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Macquarie invests above ground in old mining town

In a coup for the renewable energy industry, Macquarie Bank has entered a joint venture to build Australia's biggest wind farm, near Broken Hill.

The proposed farm at Silverton would generate enough energy to meet 4.5 per cent of the state's needs, or power more than 400,000 households, said Epuron, the company behind the plan.

Epuron, a subsidiary of German-listed renewables giant Conergy, will announce plans today to finance and build the $2 billion plant in concert with Macquarie Capital Group.

If a development proposal is approved by the NSW Government in March, construction of up to 500 turbines would begin early next year, and the farm could start producing power by late 2009, said Epuron's executive director, Andrew Durran.

"As far as I know, it's the biggest investment that Macquarie Bank has made in a wind farm in Australia," Mr Durran said.

"One of the reasons it is such a good site is that, unlike the eastern seaboard, there is very little to stop it expanding to a very large scale, with the nearest house three kilometres away, so there is a huge prospect for growth."

The proposal is to build the wind farm along a series of ridges on an area about 30 kilometres by 15 kilometres, outside Silverton. It would be designed to generate close to 1000 megawatts of power without pollution, reducing the state's greenhouse emissions by the equivalent of 3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, Epuron said.

Macquarie Group would not say how much money it had invested in the joint venture. A spokesman would not comment on the scale of the investment yesterday, but said it formed part of the company's $1.3 billion renewable energy generation assets. Macquarie Capital has invested in renewable power in Australia, France, the United States, Canada, Sweden and Poland.

Mr Durran said the Government had appeared to have some reservations about the plan, based on the strength of the breeze around Broken Hill, but said he hoped that new research findings would convince it that the farm would be viable.

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Ian Macdonald, said the Government supported all renewable energy initiatives, including wind farms.

"The NSW Government welcomes Epuron's proposal to invest in this renewable energy project in regional NSW," the spokeswoman said. The project was being assessed by the NSW Department of Planning and would be considered on its own merits.

The plant could be connected to the power grid by power lines and transformers stretching 250 kilometres south toward Mildura in Victoria, or west to the South Australian grid, as well as powering parts of western NSW.

"If the demand is there we could accelerate the building and complete it in three years, otherwise we can slow down and complete it over four to five years," Mr Durran said.

The project would bring about 100 permanent jobs to the district, mainly involving engineering and maintenance work.

Ben Cubby, Environment Reporter
January 8, 2008

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald