GREEN DEALS: Australia’s geothermal milestone

Geodynamics makes its biggest stride forward yet; there’s a setback for the $1bn Ceres wind project; AGL gets approval for its Broken Hill solar farm and Tesla’s Elon Musk puts his money where his mouth is… again.

Geodynamics, Origin

It’s been a long time coming, but finally Geodynamics has commissioned Australia’s first (trial) geothermal power plant.

It’s great news for the fledgling company, which still admittedly has a long way to go before it proves Australia’s geothermal resources can play a significant role in our power sector.

The 1MWe Habanero Pilot Plant trial will run until August, with the company saying it is fully funded until that point.

Full commissioning of the plant is scheduled for the end of April.

“The commissioning of the 1 MWe Habanero Pilot Plant is a long anticipated and major milestone for Geodynamics and our shareholders. It marks a significant achievement in Australian and global geothermal exploration and will be the first Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) derived power in Australia,” Geodynamics chief executive Geoff Ward said.

“We anticipate building on the good results achieved in the first two open flow tests and the major stimulation test already undertaken at Habanero-4, through additional open flow testing and closed loop testing we will undertake during the demonstration trial.”

The good news story came just days after the company announced major backer Origin Energy had quit its joint venture arrangement. That too was a long time coming, after Origin first opted out of the work program last year before then deciding not to fund its joint venture share of the Habanero 4 well.

Origin is heavily focused on its gas resources off the coast of Queensland and any costs outside this are receiving heavy scrutiny right now. The bottom line for Origin is that it sees geothermal playing no significant role in meeting the 2020 renewable energy target and as such, sees little value in funding its development while it has major costs to cover in gas development. Incidentally, its endeavours on this front received a blow this week.

Origin’s withdrawal from what is referred to as the Innamincka Deeps and Innamincka Shallows Joint Ventures will be effective from the end of the 2012/13 financial year, six years after they were formed.

Investors reacted positively, with Geodynamics’ share price up over 25 per cent since the commissioning announcement on Wednesday. It had, however, lost close to 15 per cent on the news of Origin’s exit last Thursday and remains 10 per cent off where it started the year.

At 10 cents a share, the company is also a long way from its high of more than $2 back in 2007.

Ceres wind farm

The $1.3 billion Ceres project has received a setback after the local council voted unanimously against approving the development in its submission to the state government.

The project is currently before the South Australian Development Assessment Commission, with a decision from them forthcoming later this year (some time after receiving submissions by the due date of April 18). In the meantime, the District Council of Yorke Peninsula has said it does not support the project in its current form and while the council’s vote is not a hammer blow to the project, it certainly doesn’t help.

The final decision, however, rests in the hands of the state government.

A spokesperson for developer REpower Australia informed Climate Spectator that it was “business as usual” for the development, with the company still hopeful it will receive approval around the middle of the year from the state. It then plans to reach financial close before year’s end.

The issues raised by the council were ‘conditions precedent’ and REpower said it was confident it could allay the concerns raised.

If constructed now it would be the largest wind farm in Australia, with 199 turbines and a generating capacity of up to 600 MW.

AGL Energy

There has been another step forward on Australia’s largest committed solar development, with AGL Energy receiving NSW government approval for its Broken Hill project.

The 53 MW Broken Hill project is the smaller of a two part development with First Solar as part of the federal government’s Solar Flagships program (the other is in Nyngan, also in New South Wales). Together the two projects have a capacity of 159 MW and will cost around $450 million.

They are due to come online in 2015, with the company still waiting on approval for Nyngan.

Tesla Motors, Elon Musk

Tesla Motors has recorded its first quarterly profit as a public company, as flagged a couple of months ago (although a little ahead of schedule).

The company made the announcement on Monday (US time) that the first quarter of calendar 2013 had been profitable after sales of its flagship car – the Model S – topped expectations (4,750 units vs 4,500 expectation).

The electric vehicle firm, run by clean tech pin-up Elon Musk, had an arguably bigger announcement the next day, however, with Musk following through on a tweet from last week when he remarked: “Really exciting Tesla Motors announcement coming... Am going to put my money where my mouth is in v major way.”

The tweet brought two reactions:

1) What could it be?

2) Hasn’t Musk already put his money where his mouth is?

The suspense was ended when Tesla unveiled a new financing product to, in Musk’s words, “fundamentally improve the affordability of the car.” On the surface, that’s not big news, but its innovative nature of combining a lease with benefits of full ownership makes it an important announcement.

The company has partnered with Wells Fargo and US Bank, who will provide a 10 per cent down financing for purchases of the Model S to customers.

Customers can then choose to sell the vehicle to Tesla at a residual value percentage equal to that of the Mercedes S class in three years’ time. They don’t have to sell, but if they do the value of sale is guaranteed by Tesla – and Musk.

"I will stand by the residual value if Tesla cannot," he told reporters. "With all the value of the assets I have at my disposal."

He’s worth billions on the back of several smart investments, particularly PayPal, meaning it does offer quite a deal of peace of mind to potential Model S buyers.

To wrap up a big week with a bit of novelty value, Tesla was also reported to be entering the NASCAR fray from 2015.