Last panel fixed onto Australia’s ‘second-biggest’ PV plant

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Broken Hill, a 53MW PV plant project which is Australia’s second biggest utility-scale solar farm to date, is on track to reach full capacity later this month, with the last panel installed at the site this morning.

Representatives of the plant’s developer, First Solar, utility AGL, which constructed the plant, and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), attended an event this morning at the site in New South Wales. The last of 677,760 thin-film PV panels was installed ceremonially by Doug Jackson, executive general manager of group operations at AGL.

The plant was part-connected to the grid in September, with around half of the capacity going online. The 102MW Nyngan PV plant, Broken Hill’s ‘big sister’, Australia’s biggest PV generation facility, also in New South Wales, went fully operational in June. According to an ARENA report, the first three months of Nyngan’s operation produced more than 60,000MWh of electricity for the grid. Nyngan and Broken HIll together cost around AUS$440 million (US$324 million) in total to develop and construct as part of a project by AGL, including around AUS$166 million from ARENA and AUS$64.9 million from the local government of New South Wales.

Speaking at the Broken Hill event this morning, ARENA’s stand-in CEO Ian Kay talked up the contribution large-scale solar could play in Australia’s energy mix and referred to recent measures introduced to stimulate growth in the sector. For the most part, talk on Australia’s PV markets recently has centred on smaller scale solar in light of falling feed-in tariffs (FiTs), in particular the potential for behind-the-meter battery storage to enable on site self-consumption.

After a recent history in which ARENA and the country’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), both government agencies, came under fire from Australia’s recently ousted prime minister, Tony Abbott, the two groups earlier this year launched a combined AUS$350 million in measures. This includes AUS$100 million for a competitive tender process through ARENA and AUS$250 million in utility-scale solar financing from CEFC.

“There is a real sense of momentum driving large-scale solar in Australia today. The Broken Hill and Nyngan solar plants are already supplying power to Australian homes and we now have AUS$350 million available through ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which will further accelerate growth in the sector,” Kay said.

AGL’s Jackson said the utility now had 1,900MW of renewable energy capacity under construction or in operation. In April the utility had called on the government to make renewed and reinforced efforts to reduce emissions.

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