Australia Gets Ten Times Bigger Solar Farm Following Carbon Tax

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In its first solar investment in Australia, GE Energy Financial Services has partnered with US thin-film producer First Solar and local state-owned energy firm Verve Energy to build a solar farm ten times larger than any yet built in the country. It will supply electricity for a desalination plant in Western Australia, which has a mandate to use renewable power for all new desalination projects.

Australia – resource-cursed by plentiful coal – has seen a sharp uptick in international interest from renewable energy firms following this summer’s passage of carbon legislation by the Gillard government, which now puts a price ($23 per tonne) on CO2 emissions.  State legislation helps too. Now, all new desalination plants in Western Australia must use power generated from renewable sources.

The Southern Seawater Desalination Plant has contracted to buy 100% of the power from the Greenough River Solar Farm, which will produce energy when it is most needed during the day, and eliminating 25,000 tonnes per year of greenhouse gas emissions.

First Solar will supply the project with over 150,000 thin film modules and provide the engineering, procurement and construction, and operations and maintenance once the solar farm is operational. GE Energy Financial Services is fronting the money on a 50/50 basis along with state-owned power company Verve Energy.

“The solar farm will be the first utility-scale PV project in Australia, 10 times larger than any other operating solar project in the country”, says a press release from GE.

While it is true that this is a ten-fold jump in solar power for the coal-rich nation, the size is far from utility-scale at just 10 MW  (utility-scale power plants are more like 120 – 250 MW).

But neither is it homeowner-roof-scale. This is commercial-scale: ideal for very large operations such as desalination plants that use a lot of energy. Ten megawatts will nicely supply the daytime power needed by the desalination plant, and do a much cleaner and safer job of it than the fossil fuels currently used for this work.

It is the first Australian solar investment for GE, which has $400 million invested in 42 solar power debt and equity assets globally, a small beginning compared with its $20 billion and 30 GW in total energy investment.

Image: Solar Choice

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