Former Coal Boss Seeks Approval For 300MW Solar Plant In Port Augusta

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Originally published on RenewEconomy.
by Sophie Vorrath

The former head of Australia’s most polluting brown coal generator is proposing a 10-fold increase in the size of a solar PV plant he proposes fills in the market gap created by the closure of Port Augusta’s own brown coal-fired generation capacity.

An application for development approval of a 300 MW single axis tracking solar PV power plant – the Bungala Solar Project – to be built approximately 7km north-east of the South Australian city of Port Augusta was submitted by start-up renewables outfit Reach Solar in September.


The idea for the grid-connected solar plant – which is neither unique, nor by any means the only solar project proposed for the region – is that it will draw on the skilled local workforce and existing transmission infrastructure, both of which are “underutilised” since the April closure of the 760MW coal-fired Flinders and Playford power stations.

“The project will draw on both these valuable local assets and its development and operation,” the application says.

As it happens, Reach knows a thing or two about the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, with most of its executive team – and particularly founding CEO Tony Concannon – having already made the journey from coal to solar.

Concannon, who with his team first presented the PV plant idea to the Port August Council in May, is the former Australian boss of GDF Suez, now Engie, which operates Victoria’s Hazelwood brown coal generator.

His resumé, which spans 30 years in energy and infrastructure, also includes stints as a former executive director of International Power, and as chairman of the Electricity Supply Association of Australia.

Alongside Concannon at Reach is David Webster, whose pedigree is also mixed, having worked in big hydro and in coal seam methane conversion; and Julian Dichiera, who was 20 years with International Power GdF Suez and most recently served as technical director for Summit Global Power a subsidiary of Sumitomo Corporation in Abu Dhabi.

At Reach, Concannon and Co. are looking to develop major solar and battery storage projects across Australia, hopefully starting with Bungala in Port Augusta.

According to the application, Bungala Solar Plant, which will be sited on 800 hectares of land owned by Bungala Aboriginal Corporation (a former ostrich farm), will be a staged development, starting at 100MW and expanding to 300MW, potentially with storage, depending on either the ability to secure a PPA, or on “market demand paving the opportunity to sell electricity on a merchant basis.”

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-11-08-13-am-300x169The plant will be connected to the existing 132kV transmission grid managed by Electranet and, once fully developed, is expected to supply enough electricity to power around 125,000 homes.

The cost of the project is expected to range from $220 million (100MW) to $660 million for 300MW. Reach said funding for the project would be provided from equity and (potentially) debt sources, with discussions underway on both fronts.

The company says it is also in talks with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, “who have provided conditional detailed terms for the provision of debt funding for the Project should it be required.”

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