Funding holds up giant solar plant in SA
Summary: Construction of the world’s largest solar thermal plant costing $650 million will not begin as promised next month in South Australia’s mid-north because the US company contracted to power state government assets for 20 years has not secured any finance.....
Californian company SolarReserve also has not secured a $110m concessional equity loan from the federal government to help build the 150MW plant, Aurora, 30km north of Port Augusta, which is moving away from coal-related industries.
SolarReserve is relying upon the $110m from Canberra and factored this into its winning bid for the state government’s 20-year power supply contract, with its offer of power capped at $78 per megawatt hour.
Negotiations between the federal government and the company continue, with the main sticking point understood to be a lack of information from SolarReserve about its other potential funding sources.
This has raised concerns about a project that involves experimental technology that is unproven on a large scale and has questions over its technical efficiency, promised output and power supply cost structure, although the Turnbull government remains generally supportive.
Since a statewide blackout in 2016, South Australia has increased its push towards renewables that includes a deal with US tech billionaire Elon Musk’s Tesla for the world’s largest lithium-ion battery at Jamestown, 145km southeast of Port Augusta.
Since the battery started operating just over a month ago, Victoria has also reached a similar agreement for a Tesla battery to be built near the town of Stawell.
Data provided to The Australian by the Australian Energy Market Operator shows the South Australian battery last month generated 2.42 gigawatt-hours of energy. The rapid-response battery was called upon more than 380 times for five-minute bursts of energy to help smooth out several potential major energy outages.
When Premier Jay Weatherill announced the solar thermal project in August, ahead of the state election on March 17, he was hailed by clean energy proponents as the “unequivocal international leader” of renewable power.
Although the state government has given SolarReserve development approval, construction has now been delayed by the company to “mid-year”.
SolarReserve chief executive Kevin Smith said yesterday initial plans to begin works before the state election were too “aggressive”.
He said most of the promised 700 jobs would come only when construction started, and the state government had “fully planned for the fact that Aurora won’t be producing electricity until construction is completed”.