Turning Tassie’s elements into a green future
What began as a conversation in a shed over beers became the realisation of a $280-million Tasmanian wind farm.
When farmer Royce Smith had international interest in his Granville Harbour farm as a potential wind farm site, he invited his mate Alex Simpson round to his farm shed. What seemed a far-fetched suggestion over beers, to build the windfarm themselves, became a $280-million reality nine years later.
Royce Smith and Alex Simpson became colloquially known as the ‘farmer and his mate.’ From politicians to West Coast locals, most wouldn’t bet on two blokes who knew nothing about wind farming. But this highly intelligent, environmentally-conscious duo had a vision and Granville Harbour Wind Farm was born.
“We knew we were in a position to harness Tasmania’s enviable wind potential and at the same time drive the mission for this state to be 100 per cent reliant on renewable energy by 2022,” explains Alex. “We had no idea what we were doing at the time but we shook hands and three days later we were meeting with the Tasmanian Energy Minister. This was late 2011 and today, the project has just been commissioned and reached commercial operation.”
Granville Harbour Wind Farm is located on an isolated stretch of coastline just over 30 kilometres from Zeehan on Tasmania’s West Coast. Royce’s 1200-hectare farm is famed for producing some of the country’s best grass-fed beef and he’ll continue to run about 1850 premium cattle on the property.
While Royce farmed, Alex’s career has taken creative twists and turns. It spanned two decades in the Army, a specialist role with CS Energy in Queensland and setting up his own survival training academy. He also developed a meat pie vending machine company with a friend, servicing pubs and clubs required under licensing laws to serve food with alcohol. This pie-in-the-sky pie venture reached $15 million in market value. The innovative Tasmanian then moved into consulting roles before taking a position as the Parks and Reserve Manager at Cradle Mountain and subsequently the Northwest Regional Manager before moving into wind farming.
The wind farm was no easy task for Alex and Royce with their respective backgrounds; the only Tasmanians that have taken a wind farm from inception all the way through to operation. Alex mortgaged his two houses, Royce left tractors and fences in disrepair and they both cut firewood every weekend for cash flow, both insistent that Royce was not to mortgage his farm.Their infrastructure project generated some 200 new jobs during the construction phase – creating a wind farm of 31 turbines, producing 112-megawatts. That enough power to service 46,000 Tasmanian homes; that’s equal to powering every house in north west Tasmania. In the process, they invested $3.8 million into the West Coast economy and injected $16 million across Tasmania.
“The process was arduous, 52 rounds of due diligence, but the people we had on our team were phenomenal. We knew the enormous potential here in Tasmania for clean, renewable energy and that Granville Harbour was a prime location,” explains Alex, who is today the company’s Executive Director.
In late 2017, an agreement with Hydro Tasmania was reached to purchase Granville Harbour Wind Farm’s power and in early 2018, it was sold to Australian company, Palisade Investment Partners. This sale allowed full construction to commence mid-2018.
Though not everyone is in favour of wind farms, Alex takes an invitational approach to those who have reservations. “My experience has been that if people don’t like wind farms – perhaps think that they are ugly – I invite them on a tour of one. Often, by the end they remark that their eyes have been opened to the incredible engineering and opportunity. Turbines are actually quite alive – they’re not just a piece of metal – the sound of the hum and the movement when you’re up one. They’re bloody brilliant.”
Alex and Royce aren’t stopping at Granville Harbour Wind Farm. They have bold ideas to bring hydrogen power to Tasmania. Through international travel and moving ahead of the trend, Alex has already seen this renewable energy’s success in Europe where an entire German town is powered by hydrogen alone.
“It is the way of the future. We’ll be filling up our electric cars with hydrogen and guess what comes out the exhaust? Only water. It’s a global market that’s going gangbusters and will be the energy carrier (or fuel) of tomorrow. It works seriously well in cars, but where it shines is in heavy industry like trucks, trains and ships. Then there’s housing – in Europe now they have hydrogen heating generated off solar panels. That means after the initial set up cost then it’s free. No power bills. Tasmania could run entirely on hydrogen. That’s our next mission.”
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Find out more about Granville Harbour Wind Farm.
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