynard Ferreira, Infrastructure Capital director James Arthur, TW Power Services operations manager Warren McClintock, Solar Turbines District service manager Ben Howland,  Infrastructure Capital Operations director Hugh Webster and Solar Turbines Operations Manager Customer Services Alan Britton. Photo: Jesinta Burton.
Solar Turbines Contracts manager Greg Hoffrichter, Esperance Power Station employee Thomas McGhie, Esperance Area Manager Wynard Ferreira, Infrastructure Capital director James Arthur, TW Power Services operations manager Warren McClintock, Solar Turbines District service manager Ben Howland, Infrastructure Capital Operations director Hugh Webster and Solar Turbines Operations Manager Customer Services Alan Britton. Photo: Jesinta Burton.

Infrastructure Capital Group has flagged it has the capacity to expand renewable energy use in the region after having secured a substantial investment from the federal government.

The Australian-owned firm have almost $2 billion under management in renewable, gas and other infrastructure projects, including Esperance Power Station, and are one of the largest investors in WA.

The power station, built back in 2003 to displace diesel, currently employs 11 local staff and supplies electricity to the Esperance region, as well as gas to about 400 customers including larger businesses and the Esperance Hospital.

The firm has supplied free gas to the Bay of Isles Leisure Centre since 2005, translating to a contribution of more than $3 million.

The current system takes nearly all of the Synergy owned wind farm production, with about 23 per cent of the town's electricity coming from the wind generation in 2018.

At certain times this figure rises to 50 per cent, something Esperance Area manager Mr Ferreira said was significant considering the age of the wind farm.

With the Power Purchase Agreement with Esperance Power Station expiring in 2022, Horizon Power called for Expressions of Interest late last year from organisations looking to assist them to supply electricity to the town.

Having run and owned the Power Station for more than 15 years, ICG director James Arthur said the company had a strong commitment to the area and hoped to continue that arrangement.

The company received a substantial investment from the Federal government's Clean Energy Finance Corporation back in December 2018, the largest investment to date.

Although Mr Arthur could not discuss the company's application, he did confirm that they have previously proposed to the local council, chamber of commerce and state government representatives including Horizon Power, ICG's interest in redeveloping the Synergy wind farm that is heading towards the end of its useful life.

"What we've presented previously to council, the Esperance chamber of commerce and several State Government stakeholders including Horizon Power, is to redevelop the Synergy wind farm," Mr Arthur said.

"We have the capital to invest and to redevelop the Synergy wind farm.

"We already operate five wind farms and we're trying to add some solar projects to the portfolio, too.

"We did a substantial amount of work on the optimal energy generation mix down here in 2017 and 2018 and it's clear that wind is the superior resource.

"Right now, there is a bit of uncertainty about what the future of energy supply to Esperance looks like beyond 2022.

"I believe we have the best local team, and we're keen to grow that as well."

Photo: Jesinta Burton.

Photo: Jesinta Burton.

Although supportive of more renewable generation in the region, Mr Arthur said it was very important that the town have a base load to maintain a secure supply.

"The power station here is very reliable," he said.

"The wind isn't always blowing and the sun isn't always shining - it is very important that we have that base load to maintain a secure supply.

"We like battery technology but, right now, the technology is not necessarily commercially viable.

"To support more renewables, you're either going to need continued gas generation or, as an alternative, LNG or diesel.

"With the existing asset already here, there are cost advantages for the town for the power station to continue in some form or at a reduced generation load to increase the wind or solar profile for the town."

ICG Operations director Hugh Webster confirmed the power station was a well-maintained asset, with about 15 to 20 years of life left without any major capital expenditure.

With the asset at midlife, Mr Webster said the company would like to continue their commitment to the town and facilitate the transition.

"There is already existing infrastructure on the ground and there is already that baseload to support renewables in the immediate future," he said.

"We also have the financial capacity, and at no cost to government, to fund a new wind or solar farm.

"We believe the power station is required for that transitional period, where you can get from the 20 per cent that we're at now to whatever the aspirational number for the community is, and we believe that the power station can support that transition."

The Expressions of Interest was the first in a number of steps in the overall power procurement process, with the next phase involving an assessment of the responses received.

Horizon Power have confirmed it may be a number of years before a final decision is reached.