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A large-scale solar-plus-storage facility in South Australia. Image: Kingfisher/Lyon Group.

A large-scale solar-plus-storage facility in South Australia. Image: Kingfisher/Lyon Group.

Plans to develop an 8GW renewable energy zone (REZ) in New South Wales, the Australian state’s second, have been billed as the biggest commitment to clean energy in its history.

Located in the New England region, the AU$79 million (US$55 million) project is expected to attract AU$12.7 billion in investment, support 2,000 construction jobs and 1,300 ongoing jobs – all while lowering energy prices.

The development marks New South Wales’s second of three REZs and comes weeks after the first – located in the Central-West and Orana regions – received 113 registrations of interest, totalling 27GW, looking to connect to the 3GW zone in what constituted a significant oversubscription of available connections.

“The nine-fold level of interest in the Central-West Orana REZ was astounding, so it makes absolute sense to go even bigger with the New England REZ,” said the state’s energy minister Matt Kean.

“The New England REZ… when coupled with Central-West Orana REZ, sets the state up to become the number one destination across Australia for renewable energy investment.”

REZs involve making strategic transmission upgrades to bring multiple new generators online in areas with strong renewable resources and community support.

According to the NSW government, the REZs will play a “vital role” in delivering affordable energy to help replace the state’s existing power stations as they retire over the coming decades.

NSW deputy premier John Barilaro said the government is forging ahead with its plans to deliver new energy infrastructure that will lower electricity bills and create 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.

Plans for the New England REZ have been welcomed by the Clean Energy Council, Australia’s renewable energy association. Its chief executive, Kane Thornton, said it made sense to fast-track the project.

"Renewable energy proponents are ready to invest, but there is limited spare capacity in the transmission network for new projects,” he said. “We need new transmission if we want more renewable energy, so we support the NSW government's focus on delivering strategic transmission upgrades for the REZ.

"These are the initiatives that will drive Australia's economic recovery from COVID-19. A clean recovery with renewable energy infrastructure projects will create jobs, revitalise economic activity, reduce our carbon emissions and drive down power prices.”

Tags: australia, rez, new south wales, policy, regulation, grid