115 MW of utility-scale solar plants planned for western New South Wales

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RenewEconomy can reveal that Neoen plans to install one 10 MW plant, one 15 MW plant and three 30 MW plants in and around the cities and towns of Dubbo, Narromine, Griffith, Parkes and Gilgandra.

According to Neoen Managing Director Franck Woitiez, the solar plants – the project is called the Dubbo Solar Hub – are attractive because they will be close to consumption centers, are in areas with good solar irradiance, and are unlikely to have any local opposition as the projects are ideally located and would benefit to the local community.

Woitiez says the planning approvals for the projects are well advanced, and connection studies are also on-going.

"We leveraged our experience from overseas and came to the conclusion that solar between 5 MW-30 MW is easy to develop, deploy, operate and integrate into the grid," he says.

"Being close to consumption also makes sense in a way that you don’t increase transmission costs and you minimise losses. This shall enhance those projects in the best economical way."

The Neoen solar plants would make solar the largest local source of generation in western New South Wales (NSW), which already has the some of the highest penetration rates of rooftop solar (Dubbo was once proclaimed the solar capital of Australia), and with the large-scale solar plants being built by First Solar at Nyngan (102 MW) and Broken Hill (53 MW).

On top of that, an alliance of western NSW councils has called for A$200 million of funding to build a range of small to medium-sized solar plants, that would include solar thermal as well as solar PV. In addition, Vast Solar has begun construction of a 6 MWth (1.1 MWe) concentrated solar thermal power station with three hours storage – the first stand alone plant of its type to be built in Australia- near Forbes, also in western NSW.

Woitiez says the western NSW solar projects are, however, dependent on the government committing to the current 41,000 GWh renewable energy target, as are its other renewable energy investments in Australia.

Neoen recently teamed with Megawatt Capital to buy the undeveloped 270 MW Hornsdale wind project in South Australia, and is believed to have tendered a 100 MW first stage into the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government’s wind auction.

Neoen and Megawatt Capital are also looking to complete the purchase or more renewable energy projects from Investec, including two solar projects in Western Australia.

Neoen is also using Australia as a base for Asian investment, particularly for the Philippines, where there is a growing appetite for solar.

Neoen has also just landed a contract to build a 74 MW solar project in El Salvador for a price of US$102/MWh – and it believes that this price is something that is achievable in Australia, if the large-scale solar industry takes off and the cost of finance comes down.

However, he said it would require more appetite for solar from utilities in peaking periods – something that is already happening in the U.S. – and a willingness to keep a "decent" RET from the government. "That is the only way forward," he said.

Other international solar companies have made similar warnings. Recurrent Energy has already packed its bags, despite having a A$2 billion pipeline in Australia, First Solar has warned it will take its investments elsewhere, and others – including Australia’s Infigen Energy and Pacific Hydro – have said the same.

Woitiez said Neoen is committed to spending at least A$250 million in the next coming years in Australia, provided that the policy doesn’t create any sovereign risk threats.

Source: RenewEconomy. Reproduced with permission.