Australia’s most energy-hungry state, NSW, is moving closer to easing itself off its heavy reliance on black coal with the state government announcing a $79 million plan to develop an 8GW Renewable Energy Zone, its second such announcement this year.

The New England REZ, in the state’s north-west, is expected to attract $12.7 billion in investment and support 2,000 construction jobs and 1,300 ongoing jobs.

NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean said the 8GW New England REZ was the biggest commitment to cheap, clean energy in the state’s history.

The first renewable energy zone, announced in May, drew submissions for 27GW of wind, solar and storage projects for a region with the capacity of 3GW. The Central-West Orana REZ is centred roughly on Dubbo, about 300km north-west of Sydney.

“The nine-fold level of interest in the Central-West Orana REZ was astounding, so it makes absolute sense to go even bigger with the New England REZ,” NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean said.

A lot of catching up to do

With 3.3GW of large-scale solar and wind connected, NSW has a long way to go to replace more than 10GW of black coal generation currently supplying business and households in the state. The five coal plants in NSW – Bayswater, Eraring, Liddell, Mt Piper and Vales Point – provide about 75% of electricity demand but are expected to all be closed within 20 years, with Liddell to shut by 2023.

The two renewable energy zones announced this year are encouraging news for a state without an official clean energy target.

“The New England REZ will be able to power 3.5 million homes and, when coupled with Central-West Orana REZ, sets the state up to become the number one destination across Australia for renewable energy investment,” Kean said in a statement.

Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall said the REZ represented an excellent opportunity for the region to create jobs, diversify its local economy and improve local roads and telecommunications infrastructure.

“Our region is fast becoming the renewables capital of NSW and we’re home to some of the best renewable energy resources in the country, with flagship wind and solar projects at Glen Innes and Armidale living proof of this potential,” Marshall said.

Delivering a renewable energy zone involves making strategic transmission upgrades to bring multiple new generators online in areas with strong renewable resources and community support. The two NSW zones are aligned with transmission upgrades proposed in AEMO’s Integrated System Plan.