The Bendigo wind farm funded under a 20-year deal with the ACT government became the first to reach financial close on Tuesday, with a Japanese investor becoming majority owner of the project.
The news comes as the government confirmed on Tuesday that Elementus Energy had applied for an exemption from having to prepare an environmental impact statement on the clearing of native vegetation before lodging a development application on its new solar farm site at Williamsdale.
The Coonooer Bridge wind farm is the smallest of the three to win a 20-year guaranteed feed-in tariff from the ACT for the energy they produce. The project is managed by Canberra-based Windlab, whose chief executive Roger Price said financial close was a very significant milestone. Construction would begin with two months and the wind farm would be operating early in 2016, he said.
The Japanese equity partner for the $50 million project is Eurus Energy Holdings, which is majority owned by Toyota Tsusho.
Eurus becomes 80 per cent owner of the project. Windlab will manage the wind farm and owns 16 per cent. The remaining 4 per cent is in the hands of local farmers in the Coonooer Bridge community north-west of Bendigo, Victoria. Mr Price said the project was being financed with 30 per cent equity (from Eurus) and 70 per cent debt, from the ANZ.
Windlab had run a competitive process to choose an equity partner with an "interest and appetite" for investing in Australian renewables.
"There's ample appetite out there for this type of project," he said. "We had a number of parties supporting our bid and in the end we made the final selection of Eurus, based on their international experience and their commitment to the local industry."
The six turbines would be supplied and maintained by Danish company Vestas, the world's largest turbine manufacturer, he said. The 3.3 MW turbines would produce enough energy to power 14,000 Canberra homes.
The other wind farms to secure a feed-in tariff are owned by French-based Neoen, and British-based RES Australia.
Neoen Australia managing director Franck Woitiez said the Hornsdale wind farm in South Australia, the biggest of the three, was three months from financial close. Neoen owned 77 per cent now and would remain the majority owner, with about 70 per cent of the project, he said. It was considering a partner for the remaining share. The Hornsdale wind farm, five times the size of Coonooer Bridge at a capacity of 100 MW, would begin operation in February 2017.
Between them, the wind farms are expected to supply one-third of Canberra's electricity needs, with Environment Minister Simon Corbell foreshadowing another wind auction in 2016 as he moves to source 90 per cent of the city's electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
One of the city's three solar farms is operating, with another, on Mugga Lane, being built, and a third, the Uriarra project now moved to Williamsdale, still requiring planning approval.