Australia to move ahead with massive solar project

July 31, 2013 at 12:42 PM
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SYDNEY, July 31 (UPI) -- A $403 million solar power project in Australia, touted as the Southern Hemisphere's largest, is ready to move forward after receiving partial funding agreements, said its developer AGL energy.

The 155-megawatt solar PV farm in the New South Wales outback consists of a 102-megawatt solar plant at Nyngan and a 53-megawatt solar plant at Broken Hill. Together the two sites will cover nearly 1,000 acres and require 2 million photovoltaic panels.

Nearly $152 million will be funded by the federal government's Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and the NSW government is contributing $58 million, AGL said Wednesday.

"Solar PV in Australia has come a long way from being a small-scale industry in a relatively short time frame," said AGL Managing Director, Michael Fraser, in a statement, noting that the two plants will be Australia's largest solar projects, and Nyngan would be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Fraser said NSW has the potential to attract $5 billion in renewable energy projects in the next seven years, adding that the solar project is "undoubtedly a key milestone for the renewable energy industry in Australia," Renew Economy reports.

Fraser said AGL was considering other solar projects, including projects combined with wind farms.

"This project is 15 times larger than any other solar power station in Australia," said Mark Butler, federal minister for climate change, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. "The scale of it is truly awesome.

"We want to be a leader in the world, and a leader in our region, in the shift to renewable energy," Butler said, noting that China plans to spend as much as $323 billion during a five-year plan that ends in 2015 to promote the switch away from fossil-fuel sources of energy.

Australia's electricity generation -- about three-quarters of which comes from coal -- accounts for 35 percent of the country's emissions, the Climate Commission says.

Australia aims to have 41,000 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy a year by 2020.

Construction on the Nyngan portion is scheduled to begin in January, and construction on the Broken Hill component is expected to start about six months later. Both projects are slated for completion by the end of 2015.

First Solar, based in the United States, will provide engineering and construction services for both projects, which will use the company's advanced thin-film PV modules.

The solar plants will supply 50,000 homes with electricity.

''Australians like the idea of solar energy being one of the renewable energies for the future," Chris Hartcher, NSW's energy minister, said, noting that 70,000 NSW households had taken up solar PV even after the government had ceased its solar subsidy scheme in April 2011.

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