Engie in talks for large-scale solar farm at Chernobyl

Engie SA, the French renewable energy developer, is beginning a pre-feasibility study to assess the viability of building a GW-size solar farm in the radioactive zone surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine.

According to a report by Bloomberg, and since confirmed to pv magazine by an Engie spokesperson, the company is holding talks with Ukrainian officials regarding the creation of a solar project in the uninhabited land that rings the former reactor, which blew up in 1986.

The project will be backed by the French government, and early projections suggest it will be a $1.25 billion investment between Ukraine and France.

“France’s experience in nuclear is one of the reasons that we wanted to work with them,” Ukraine minister of ecology Ostap Semerak told Bloomberg. “They approached us after we announced our intention to develop renewables in Chernobyl.”

The minister added that Engie is one of 60 companies to have so far expressed an interest in developing some form of renewable generating capacity at the site, which is a 2,600 square kilometer of radiated land that has been largely absent of human activity for 30 years. The soil is still too polluted to be used for agriculture or forestry, making the installation of a solar plant an attractive option for Ukraine’s government.

Ukraine currently runs a feed-in tariff (FIT) for solar projects that are relatively generous. Depending on installation size, the FIT rate can be as high as 15 euro cents/kWh, which is around 74% more than the average levelized cost of solar in Europe.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) solar analyst Pietro Radoia said that Ukraine’s FIT is generous, but once the risk profile of the country is taken into account it is not so attractive.

“Ukraine has good solar irradiation, but a low level of confidence from investors and the consequent prohibitive cost of financing,” said Radoia. “Engie might find a way around if it uses corporate financing.”

Engie’s offer to the government is thought to include some energy storage capacity – something offer offers by developers have lacked, Semerak revealed.

More than 30 groups have applied for an allocation of land parcels to build solar in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone since the beginning of the year.

In 2016 the Ukrainian government announced the plan to turn the Chernobyl wasteland into a 1 GW solar farm. Shortly after this Ukraine’s parliament adopted a bill that reopens the exclusion zone to business developments.