Banks get behind 150 MW Australian solar project

BNP Paribas, Banco Santander SA, National Australia Bank Ltd, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, Natixis and WestLB AG have thrown their significant financial clout behind the consortium, which also features Spanish company Fotowatio Renewable Ventures and Australia-based Pacific Hydro.

The BP/Fotowatio/Pacific Hydro bid will compete against bids from other groups, including a joint venture between Infigen Energy and the Chinese company Suntech Power, as well as AGL Energy Ltd and the CLP Holdings Ltd unit TRUenergy Holdings Pty.

The proposal

If successful, the construction would be the largest utility scale solar power plant in Australia.

According to a paper presented to the Director-General in New South Wales, and obtained by pv magazine, BP’s 150 MW capacity solar farm would be built on an 850 hectare site in the vicinity of Moree. The module array will reportedly use crystalline silicon technology optimised on trackers to maximise energy capture capacity, and the solar farm would be connected to the existing Moree 132kV substation via transmission lines to be built by the consortium. The project will also use two SC 630 CP Inverters and a 22kV transformer.

Tony Stocken, director of BP Solar Australia, would not tell pv magazine specifics about the money pledged by the banks, but he said it was a good boost for the project. "Australia is a strategic market for us and we aim to grow in line with the market or perhaps even ahead of the market in terms of utility scale projects," he stated.

He was also buoyant about the state of similar projects as part of BP’s overall foray into PV technology. "The residential market has seen very strong growth in recent years with 2010 setting new records," he said. “It is definitely something that we, as a company, are looking to extend our involvement in."

According to Stocken, if successful, the Moree Solar Farm could provide a significant boost to the regional economy by providing up to 500 jobs.

Emily Wood, a spokesperson from Pacific Hydro, additionally told pv magazine that this news was a boost to the bid’s prospects: "It is a very exciting project and we are certainly hopefully of being successful in the Solar Flagships bid process after receiving this financial support."

Fotowatio Renewable Ventures also remarked that they were keen to get a foothold in the burgeoning Australia renewable energy market.

The project may cost as much as AUD$900 million (US$905 million) over its lifetime, said members of the consortium.

Solar Flagships program

In 2009, the Australian Government announced the AUD$1.5 billion Solar Flagships program, an initiative to support the construction of up to four large-scale, grid-connected solar power stations in Australia, using solar thermal and photovoltaic technologies.

Martin Ferguson, the Minister for Resources and Energy, told the media in December last year that the government expects to select one PV venture and one solar thermal project in the first round of the program. The country has set a target of generating 20 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020 and the first decision as part of the program is expected to be made mid-year.