For slightly more than two years, AECOM has been involved in the development and construction of the 180MW Mt Emerald Wind Farm in North Queensland comprising 53 Vestas 3.45MW wind turbines. Regarded as the most-challenging wind farm under construction in Australia, Mt Emerald required careful planning, coordination and creative engineering solutions to achieve its various milestones. The wind farm, which commenced generation in August, will be the largest in Queensland upon completion. The facility will generate enough electricity to power roughly 75,000 North Queensland homes, and offset 450,000 tonnes of CO2 annually.

In its role as Owner’s Engineer for both pre- and post-financial close, AECOM worked in close conjunction with the project’s proponent, Ratch Australia Corporation, as well as Powerlink (Transmission Network Services provider), AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) and EPC Contractor Vestas Australia Wind Technology to ensure the project is designed and constructed to the best wind industry standards and complies with various utility, state and federal conditions of development approval. AECOM conducted detailed design review for various civil, structural, drainage and electrical works and provided technical support in all facets of the project, as well as providing full-time site representation to oversee the construction activities and monitor compliance with the project’s conditions of approval.

Beyond its harsh terrain, the project site has many unique challenges. Located on a World War 2 live fire training area, intensive searches were necessary to locate and dispose of numerous unexploded ordnances that remain viable even 70 years after their launch. Strict environmental and cultural heritage conditions of planning approval prompted the implementation of new and innovative procedures to minimise the construction work’s impact on the environment. The large-scale construction successfully occurred alongside a strong population of the endangered Northern Quoll, and ecological and botanical specialists were employed on the project to help avoid disturbing sensitive environmental habitats.

Furthermore, the increase in committed renewable projects in proximity to the wind farm’s location resulted in complexities in demonstrating the project grid code compliance.

It was essential to approach a project of this scale and complexity with an open, collaborative approach. As part of this, specialists from various disciplines from across AECOM’s Melbourne, Sydney, Cairns, Townsville and Mackay offices drew upon our depth of technical and local knowledge to achieve the project’s technical and compliance needs across its life cycle.

In addition, specific input from local specialists , cognizant of the challenges of designing and constructing in North Queensland, provided valuable guidance to a range of technical challenges, such as stringent disturbance area requirements of development approval, Queensland-specific project requirements of building and works certification, local sub-surface geological soil conditions for design compliance of large wind turbine foundations, and benching requirements for utility connection substations, among others.

AECOM’s experience and understanding of the local network, grid connection and technical compliance processes assisted in achieving the Generator Registration on time and aligning it with onsite construction works. This was achieved through effective engagement with key stakeholders, including Powerlink Queensland and the Australian Energy Market Operator, throughout the development, construction and commissioning phases, with AECOM representation at sub-committees and focus groups at management and site level.

The cross-collaboration of regional and national technical specialists enabled a thorough and responsive approach to the client’s technical needs. Wind industry specialists from AECOM’s Melbourne and Sydney offices complemented consultants with local knowledge to provide a holistic approach to the design and construction compliance review and technical inspections, resulting in a cost- and time-effective approach to satisfying our client’s expectations and broader project Development Approval (DA) requirements.