The fury of Antarctica’s coastal winds is to be harnessed to power an Australian Antarctic station.

A project announced today by the Minister for the Environment, Senator Robert Hill, will result in Antarctica’s first large-scale wind turbine installation, providing nearly a megawatt of power to Australia’s Mawson station.

The turbines, which must deal with winds in excess of 300km/h, are to be provided by the German company Enercon and installed by the company’s Australian agents, Powercorp Pty Ltd, of Darwin. A contract for the work, which will begin next summer, was signed in Darwin today.

Senator Hill said the wind turbines were the first serious attempt by any country to obtain a significant electricity supply from the world’s most powerful winds — the gravity-induced katabatic winds that howl down to the coast of Antarctica from the inland icecap.

He said the Mawson system would generate well over ten times the power of existing Antarctic wind-power systems while having a much lower environmental impact than the current option of diesel fuel, now used throughout Antarctica.

When the system is fully developed, an Antarctic station will for the first time be able to use a renewable source to meet virtually all its energy needs.

Senator Hill said the use of diesel fuel to power Australia’s Antarctic activities was from an environmental perspective far from ideal.

“The use of fossil fuel requires that it be transported from ship to shore and stored at stations before being used, and while we have minimised the risks of spillage it is always there,” Senator Hill said.

“We have looked at renewable energy options, and the most obvious one is to draw on the power of Antarctica’s famous katabatic winds.”

The Mawson wind turbine system will rank among the world’s most innovative, including the installations at Windy Hill, Queensland, and Denham in Western Australia.