The tallest wind turbines ever to be built in Australia will come through the Port of Newcastle next month.
The 200-metre tall turbines will be transported to the Sapphire Wind Farm project, west of Glen Innes in the New England area.
Newcastle-based CWP Renewables is building the $588 million project, which includes 75 turbines.
The project coincides with a turning point in the energy sector, as the market pivots towards renewables and away from coal.
With 10 coal-fired power plants having closed in Australia since 2012, industry insiders are warning that more renewable sources of energy must be built to avoid blackouts and higher electricity prices.
CWP Renewables chief operating officer Ed Mounsey said the Sapphire project would be the largest wind farm in NSW and the second largest in Australia for capacity.
“It is a big milestone,” Mr Mounsey.
Mr Mounsey said the Sapphire project had been in construction since January 3.
“It’ll be fully operational by the middle of 2018.”
As for the Hunter’s future in renewable energy, Mr Mounsey said it was “not the most ideal location for wind farms, in terms of the available wind resource”.
“It’s reasonably populated as well, so it makes it harder to locate new projects, given the existing guidelines that are in place,” he said.
He said large-scale solar on the land was “potentially a better fit for the Hunter”.
He said the Port of Newcastle was playing a role in the development of the renewables sector.
His company had chosen the Port of Newcastle, ahead of Port Kembla and Port of Brisbane.
“It’s their proximity, capability and appetite to get into this space,” he said.
“Up until about 12 months ago, they hadn’t done a wind farm. They’re very keen to leverage their facilities.”
A Port of Newcastle spokeswoman said the first of eight shipments of wind turbines for the Sapphire project were due to arrive at the port around mid-August.
“The project demonstrates the Port of Newcastle’s ability to handle large project cargoes – such as wind turbines, machinery, prefabricated structures and building materials – that contribute to wind farms and construction developments across NSW,” the spokeswoman said.
“As the port has the capacity to more than double its current ship numbers and trade volume, there is ample capacity to grow all cargoes including coal, wheat, fuel, alumina, fertiliser, mineral concentrates, steel and project cargo such as wind turbines.”
Mr Mounsey said the Sapphire project was an example of investment returning to the renewable energy sector.
When former prime minister Tony Abbott decided four years ago to axe the carbon tax, it led to uncertainty and a lack of investment in the energy sector.
However, Mr Mounsey said certainty did return two years ago when the Coalition and Opposition agreed on a revised renewable energy target.
This target is aimed at ensuring 23.5 per cent of Australia's electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020.
The Clean Energy Regulator released a report in May, which found that unprecedented investment in wind and solar power had put Australia on track to meet this target.
The report said 98 new large-scale renewable energy plants, mostly solar farms, were accredited last year. This investment momentum had continued this year.
Furthermore, the Finkel review was released last month, calling for the introduction of a clean energy target.
Under this proposed target, 42 per cent of Australia's electricity would come from renewables by 2030.
The Finkel scheme would require new renewable energy power plants to have baseload power back-up in the form of batteries, pumped hydro storage or a gas-fired power station.
In its submission to the Finkel review, the Clean Energy Council said “the technology exists to deliver a secure and zero-emission electricity system”.
“It should be expected that Australia will require a zero-emissions electricity system by the middle of the century, as part of the global response to climate change,” the council’s submission said.
After Australia’s 2030 commitments are met, a new set of targets “will need to be established that will require the electricity market to transition to a zero-emissions system by 2050”, the council said.
“This should be planned for over the coming decade.
“This will require careful planning and reform of the energy market to ensure an energy system that can facilitate much higher levels of renewable energy and energy storage.”
Mr Mounsey said a well thought out transition was needed from a largely fossil-fuel based generation sector to one based on clean and renewable sources.
“We’re 100 per cent supportive of the Finkel review,” Mr Mounsey said.
“It sets a clear direction for the sector.”
Mr Mounsey said his company would like “both sides of politics to get behind it and provide certainty, so we can get on with the job”.
Labor is backing the Finkel review, but has also committed to 50 per cent of electricity coming from renewables by 2030.
The Coalition has not committed to the clean energy target, amid concerns about its affect on the coal sector.
But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the target is up for discussion, as is the prospect of using taxpayers’ money to help build new “high efficiency, low emissions (HELE)” coal-fired plants.
But there are doubts about whether the HELE plants will be able to compete with cleaner forms of energy production, as Australia seeks to reduce carbon emissions by enough to meet its international commitments on climate change.
And the biggest power generators in Australia have said they don’t want to build these types of power plants because of their prohibitive cost and risks associated with the price of carbon.