Royalla Solar Farm opens, but where's Solar Flagships?

The 20 MW Royalla solar farm opens today. It happened via the ACT's renewables auction process after just 2½ years. Meanwhile, the federal government's solar farm program is yet to deliver an electron to the grid – after five years. What's the lesson here?

The 20 megawatt (AC) Royalla Solar Farm to the south of Canberra will open today while, elsewhere in the ACT, Zhenfa’s 13MW Solar Farm in  Mugga Lane is on the verge of securing planning approval.

Royalla was developed by Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, FRV, who are also behind the 53MW Moree Solar project that was recently committed to construction with funding from the federal government.

The opening of the 83,000-panel installation (shown below) will be attended by Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo (one wonders whether Julie Bishop might attend a Pacific Hydro or Infigen wind or solar farm opening in the US or Brazil).  

The project was underpinned by the ACT Government’s large-scale solar feed-in tariff auction process, which guaranteed the project a price of $186 per megawatt-hour for its power. This auction process also underpins the Zhenfa project (receiving $178/MWh) and another in the ACT town of Uriarra (by Elementus Energy, and awarded a tariff of $186/MWh).

Image: Royalla Solar Farm

Graph for Royalla Solar Farm opens, but where's Solar Flagships?

Credit: FRV website

It’s interesting to note that the ACT Government has managed to move from 'go to whoa' in about 2½ years with its ACT solar auction process while the federal government's large-scale solar program – Solar Flagships, set up by the Department of Industry – is still yet to generate a single electron of power to the grid after five years. And yet one company, FRV, has a project under each process.

Yet for some reason the Coalition Government is moving in Parliament to axe the Australian Renewable Energy Agency in order to put the Department of Industry and, ultimately, the Minister for Industry back in charge of programs to drive innovation in renewable energy. It must come as incredibly irritating to the ARENA board and staff that Coalition MPs are using examples of cock-ups – such as the funding of Ocean Power Technologies’ Portland Wave Project and the Whyalla Solar Oasis – to tarnish ARENA when the decision to fund these projects was made by the department and in some cases, the same minister they are putting back in charge.

The cock-ups the government so gleefully cite as failures belonging to ARENA were, in fact, the very reason why policymakers came to the realisation they needed an independent institution responsible for funding renewable energy innovation which was at arms-length from politicians. 

Indeed, it could be argued that ARENA is not distant enough from the politicians and, ideally – like what the ACT has done with its auctions – we need to design objective and transparent processes for selecting projects for funding support.