Western Australia’s MacGowan Labor government has launched a study into the feasibility of producing wind turbine components locally – a move that would mark a first for the state and a rarity for Australia as a whole.
The initiative, part of the government’s $92.4 million package to boost local manufacturing and bolster employment, will look at supply opportunities for wind farms, market trends, and local industry participation opportunities including for component manufacturing.
The study brief also includes investigating opportunities to create jobs in both metropolitan and regional areas, as well as the potential to generate investment.
The initiative comes as two new wind farms – Warradarge and Yandin – are nearing completion that will double the state’s wind output, and as major international players such as BP, Siemens, and a group comprising Vestas, Macquarie and CWP look at a range of potential multi-gigawatt scale wind and solar arrays that could deliver energy exports, green hydrogen, or a green metals and manufacturing industry.
State energy minister Bill Johnston said the study, led by the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation, would delve into the feasibility of how to increase local manufacturing to help in evolving industries like the renewable energy sector.
“Manufacturing parts for wind turbines in WA has never been done before by government and if it all stacks up then it’s another new pipeline of work for WA,” Johnston said.
“We’ve come out of a pandemic roaring to go and as we get industry back on its feet we’re also looking at opportunities further down the track which secures jobs in WA.”
A Local Industry Participation in Wind Farm Supply Action Group has been established to support the initiative, including representatives from BlueScope Distribution, the Australian Steel Institute, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and some of the state’s largest steel makers.
The group is expected to consider and advise on subjects including market trends, supply chain issues, the scope for development of manufacturing, and potential barriers and regulatory impediments.
It will also consider ways to attract investment into a potential wind component manufacturing industry, and other ways to strengthen Western Australian industry capability and competitiveness, including through policy support.
“Our WA Recovery Plan is about getting our state back on track, securing a pipeline of work and ensuring Western Australians have more job opportunities for years to come,” said W.A. Premier Mark McGowan on Thursday.
“The fact that full wind towers are being imported into the country has restricted job opportunities in manufacturing and fabricating by Western Australian businesses.
“We’re starting to see more international and Australian businesses establish manufacturing facilities on the east coast however that does nothing for local businesses and local jobs here in WA.
“We have some talented, innovative and willing steel fabricators in Western Australia and we need to look at how we can maximise our expertise and build a pipeline of future job opportunities for Western Australians, just like we are doing with WA-made railcars.”
Australia has little experience with wind turbine parts manufacturing – beyond the Victoria-based company Keppel Prince, which makes wind turbine towers.
Danish giant Vestas was foiled in an early attempt to set up two manufacturing plants here in the 2000s, after the then Coalition government rejected an independent recommendation to extend the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target.
“We had to close both of them – because of the lack of certainty,” then CEO of Vestas Wind Systems Ditlev Engel told RenewEconomy in an interview in 2013.
A decade later, Vestas has seen fit to give it another try, this time via a partnership with Geelong-based Marand Precision Engineering in Victoria, where it has established a turbine assembly and testing centre at a former Ford Motor factory.
Elsewhere, interest was expressed in 2016 by the founder, chairman and managing director of India’s Suzlon Energy, Tulsi Tanti, who told RenewEconomy that making large-scale wind turbines in Australia would make sense on a number of levels.
“Why can’t (wind turbines) be made in Australia? It’s a win-win situation. It will create jobs and bring the cost of project down.”
Western Australia, which has been relatively slow to the wind energy party in Australia, makes good sense as a hub for turbine component manufacturing. As RenewEconomy editor Giles Parkinson reported here, it is rapidly emerging as the new hot-spot for wind energy in Australia.