By the early 2000s, the Far North Queensland region was estimated to be producing around 40% of its electricity needs through renewable sources including wind, water, solar, and bagasse (a by-product of sugar production)1. Recently new renewable energy projects have been approved by the State and Federal Governments.
Far North Queensland has used hydroelectric power generation since the Barron River Gorge Hydro Power Station was constructed in the 1930s. Barron River Gorge was the first hydroelectric power station in Queensland, and the first underground power station in Australia. It produced 3.8 MW with two 1,200kw turbines until it was upgraded with an additional 1,400kw turbine in 1940. The original power station was eventually decommissioned and replaced in the early 1960s with a 66 megawatt maximum capacity power plant.
Far North Queensland now has four hydroelectric power stations, including Kareeya Hydro, Koombooloomba Dam, and Tinaroo Dam. Kareeya Hydro, near Tully, which boasts the highest rainfall in Australia, was built in 1957. Koombooloomba Dam was constructed to store water for the Kareeya Hydro plant located downstream on the Tully River. A 7.3MW hydro power station was added at Koombooloomba in 1999, making use of the water released to power the Kareeya plant.
Tinaroo Dam is the latest addition to North Queensland's hydroelectricity resources. It was added in 2004 and generates 1.6 megawatts making use of water released for irrigation and to regulate the water flow for the Barron Gorge Power Station located downstream on the Barron River. It is classed as a mini hydro power plant, and was built at a cost of just $4 million.
Two 225 kilowatt wind turbines supplement the diesel generator. The turbines were installed in 1997, and are estimated to save 359,000 litres of fossil fuel every year.
Windy Hill is located on the Atherton Tablelands between Millaa Millaa and Ravenshoe, and is the largest in Queensland State. It consists of twenty 600kw turbines which produce a maximum 12 megawatts of electricity. It was built by Stanwell Corporation in 2000, and in 2007 was purchased by Transfield Services who retain a 20% share after selling 80% to Ratch Australia in 2011.
In November 2015, the Federal Government gave conditional approval for the development of a 63-turbine wind farm at Mt Emerald via Walkamin, in Mareeba Shire. The developers (Ratch Australia) hope to begin construction in mid 2016. The plant is expected to produce around 650,000 megawatt hours of electricity once fully operational.
By 2011, 4.4MW of electricity was being generated by rooftop solar panels owned by private householders and businesses connected to the grid2.
In October 2015 the Queensland Government approved the development of one of what will be one of Australia's largest solar power electricity generation projects - The Burdekin Solar Farm. The plant will be built at Clare, south-west of Ayr, in Burdekin Shire, and the 238 hectares of solar panels has an estimated cost of $400 million.
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