WA-based solar company Solco says it has secured two large solar PV contracts, boosting its plans to push into the commercial market following the sharp slump in the rooftop solar sector. Solco says it will install 50kW of solar PV on two council buildings in Mildura, and a 65kW system for KJ Johnson Electrical Engineers at an iron ore mine in Western Australia. The latter project will comprise two 70-metre long hill-top arrays that will be used to power a communications system at the mine, along with a 50-tonne battery system that can provide several days of autonomy before starting a backup diesel generator.
Following a 200kW contract for the Parkes Shire Council announced last November, chairman Dave Richardson said the company’s new focus on commercial projects was being vindicated. “With the viability of solar energy now being realised by the commercial sector, the amount of projects we are tendering on is growing rapidly,” he said. Richardson said solar PV for the commercial sector had now reached “grid parity” meaning that plants could be installed without the need for feed-in-tariffs.
Solco is also bidding into the ACT government’s reverse solar auction, and said it was looking at several sites for a plant of at least 2MWs in size. The collapse of the residential market forced the company last month to downgrade its full year revenue forecasts to $32 million, and then to $27 million, from $52 million last year, cancel a fund raising and pushed it to a $3.6 million interim loss.
Geothermal upgrade for Birdsville
Australia’s only operating geothermal power plant – at Birdsville in Queensland – is to be replaced by a newer and larger version by the local utility Ergon Energy. The 80kW plant, which was installed in 1982 and uses near boiling hot water from the Great Artesian Basin, will be replaced with a new facility with a capacity of up to 450kW. The geothermal plant works by drawing water to the surface at 98°C where it is run through a gas-filled heat exchanger, which heats and pressurises the gas, which then drives a turbine and alternator to produce electricity. The partly-cooled water is channelled into a pond for further cooling and returned to the town’s water supply and lagoon.
GE ups the solar ante
GE Energy Financial Services has bought a $100 million stake in a 127-megawatt Arlington Valley Solar Energy II plant being developed in Arizona by LS Power – a move that more than doubles its investments in the sector, taking them to $1.4 billion in the last year. “This year we made a conscious decision to try to grow our solar investment,” GE EFS chief Alex Urquhart said in an interview about the deal, announced on Wednesday.
“We’ve been successful, in fact more successful than we thought. Urquhart says GE EFS has so far invested in a gigawatt of solar projects in the United States, Australia, Spain, Canada and Italy, and is likely to sign a deal in India in the next few months. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity for solar in India. It’s early days, and clearly there will be ups and downs, but we’re very interested and we’re making our first investment in the space,” Urquhart said.
Reuters reports that the company has declined to give details on how large its ownership stake in the plant would be, or on its expected return on investment.
Hydro Tasmania seals China wind deal
Hydro Tasmania has this week completed the sale – foreshadowed late last year – of a 75 per cent stake in its north-west Tasmanian wind farms to Chinese renewables company Guohua Energy Investment. The stake, for which Guohua paid $88.6 million, is part of a deal that will guide the joint ownership, management and operation of Hydro Tasmania’s Woolnorth wind farms, Bluff Point and Studland Bay. Guohua – a subsidiary of Shenhua Group Corporation – has over $3.5 billion of wind assets under management, including more than 20 wind farms in China totalling more than 3000MW, with a further 1500MW under construction, and was described by Hydro Tasmania chairman David Crean as a first-class strategic partner.
“The transaction crowns a profitable chapter in Hydro Tasmania’s renewable energy development history,” Dr Crean said back in December when the deal was first announced. “The conclusion of the agreement represents a net cash benefit of over $30 million on Hydro Tasmania’s overall investment in wind farms while it still retains a significant 25 per cent equity stake in Woolnorth,” he said – adding that it would also greatly facilitate the financing of the $400 million Musselroe wind farm project, which began construction in December last year. The deal is also expected to remove $208 million of debt from Hydro Tasmania’s balance sheet, reducing the total debt figure to just over $735 million.
Tasmania’s Deputy Premier Bryan Green also welcomed the deal, saying it could open the door to further renewables investment and help grow jobs both for the state and for Australia. “This is the company’s first investment in renewable energy outside China and that it has chosen Tasmania shows great confidence that we are an ideal place to do business,” Green said. “The partnership with Guohua is of national significance because of the potential to deliver further investment in renewable energy projects in Australia and internationally.”