Coming second: Victoria’s first wind farm

In the decade since 2001 wind farms have appeared around Victoria, driven by state government mandated renewable energy targets and subsidies. With turbines located in three main areas – along the coastline at Portland, in the hills around Ballarat, and on the coast in Gippsland. As of 2011 Victoria’s total wind generation capacity of 428 MW provides enough electricity to supply approximately 200,000 homes.

Codrington Wind Farm

The young age of Victoria’s wind farms makes the state look like a laggard in the renewable energy states, especially when you discover Australia’s first wind farm opened at Esperance in Western Australia all the way back in March 1987. However, Victoria does have a link to that trailblazing wind farm at Salmon Beach, and it is found at the small coastal township of Breamlea: midway between Barwon Heads and Torquay, just south of Geelong.

Solo wind turbine at Breamlea, Victoria

Victoria’s first wind turbine was erected in November 1987, only eight months after the pioneering turbines in WA commenced operations. The main difference was their purpose: Esperance was not connected to the state electricity grid and built their six turbines to supplement their diesel powered generation plant, while the single Victorian turbine was an experiment by monopoly electricity utility State Electricity Commission of Victoria, and the Victorian Solar Energy Council (now Sustainability Victoria).

SECV erecting the Breamlea wind turbine

The photo above is from Michael Gunter’s website, and it is possibly copyright of the former SECV.

Despite the differences in purpose, the turbines at the two locations were identical: both were built by Westwind of Kelmscott, Western Australia in conjunction with Venco of Newtown, Victoria. Was there some connection between the Geelong firm and the SECV choice of trial location?

The generator itself was of 60 kW capacity, connected to the three 8 metre long blades via a 1:21.9 ratio gearbox, located atop a 22 metre high steel monopole tower.

Wind generator at Black Rock

Costing around $200,000 to erect in 1987, the SECV operated the turbine at Breamlea intensively for the first three years, reaching a peak of 12 kW average power in 1990, but then a series of minor mechanical breakdowns and operational problems cut the average power to 6 kW and then 2.7 kW, when the privatisation of the Victorian electricity intervened in 1994.

Compared with brown coal fuelled power stations that were being sold off to private enterprise for billions of dollars, the tiny turbine at Breamlea was ignored by major investors, the only interest coming from the Alternative Technology Association of Melbourne. A non-profit community group that promotes environmentally friendly technology, the association made an offer for $18,000, which was accepted by Generation Victoria in September 1994.

The funding for the purchase came via a $6,000 interest free loan from an ATA member, a $6,000 donation by a second member, and a $6,000 contribution from CityPower in exchange for the right of first refusal to buy the electrical energy produced by the wind generator. At the time of the purchase the unit had been mothballed, with various parts of the turbine requiring maintenance before electricity generation could recommence, with the first power bring supplied to the grid in April 1995.

It was during the period of the ATA’s ownership that a number of open days were held at the site, with visitors being taken up to the top of the turbine, where the hatches were opened up to expose the equipment inside. Around 1995 I attended one of these open days with my grandfather, but unfortunately I didn’t get to visit the top: I’m not sure if I was too young, or nobody else was allowed up either.

Wind generator at Black Rock

Over the next few months the cash flow problems began to trouble the non-profit association, and the decision was made to sell the wind turbine to one of their members for $30,000. The new owner, a Mr Michael Gunter, had provided the initial interest free loan to the association and was a key driver of their involvement in the Breamlea project.

Under private ownership the average power output of the turbine was 10 kW: down from the peak of 12 kW during SECV operation in 1990, but continuing at a steady rate until May 2003 when the generator burnt out, due to an electrical flash-over caused by moisture and salt contamination. It is assumed that the cost of repairs were too much for the private owner, as the Breamlea turbine was sold to local water utility Barwon Water the same year, who got the turbine generating electricity again by early 2004.

Almost 25 years after entering service, the Breamlea wind turbine remains in service today, except for a short outage in September 2001.

Wind generator at Black Rock

What happened to the manufacturers?

  • Westwind Wind Turbines: they have moved from Western Australia to the United Kingdom
  • Venco: now better known as a pottery equipment manufacturer

And back at Esperance? Their Salmon Beach Wind Farm was dismantled in 2002: four turbines were sold to a Queensland company; with the final one kept on site as a monument, being cut down and placed on display at ground level.

Further reading

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4 Responses to “Coming second: Victoria’s first wind farm”

  1. […] so often my grandfather would drive us out to poo farm, passing the wind turbine on Blackgate Road and parking the car at the end of the road. We could then walk west along the coast, passing the […]

  2. An interesting article. Thanks. (I’ve added a link to it on my page on Victorian wind farms.)

  3. Nick Wardrop says:

    Marcus,
    great article. You may be interested to know that the wind turbine was purchased from Geoff Hill of Venco/Westwind in WA after a failed attempt to have a turbine designed and built in Victoria (jointly funded by the Victorian and Federal Government) in the mid 1980s. It was WT number 7 of a series, the first 6 were produced for the Esperance Wind Farm.

    The Breamlea project may never have happened but for the championing of this and a previous Victorian coastal wind monitoring project by Professor William Charters (who set up the Victorian Solar Energy Council and who passed away earlier in 2017). The then State Electricity Commission of Victoria was very skeptical about the reliability and safety of wind power as there had been a catastrophic failure of an earlier grid connected wind turbine at the Mars Factory in Ballarat. The fact that the Breamlea WT is 30 years old in November 1997 shows the innovative vision of Bill and VSEC staff was well justified.

    In the following year, at the Bicentennial Electrical Engineering Conference (1988), a paper was presented by VSEC that pointed out that Victoria had a world class wind resource that should be developed. A follow up wind farm was planned for Toora, but it would have to wait until after the conservative government in Victoria was voted out of office in the late 1990s.

    Nick

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