Acciona energised by investment into ‘strategically important’ Australia

October 2013

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Renewable energy is Acciona's stock in trade

When the Australian Government committed to a Renewable Energy Target (RET) 10 years ago, Spanish-based global company, Acciona, saw the potential for a whole range of exciting partnerships.

“The RET was a key piece of policy for us and a major driver for the business in deciding to invest in the Australian market,” says Andrew Thomson, Managing Director of Acciona Energy Oceania.

“Since 2002, we have grown rapidly in Australia, not just in our energy business but in our other core businesses – infrastructure and water. Australia’s infrastructure, water and renewable energy needs provide a good basis for growth in the future.”

Energising communities for growth

Acciona has invested over A$650 million in Australia over the years. It directly employs 200 permanent Australian staff and as many as 500 contractors for major projects.

“Because of the nature of our business many of the jobs we create are located in rural areas, which is of particular benefit to regional economies,” says Andrew Thomson.

“With big installations like wind farms there are all kinds of spin-off benefits to local businesses – mechanics, catering and cleaning businesses and local contractors for example. That’s quite apart from the high-end technology and skills transfer we undertake.”

But it’s the high-end technology transfer which is the key part of Acciona’s commitment to Australia.

“We put a lot of time and effort into training our people, and because our industry is still new and growing, in many cases this means training Australians in skills which are scarce in this country,” says Thomson.

Harnessing Australian talent

In the Madrid head office, Acciona’s Director General International, Carmen Becerril, confirms that this policy works well for all parties.

“We are very happy with the performance of Australian employees,” says Becerril.

“Because of the nature of Acciona’s core businesses – renewable energy, infrastructure and water – our projects demand highly skilled ‘green jobs’ which are most likely to be filled by Australians. Acciona employs very few expats in Australia.”

It’s not just individuals who benefit, Australian companies and R&D bodies stand to gain too.

In renewable energy, for example, Acciona’s most significant Australian developments are the three wind farms at Cathedral Rocks in South Australia, Gunning in New South Wales, and Waubra in Victoria. The latter has an output of 192 megawatts and remains one of the largest wind farms in Australia. The site work and construction of the infrastructure was all handled locally, as is the maintenance and management of these plants.

With a need for major ongoing investment in large-scale renewable energy projects around Australia, plans are under development for new projects which will follow the same approach. At the same time, Acciona is involved in R&D with groups such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) – Australia’s leading publicly funded research institution.

Collaborating for success

On the infrastructure side, Acciona is the lead partner in the Transcity consortium building the A$1.5 billion Legacy Way tunnel in Brisbane. The 4.6 km twin road tunnels, each 12 metres in diameter, will connect the Western Freeway at Toowong with the Inner City Bypass at Kelvin Grove.

The project is ahead of schedule and the twin massive tunnelling machines in operation recently broke world records for tunnelling speeds. A key partner with Acciona is Australia’s Brisbane-based construction company BMD, which is also working in a joint venture with Acciona on the A$67 million Leichhardt and Dawson Highway repair project.

Working with local groups Trility, McConnell Dowell and Abigroup Contractors, Acciona was selected to design, build, operate and maintain South Australia’s first major desalination plant at Port Stanvac, near Adelaide.

Trility is also a key partner in the Helena Water Consortium, which is building the Mundaring Water Treatment Plant near Perth. The consortium will maintain and operate the plant for the next 35 years.

“Some of these skills did not exist in Australia. But by working with Australian companies, some large and some not so large, we gained key local insights and also give them the opportunity to acquire new skills to use elsewhere – whether it’s working with us or in their own right,” says Thomson.

Acciona’s work on Legacy Way and other projects saw them win the prestigious Brisbane Lord Mayors’ Award for ‘Business Innovation’ in 2012.

Acciona was recognised for its technical approaches that have reduced costs, minimised environmental impacts and increased operational efficiencies on these and other projects.

Australia’s strategic importance

Becerril adds Australia is of “particular strategic importance” to Acciona, as the company is looking outward from Australia towards other international markets in the Asia-Pacific. Right now the Acciona team in Brisbane is looking closely at opportunities in New Zealand.

“We are here in the region for the long term. All our divisions are now active in several states and have long-term commitments that will contribute to Australia’s water and energy security, infrastructure, technological advancement and sustainability goals,” says Becerril.

The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) has worked closely with Acciona over a number of years in Spain and Australia to support their A$650 million investment.

“Investment into Australia from international organisations such Acciona continues to play an important part in delivering Australia’s infrastructure and clean energy needs,” says Simone Desmarchelier, Austrade’s Trade Commissioner and European Infrastructure Investment Industry Leader.

“Our continual growth in both areas provides significant opportunities for investors supplying state-of-the-art technologies, complex infrastructure construction expertise and innovative financing methods for Public Private Partnerships.

“We’re also pleased to see that Acciona is one of the growing number of international firms utilising Australia as a base for their broader regional expansion plans,” says Desmarchelier.