Australia: 53 MW power plant recommended for approval

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Residential rooftop photovoltaics has grown at a great pace in Australia, with more than 2 GW of capacity having been added across 800,000 rooftops as of November 2012.

However, the large-scale sector has been slower to develop, with a 10 MW plant in Western Australia the largest to have come online to date. There are signs that this is changing though, with a number of power plants moving forward in the development process.

The latest news came today from New South Wales, where the state government has recommended that a 53 MW power plant be given the go ahead. The plant is planned for the remote inland area of Broken Hill, which is semi-arid and enjoys plentiful sunshine. More than one million modules will be required to supply the plant.

The 53 MW power plant will attract A$200 million (US$209 million) in investment, according to Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which reported the news of the government recommendation today. The plant will be located on the Rob Day Station sheep farm, which is south west of the town of Broken Hill. It is expected to be operational by the end of 2015.

The project is being developed by one of Australia’s largest energy companies AGL. It operates a portfolio of around 1.7 GW of generating capacity, which is largely hydro and wind.

In a statement issued to pv magazine, AGL said that the project is a part of the Australian federal government’s troubled Solar Flagships program, which has progressed in fits and starts. "AGL Energy has received planning approval for the Broken Hill Solar Plant. The next steps include obtaining the various permits and authorisations required to construct the project, with construction scheduled to commence around the middle of 2014."

The Rob Day Station photovoltaic power plant will cover one square kilometer and the ABC has reported that AGL has agreed to the environmental conditions the state has imposed on it. These include a change to the location of the plant’s entrance, a program to monitor biodiversity and the sinking of a power line to the plant.

The owner of the station Geoff Luke told the ABC he was happy with the project’s go ahead. "They’ve (AGL) been very diligent in their research around the area … I’ll be living next to it so I’ll be quite happy with it."

Luke has his own 10 kW photovoltaic power plant to supply his farm and feed electricity into the grid.

AGL is a proponent of renewable electricity generation in Australia and spoke out last month in support of the federal government’s commitment to a Renewable Energy Target towards 2020.

AGL said that the target had been a great success story with billions in renewable energy investment taking place in Australia. "Importantly, research by AGL economists… has shown real electricity prices may be 10 percent lower in 2020 even with significant future investment in renewables," the AGL statement reads.