Australia’s 102 MW Nyngan produces 60,000MWh in first three months

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A new dawn for the Australian PV power plant market has been heralded, with the country’s largest solar park performing as predicted after having been delivered on time and on budget. The 102 MW and AUD$290 million Nygnan project has been in full operation since June.

The project was developed in a partnership between utility AGL and with significant investment from ARENA and the local state government. The project milestone, announced today, comes as ARENA prepares to launch a new round of tenders for large scale solar projects in what it describes as the “next generation” of big PV development Down Under.

“AGL’s Solar Project at Nyngan and Broken Hill represents a big investment by the company and also by ARENA,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht. “The knowledge gained from its successful launch and ongoing operations will lead to further improvements in technology and reductions in costs for the sector.”

First Solar manufactured and delivered the 1.36 million modules for the Nygan project and was also EPC on the plant. First Solar’s Asia-Pacific manager Jack Curtis told pv magazine that large scale solar is already cost competitive with other generation sources.

Nyngan’s sister plant, in Broken Hill, is expected to begin feeding electricity into the NEM in early 2016. Total investment into the projects totaled AUD$440 million, with public support in the form of an ARENA investment of $166.7 million and $64.9 million from the New South Wales state government.

Climate Change Authority head quits

While continuing to promote renewable energy development, ARENA is working in the full knowledge that the federal government would prefer to scrap the body. Along with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), the government has attempted to abolish ARENA on a number of occasions, although moves have been blocked by a largely unfriendly Senate.

The government, lead by active coal-industry advocate Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has also sought to abolish Australia’s Climate Change Authority. While this has also been blocked by the Senate, it appears as if its efforts have brought some reward, with Authority head Bernie Fraser stepping down today. Fraser is a former Reserve Bank of Australia Chair. Fraser did not provide reasoning for the move, although he is understood to have had a difficult relationship with the government.

Despite and somewhat ironically because of the current political environment, Australia’s large scale solar sector is expected by some industry observers to exhibit strong growth towards the end of 2015 and in 2016. With wind development unpopular with Australia’s federal government, agencies such as ARENA and also the CEFC are rolling out programs to support big PV.

While there has also been considerable opposition to some wind projects, large scale PV remains popular with the Australian public and has yet to raise the ire of anti-renewables Senators and members of the government. The Australian Senate has launched a number of inquiries into supposed health impacts of wind parks.

Growth of the PV power plant segment has been retarded in Australia in recent years, as the federal government reviewed and then sought to reduce the country’s Renewable Energy Target. After many months of paralysis because of these moves, a political compromise to reduce the RET was arrived at earlier this year, resulting in reduced opportunities for large scale renewables, but thankfully some stability for investors going forward.

“Nygnan becomes the third large-scale solar plant in Australia to begin generating power, after Royalla (Australian Capital Territory) and Greenough River (Western Australia,” said ARENA’s Frischknecht.

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