Italian oil group Eni enters Australian renewables market with 33.7 MW plant

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From pv magazine Australia.

Through subsidiary Eni Australia, the Italian oil major has acquired the 33.7 MWp Katherine Solar Farm from a joint venture set up by Australia’s Epuron and U.K.-based Island Green Power.

The $40 million (US$28.5 million) project was greenlit in October as the largest renewable energy generator in the state, marking a big step towards the Northern Territory’s Labor government election commitment to source half its energy from renewables by 2030.

Eni has now confirmed the Katherine Solar Farm will be collocated with a 5.7 MVA/2.9 MWh battery storage system and will feature innovative cloud cover predicting technology. The company says this will make it possible to forecast and compensate for variations in solar irradiation.

The solar farm has secured a long-term offtake deal with state-owned utility Jacana Energy, and is expected to increase renewable energy use in the territory by 3-4% and put downward pressure on electricity prices.

Familiar territory

Epuron owns and operates solar projects in the Northern Territory at Alice Springs, Yulara, Kalkarindji, Ti Tree and Lake Nash/Alpurrurulam, making up a 7 MW solar portfolio refinanced with a $22.2 million senior debt facility provided by private sector infrastructure fund manager Infradebt. The Katherine Solar Farm is the developer’s first project in the Darwin-Katherine electricity system.

According to Eni, the Australian developer will have an active role in managing the PV farm. Construction is expected to start in the next few weeks, with an expected commercial operation date in the final three months of the year.

The move marks Eni’s foray into the Australian renewables market, expanding on its oil and gas assets. The fossil fuel company has been present in Australia through subsidiary Eni Australia Ltd since 2000. It is the operator and owner of the Blacktip Gas Project and has a non-operated interest in the Bayu-Undan gas and condensate field, as well as the associated Darwin LNG plant.

Dipping a toe into PV

Eni only recently entered the renewables sector. After setting up an Energy Solutions department in 2015, the company announced in September 2017 it would cooperate with Algeria’s Sonatrach to build a 10 MW PV plant in the country.

The Italian concern has built a 20 MW solar plant in Ghana and is planning to install some 220 MW of solar on home soil up to 2021.