In a dusty corner of NSW and South Australia, an energy giant is emerging, as EnergyConnect, Australia’s largest electricity transmission project, continues to hit further milestones.
The $1.8 billion EnergyConnect project is a 900km transmission interconnector that will connect Wagga Wagga in New South Wales to Robertstown in South Australia and Red Cliffs in Victoria. Transgrid’s Executive General Manager of Major Projects, Gordon Taylor, said the project is a critical part of the shift to clean energy.
“EnergyConnect is a once-in-a-generation transmission project that will improve the affordability, reliability and security of electricity supply and we are really pleased construction is moving full steam ahead. “It will allow energy to be shared between New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria for the first time and enable the connection of new renewable generation to support Australia’s clean energy future,” Mr Taylor said.
Transgrid and its construction partner SecureEnergy are building the 700km New South Wales section from Wagga Wagga to the South Australian border, with a 22km connection to Red Cliffs, Victoria. South Australia’s ElectraNet is responsible for the remaining 200km from the border to Robertstown. Work on the $1.8 billion New South Wales section began in June 2022 and is well underway.
“We’re getting on with the job of delivering this critical project and we’re hitting significant milestones. “In late March we saw the first of 1,500 steel towers go up and since then we’ve erected another 90, with another 64 assembled and ready to go up,” Mr Taylor said.
Transgrid is using self-supporting towers as well as guyed towers consisting of a central mast held in place by four steel cables.
“Using guyed towers is just one of the ways we’re working to make EnergyConnect as sustainable as possible and this type of tower requires about 15 per cent less steel and 25 per cent less concrete, which helps us reduce the project’s carbon footprint,” he said.
At the centre
Transgrid’s Buronga substation is the hub that will connect New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria and will be one of the largest in Australia. The 16-hectare site will also be one of the most complex substations in the Southern Hemisphere, featuring equipment including two 120MVA capacity synchronous condensers, five phase-shifting transformers, three power transformers and four shunt reactors. The first phase-shifting transformer arrived in early June after a journey from South Korea and a 900km road trip from Adelaide.
“This is Australia’s biggest electricity project and everything on this project is big – the size of the equipment needed to move this transformer is another example of the scale of the project. “The transformer units weigh 374 tonnes and the convoy needed three prime movers as well as a 128-wheel trailer,” he said. With key equipment arriving, crews have been busy pouring some of the 60,000 cubic metres of concrete for footings and foundations for the project.
An around-the-clock effort was required for two concrete pours in April and May at Buronga for the synchronous condenser foundations. Each pour took eleven hours and a fleet of trucks to lay down 850 cubic metres of concrete.
Heading down South
Construction work on the South Australian section of the new interconnector, delivered by South Australia’s Transmission Network Service Provider, ElectraNet, is progressing well, with more than 60 per cent of works complete. The South Australian component includes about 200km of new transmission line, 384 transmission towers, a new substation at Bundey and works at existing substations at Robertstown and Tungkillo.
ElectraNet Chief Executive Officer Simon Emms said the focus of works include installation of the final transmission towers, stringing of the towers with conductor and substation construction works at Bundey.
“We are seeing solid progress on the project’s delivery in South Australia, which has placed us in a strong position to have construction works completed by the end of year, subject to favourable weather conditions. “There are currently between 200 and 250 people working on delivering the project across multiple sites in the Riverland region.
“Construction crews are currently assembling and installing the new towers between the Robertstown substation and the new substation at Bundey and we expect all towers to be fully erected by the end of June 2023,” Mr Emms said. Crews are stringing the new towers with conductors, with a focus on the towers between Taylorville and Calperum Stations.
“Construction works at the new Bundey substation are about 75 per cent complete, with the new transformers, which will be the largest on South Australia’s network, currently being installed. “Commissioning of the first stage of the interconnector between Robertstown in South Australia and Buronga in NSW and release of initial power transfer is planned for mid-2024,” Mr Emms said.
Boosting career opportunities
Back in New South Wales, Transgrid’s construction partner SecureEnergy has been recruiting workers, many of whom will stay in purpose-built camps along the route. SecureEnergy Project Director Samuel Basanta Lopez said, “We’re engaging a workforce that is unprecedented for a transmission construction project in the country, with EnergyConnect to create 1,500 jobs,” Together, Transgrid and SecureEnergy also launched a multi-million-dollar training initiative to boost skills in the transmission sector and address the jobs shortage in regional New South Wales.
The Legacy 100 program will see candidates complete qualifications in transmission line construction as part of EnergyConnect. Mr Basanta Lopez said 100 candidates will be recruited from across regional New South Wales. “This is the first time in this country an initiative like this has been launched and we are very proud to be developing the skills and capabilities required for the Australian energy sector,” he said.
Transgrid said the program comes as work prepares to move to the next phase on the New South Wales side. “With the stringing of 9,000km of conductor cabling to get underway shortly, we will require hundreds of workers. “Legacy 100 will form the backbone of the future workforce in the transmission tower construction industry, with workers to use the skills gained on EnergyConnect to build future projects,” Mr Taylor said.