Australia’s second largest solar plant, Broken Hill, constructed by Australian utility AGL Energy Limited (AGL), has begun feeding 26MW of electricity to the grid.

Located on 140 hectares of land in Western New South Wales (NSW) on the Barrier Highway, the AU$150 million (US$108 million) plant will have a capacity of 53MW once complete. It will include 678,000 PV modules to be installed in the coming months and is due to be fully operational by the end of this year.

AGL is also in partnership with US firm First Solar on the project. The two companies were also responsible for Broken Hill’s sister plant, the 102MW Nyngan solar plant, which is the largest in the country and which delivered 60,000MWh of power to the national grid in its first three months of operation.

AGL’s construction of the two plants costing AU$440 million was supported with AU$166.7 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and AU$64.9 million from the NSW Government.

AGL executive general manager group operations Doug Jackson said: “We are very pleased to have achieved first generation, which requires a lot of testing and coordination from multiple project partners. We have worked closely with the local network services provider, TransGrid, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and project partner First Solar to ensure generation was successful.”

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said: “We are entering a new era of large-scale solar in Australia. AGL’s twin solar farms are already feeding electricity into the grid and are on track to be fully operational this year. The ARENA-supported 56MW Moree Solar Farm is expected to come on line in 2016 and we anticipate funding at least four new grid-connected projects through our AU$100 million large-scale solar competitive round, which is now open.”

Jack Curtis, First Solar’s regional manager for Asia Pacific, said: “The lessons learnt from projects such as the Broken Hill solar plant are already translating into substantial cost savings that will ensure utility-scale PV will play an increasingly prominent and disruptive role in the Australian power generation mix.”

Earlier this month, Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) introduced an AU$250 million financing programme for the development of large-scale solar to complement an AU$100 million funding programme from ARENA, which is currently developing a competitive round for 200MW of large-scale solar PV, under the Advancing Renewables Programme.