The South Australian government signed a 10-year supply contract with ZEN Energy last week for the construction of the 280 MW Cultana Solar Farm near Whyalla and the 100 MW Playford Utility Battery near Port Augusta.
“We’re committed to building what matters, using our budget to drive jobs and growth to recover from Covid-19,” said the state’s minister for energy and mining, Dan van Holst Pellekaan.
Cultana Solar Farm is the first project in UK businessman Sanjeev Gupta’s plan to generate 1 GW of dispatchable renewable energy in the state. It is situated just north of Whyalla Steelworks. Simec is part of Gupta’s GFG Alliance, which plans to modernize the Whyalla Steelworks by supplying it with low-cost renewable energy and making green steel a reality.
Although the steelworks will not have a direct behind-the-meter connection to either the solar farm or the battery, it “will have contracts in place that will effectively utilize the financial hedge that comes out of the solar farm;” said Simec CEO Mark Barrington in May.
The Playford Utility Battery will be the fifth “big battery” in South Australia’s growing fleet of storage capabilities. The state's storage fleet includes Neoen’s Hornsdale Power Reserve’s now 150 MW installation (recently expanded from the original 100 MW) – the world’s largest lithium-ion storage system.
Once energized, the Playford storage system will provide frequency control ancillary services (FCAS) and fast frequency response (FFR) to the National Electricity Market. It will support the energy needs of ZEN Energy retail customers and the steel plant. For ZEN Energy, the deal will expand its business customer base and grow its supply to the residential retail market.
Work on Cultana Solar Farm is expected to begin in the first half of 2021, with construction of the battery to follow. Development of the 1,100-hectare solar farm on the Eyre Peninsula has also been given the go-ahead, on the condition that Simec reduces the impact it might have on native vegetation.
It will benefit from a technique that involves rolling the site rather than grading and removing all plants. Rolling flattens what Glenn Christie of Succession Ecology calls native “bonsai forest.” It provides habitats for small native animals, allowing plenty of time to install ground-mounted solar panels before springing up again. Such native vegetation also helps to suppress dust, thereby reducing the need to clean the solar panels.
The 10-year contract between the South Australian government and ZEN Energy is also forecast to save the state AUD 12.8 million (US$8.96 million) in electricity costs, compared to its existing power arrangements, which benefits the state’s taxpayers.
“Policies like these will pay long-term dividends and set South Australia up for the future by creating jobs, bolstering the economy and tackling climate change simultaneously,” said Andrew Stock, an analyst for Climate Council of Australia.
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