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Monday, 11th May, 2015

Construction manager Jeff McAuliffe at the solar farm just outside Broken Hill. Construction manager Jeff McAuliffe at the solar farm just outside Broken Hill.

By Andrew Robertson

It’s long been referred to as the Silver City but later this year Broken Hill could just as rightly be called the Solar City.  

The nation’s second largest solar farm under construction off the Barrier Highway is on track to begin supplying electricity to the national grid by August or September, and to be fully operational by year’s end.

By then the 53 megawatt renewable energy plant will be capable of generating enough electricity from its 650,000 photovoltaic panels to power up to 17,000 homes.

And it will be the homes and businesses of Broken Hill that will get first crack at the power, after it gets sent from AGL’s solar farm to TransGrid’s substation three kilometres away.

“So given our proximity to Broken Hill we’re effectively going to power Broken Hill in terms of all the houses and part of the industry because the generation produced will be enough to power 17,000 homes,” project manager Adam Mackett said.

With all of the structural work now complete, the $150 million project has entered its most labour-intensive stage, with tens of thousands of thin-film solar panels now having to be fitted. 

During a tour of the solar farm last week, workers were busy pulling panels from the cardboard boxes they arrived in and fastening them to rows upon rows of steel tables.   

Mr Mackett said that about 85 people (about half of them locals) were on site fitting the modules at a rate of about 3000 per day.

“We’ve got 650,000 modules that will be installed. At the moment we’re about three per cent installed. 

“One person will do about 300 a day and we expect productivity to get up to around 5000 a day.

“We do anticipate peak construction getting up to about 150 people as we bring in more installation.”

The 140 hectare plant is divided into 40 solar arrays, each with its own power convergent station which will feed power to two photovoltaic combining stations (PVCS) where it will get converted from DC to AC.

“When we then step it up to 22,000 volts it gets exported to the grid via over three kilometres (of overhead cable).”

While the project is a significant employer of people for the time being, that won’t be the case when it becomes operational from later this year.

Mr Mackett said the ‘set and forget’ technology being used meant the plant would virtually run itself, though up to three people would be employed to monitor the plant.

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