GREEN DEALS: Are we finally turning our backs on coal power?

The federal government has walked away from funding a coal-fired plant in Victoria; Australia’s first utility scale solar farm completes another milestone; Dyesol and Pacific Hydro pick up awards at Clean Energy Week; and there’s more news on Solar Flagships.

The proposed HRL brown coal power plant in the Latrobe Valley appears in ruins this morning after the federal government scrapped a $100 million funding commitment for the $1.2 billion project on Friday. Since then the Victorian government has indicated its $50 million support for the project is under threat.

The controversial brown coal project, which was designed to use integrated drying and gasification combined-cycle technology to lower (brown coal) emissions by 30 per cent, was awarded $100 million from the Howard government in 2007. Since then it has missed a series of deadlines and faced several court battles over the size of the plant. In 2011, the Victorian Environmental Protection Agency imposed a restriction of 300MW, which was overturned by VCAT in April this year to allow for a 600MW facility. A key condition of the VCAT decision however, required the closure of an equivalent amount of coal power before the HRL plant could go ahead.

Of the $100 million committed by the Commonwealth, none has actually been provided to HRL, however $20 million has already been spent on the project by the Victorian government.

There comes a point when funding extensions no longer can be provided and the federal government decided a fifth deadline extension would have been one too many for HRL.

“The government made it clear in February this year that it would grant one final extension until 30 June 2012 for HRL to meet the conditions,” energy minister Martin Ferguson said.

The timeline for the opening of the plant has been thrown well out of whack, with plans on the company’s website for construction in 2011 and operation in 2013 now obviously no more than a pipedream.

Environment Victoria Campaign’s Director Mark Wakeham said he was hopeful that not only would the decision represent the death knell for the HRL proposal, but also signal the end for developments of coal-fired power plants in Australia.

“This is an extremely welcome decision by Minister Ferguson and the federal government to cancel HRL’s funding,” he said.

“This proposal is out-of-date, highly polluting and inconsistent with the steps we are now taking to begin cleaning up our power supply.

“This is likely to be the final nail in the coffin for the HRL proposal, and for all new coal-fired power stations across Australia.”

Greenough River Solar Farm

The 10 MW Greenough solar facility in WA is about to be commissioned and will be completely finalised in August. The project, 50 km outside of Geraldton, is being developed by Verve Energy and GE Energy Financial Services using 150,000 PV modules supplied by First Solar.

Vice President of Business Development and Sales at First Solar, Jack Curtis, told Climate Spectator that all panels had now been installed around three months after the first installation in April. The project is a significant one for the sector as it is Australia’s first utility scale solar farm.

Solar Flagships

The fate of the proposed projects that failed to win first round funding through Solar Flagships has rested with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency since July 1. As outlined previously in Green Deals, there’s great potential for all projects to win funding.

The Solar Dawn project in Queensland has to have a strong chance given it’s the only real solar thermal option, Infigen-Suntech has the strength of an ASX-listed renewable energy company combined with the world’s largest solar firm and the value of a two site project (which helped AGL’s winning bid) and the Moree Solar Farm consortium (Pacific Hydro, FRV) had initially won funding, so the government has always seen great merit in the proposal.

The other development that has slipped under the radar a little has been the TRUenergy-First Solar proposal. Like other candidates for funding, the consortium is confident in the merits of its project and hopeful on funding from ARENA.

First Solar, which is involved with the 159MW AGL development in New South Wales, said it had always considered the TRU proposal to be equivalent to the AGL alternative.

“(The TRUenergy proposal) was one that we always saw as equally as credible to the AGL proposal and it’s one that we certainly think is very well positioned to benefit from ARENA funding,” First Solar’s Jack Curtis told Climate Spectator. “It has all the things in place that you really need: it has a PPA; it has committed financing; it has a fully developed site. So it really does have a bow on it as it relates to a solar project.

“So we’re certainly very hopeful that something can come of ARENA in that respect.”

The timing for future funding as part of flagships is up in the air, with ARENA’s Greg Bourne saying last week there is a deadline for revised proposals. He would not elaborate on its date, however.

Dyesol, Pacific Hydro

The Clean Energy Council Industry Awards were presented last Wednesday as part of the Clean Energy Week Gala Dinner.

The Business Community Engagement Award was presented to renewable energy firm Pacific Hydro “for the development and implementation of a range of grassroots community relations activities in Portland, Victoria, making a positive contribution to the local community.”

An anti-wind farm campaign has hurt the sector in the past year and Pacific Hydro’s Lane Crockett warned the clean energy sector that other technologies should be prepared for similar campaigns.

“Don’t assume this can’t happen to every technology in this industry,” he said.

The Innovation Award went to Dyesol “for commercialising dye solar cell technology, a photovoltaic technology that mimics photosynthesis and enables metal, glass and polymeric based products to generate energy and improve energy efficiency particularly in the building, transport and electronics sectors.”

AGL Energy

Energy retailer AGL has announced an addition to its board, with former Lihir Gold boss Graeme Hunt to join on September 1. The appointment was announced in combination with news that Max Ould would exit the board on October 23, after the company’s AGM.