NSW advances energy transition with approval of Central-West Orana REZ Transmission Project

Clean energy image of solar panels and wind turbines

We recently wrote about the Independent Planning Commission's approval of the Thunderbolt Wind Farm, a development consent for a 192 MW wind farm within the New England Energy Renewable Energy Zone.

In more good news for NSW's energy transition focussed around renewable energy zones (REZ), on 26 June 2024 the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces (the Minister) granted an infrastructure approval to the Energy Corporation of NSW (EnergyCo) for the Central-West Orana REZ Transmission Project (the CWO Project). The Minister is the approval authority as the CWO Project is declared to be State Significant Infrastructure under the State Environmental Planning Policy (Planning Systems) 2021. A link to the infrastructure approval is here.

The State Significant Infrastructure Approval (the Approval) of the CWO Project authorises a program of works including pre-construction minor works, road upgrades, construction, operation, upgrading, and decommissioning the high-voltage electricity transmission infrastructure required to connect energy generation and storage projects within the Central-West Orana REZ to the existing electricity network. More specifically, the CWO Project involves the construction and operation of approximately 90km of 500kV transmission lines and approximately 150km of 330kV transmission lines, which will connect key electricity generating projects in the CWO REZ into the existing NSW transmission network and the National Energy Market (NEM).

The Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure's Assessment Report (available here) outlines some key issues it considered in its assessment of the CWO Project. In particular:

Public submissions: the public exhibition of the CWO Project elicited 366 unique submissions (351 objecting, 13 comments and two in support), 21 submissions from special interest groups (12 objecting, eight comments and one in support), advice from 18 government agencies and submissions from the four host councils, with Warrumbungle Shire Council objecting to the CWO Project.

Energy transition: the assessment report found that the CWO Project is consistent with a number of national and state policies, which "identify the need for additional transmission capacity within the CWO REZ to connect proposed renewable energy generation projects within the REZ to the NEM, and to support energy security and reliability…". Those policies include:

  • the NSW Government's Transmission Infrastructure Strategy (available here);
  • the NSW Government's Electricity Strategy and Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap (background information available here); and
  • the 2022 Integrated System Plan (ISP) and the draft 2024 ISP (available here and here, respectively)

Biodiversity: the assessment report goes into some detail in relation to several aspects of the CWO Project relating to biodiversity. Table 7 in the assessment report details the "native vegetation and threatened species biodiversity offset liability", and details that the CWO Project will generate a total liability of 63,020 species credits under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. This is reflected in the detailed conditions of the Approval (B21-B26), including the preparation of a Biodiversity Offset Package.

Landscape character and visual amenity: visual mitigation measures, such as vegetation screening, included as conditions of the Approval were considered to be adequate to manage visual amenity impacts such that the CWO Project would not fundamentally change the broader landscape character of the area.

Traffic and transport: while impacts would be largely limited to the construction period, the Approval requires upgrade to 18 roads and intersections and the preparation of a Transport Strategy to ensure that traffic impacts can be appropriately managed.

With a footprint of some 4,000 hectares, a project such as this is bound to run into a variety of issues from a biodiversity and amenity perspective, in particular. A detailed and necessarily onerous infrastructure approval such as that granted for the CWO Project is to be expected.

The CWO Project has a capital investment value of some $3.2billion and is expected to generate up to 1,800 construction jobs, and 60 operational jobs. Construction is proposed to commence in late 2024 and is estimated to go for some 28 months.

More broadly, the CWO REZ is expected to unlock at least 4.5 gigawatts of new network capacity by the late 2020's. The Minister's issuing of the Approval provides certainty that new transmission infrastructure will be delivered, which should enable proponents and financiers to progress the next steps in planning and development of renewable (particularly solar and wind farm) projects within the area.

We continue to assist a broad range of players in this space. Please reach out if we can assist your business in the planning or delivery of any energy transition projects.

All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.

Key contacts

Alex Beale

Special Counsel

Verity Gresswell

Verity Gresswell

Senior Associate