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‘Birth of solar industry’

Thursday, 7th May, 2015

Work continues on the installation of solar panels at AGL’s 140 hectare solar farm off the Barrier Highway. Work continues on the installation of solar panels at AGL’s 140 hectare solar farm off the Barrier Highway.

By Andrew Robertson

Along with its big brother in Nyngan, the Broken Hill solar farm represents the birth of the large-scale solar industry in Australia, according to the company behind the renewable energy project.

As work to install the 650,000 solar panels continues at the 140 hectare plant outside the city, energy producer AGL said the project would make it easier for other similar-sized solar energy ventures to get off the ground because they would be cheaper to build. 

Speaking at the $150 million, 52 megawatt solar farm on what was once part of Rob Day station, project manager Adam Mackett said yesterday that before now the nation’s solar energy industry existed on a much smaller scale.

The biggest plant now is in Canberra which, at 20 megawatts, is less than half the size of the Broken Hill plant, and some five times smaller than AGL’s 102MW plant near Nyngan.

“So you really didn’t have an industry that had the knowledge on how to deliver it (a large solar plant project),” Mr Mackett said.

“When you’re then pricing projects and you don’t know how to do it, you price in a lot of risk and there’s a lot of uncertainty.

“The fact that now we’ve done it ... when contractors are pricing it ... that’s going to help drive costs down.”

The fact PV module prices were also coming down took even more risk out of funding large-scale solar projects, according to Mr Mackett.

But it has taken over $230 million in federal and state government funding to get to this point.

The $400m twin solar projects received $166.7m from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and $66.9m from the NSW Government.

“The funding that gets provided by ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) and NSW is all about developing the industry, so it terms of having this project occur, what we’re seeing is that industry born in Australia, if you like,” Mr Mackett said.

The Adelaide company that manufactured the tables that will hold the solar panels, IXL, recently moved from Melbourne where it used to manufacture components for the car industry.

“That’s the real story here in terms of what is the government is getting out of the funding they’re contributing, and it’s the birth of large scale industry; it’s kicking it off and it’s also de-risking it in terms of now we can bring people out and show them how easy it can be done.” 

But there will not be major investment in renewable energy projects while there continues to be uncertainty surrounding the Renewable Energy Target (RET), Mr Mackett said. 

“Renewable energy projects need the RET to make them financial ... there’s no doubt about that.”

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