GREEN DEALS: Big solar, big wind, great opportunity

ARENA edges closer to a decision on Solar Flagships, Australia’s first utility-scale solar farm opens, the country’s largest wind farm starts operating and Elon Musk makes a move in solar.

ARENA

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency “pretty much know(s) which way (it) wants to go,” according to the body’s chair Greg Bourne. In a few weeks time, all of Australia will know as well. In the meantime we can focus on the projects that missed out on Solar Flagships funding – Mallee Solar Park, Moree Solar Farm, Solar Dawn and the Infigen-Suntech proposal of four solar farms (Nyngan, Capital, Manildra and Moree) – which are under consideration by ARENA. Bourne said on Wednesday that recommendations on these projects aren’t too far away, likely coming in November.

As this column has pointed out previously, all four projects have a strong case for funding but whether ARENA is keen to give the green light to all (or any) of them remains to be seen. Green Deals would be very surprised however, if none of the projects won the backing of ARENA.

Further discussion on the ARENA strategy can be found here.

Greenough River Solar Farm

The first large-scale solar farm in Australia was officially opened on Wednesday. The 10 MW Greenough River Solar Farm in Western Australia was switched on by project partners Verve Energy, GE Energy and First Solar after more than a year of planning, construction and testing.

Verve CEO Jason Waters said the successful development meant the partners would now consider expanding the plant to a 40 MW facility. The plant's output will be purchased by the WA Water Corporation to help offset the energy requirements of its Southern Seawater Desalination Plant.

GE and Verve jointly own the site, with First Solar supplying the panels and providing operations and maintenance services for the next 15 years.

Commentary on the development can be found here.

AGL Energy, Meridian Energy

The biggest news in Australian clean energy in recent weeks has undoubtedly been the first turbines turning at Australia’s largest wind farm. The 420 MW Macarthur project in Victoria achieved the milestone on September 30, joint venture partners AGL Energy and Meridian Energy announced.

The milestone was achieved just shy of two years after construction begun, with the project still on the way to becoming fully operational early next year.

To put the project in perspective, the largest wind farms in operation in the country at the moment are Infigen Energy’s 278.5 MW Lake Bonney wind farm (completed in three stages) and Acciona’s 192 MW Waubra wind farm. When Macarthur is fully operational it is likely to remain Australia’s largest for a couple of years, with the 700 MW Kennedy wind farm and 1 GW Silverton wind farm unlikely to be built until at least 2015.

Macarthur wind farm is likely to be operational for 25 years.

RPG Australia

Australia’s largest wind tower maker, RPG Australia, has entered receivership, with three of its four sites shut down by its administrators, Ferrier Hodgson. The company employed 310 staff at four manufacturing facilities in Queensland and South Australia, with 154 jobs lost as a result of the site closures.

RPG focussed on the construction of large steel structures, such as wind power-generation towers, the pilings for wharfs and bridges, pipes and other steel structures for the mining and renewable energy sectors. Its final site remains under review, with Ferrier Hodgson hopeful it can remain open with a sale of what’s left of the business.

It is a sad irony that RPG's place in this column follows news of Macarthur’s first turbine turning, as it supplied the wind towers for the massive project.

Silex Systems

Silex Systems’ subsidiary Solar Systems has received $10 million from the Victorian government for the next stage of its large-scale solar project in Mildura.

The 1.5 megawatt solar pilot plant is being developed by ASX-listed Silex Systems and is being funded with assistance from the Victorian and Commonwealth governments. It is expected to be completed around the middle of next year.

The company has the goal of eventually building a 100 MW solar plant.

SolarCity

Elon Musk, of Tesla Motors fame, will soon have a new venture to celebrate on the New York Stock Exchange, with the launch of a $200 million IPO for SolarCity. It’s an interesting time to go public for a solar company, with neither the economy nor the solar sector exactly thriving. That being said, Musk is an interesting character and he has never been short of enthusiasm. In its favour is that it is a downstream solar business rather than a panel manufacturer, a much more profitable place to be at this point in time with panel prices rapidly falling.

Musk will chair the company, which was founded by the Rive brothers, Lyndon and Peter, Musk’s cousins. The company is planning an international expansion upon a successful float.

Holden e-Commodore and Volt

Talks of a mass rollout of the e-Commodore may be premature with General Motors Holden focused on the November launch of the Volt, the Australian Financial Review has said.

Last week the AFR said Holden would consider the assembly of 126 electric Commodores, but it appears this will be heavily reliant on government support despite GMH managing director Mike Devereaux expressing his approval of the seven prototype e-Commodores developed by EV Engineering.

TRUenergy, Yallourn

Troubles persist at the Yallourn coal-fired power plant, with September rainfall not helping TRUenergy’s attempts to reinstate a second coal conveyor in time for the peak demand period in summer.

Recovery work on a permanent repair of the Morwell River Diversion is still in progress and is likely to take seven to eight months to complete. The company has now received approval from the Environmental Protection Agency for an extension of its water discharge approval.

The whole problem goes back to flooding in early June, which caused a failure of the Morwell River diversion structure. In response to the flooding, TRUenergy applied for a temporary permit to discharge water into the Latrobe River – a temporary permit for what can now be construed as a considerable amount of time.

All four generators at Yallourn were back on line in September, for the first time since the flooding, but the average capacity factor for the whole station was just 53 per cent.

Carnegie Wave Energy

Carnegie Wave Energy has been a regular in this column in recent weeks and its latest good news is in Ireland, where its project has received no objections.

Carnegie has plans to develop a commercial CETO wave energy project in the country and its application for a foreshore license to carry out site investigation works has raised no significant issues. If it does get the go ahead, the project will see a 5MW CETO commercial demonstration project. Noel White, Ireland’s Ambassador to Australia, visited Carnegie’s facility in Fremantle to discuss the firm’s Ireland plans last week.

The company also said it was awaiting a $1.1 million tax refund from the government under the R&D tax incentive program.