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Port Augusta pushes for federal support for solar tower power plant

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Representatives of the Port Augusta community in South Australia have pushed the federal Coalition government for funding support for a proposed 110MW solar tower power plant with storage to replace the coal-fired generator that is scheduled to close in less than two months.

Members of Repower Port Augusta took their message to Canberra on Wednesday, pushing for up to $100 million in grant funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to help ensure that the solar tower plant, which features molten storage and could operate around the clock, will be built.

The team said they got a “positive response” and “there was much interest” from the offices of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, environment minister Greg Hunt, and energy minister Josh Frydenberg, but they did not get to meet Turnbull or either of the ministers in person. They did meet Labor climate change spokesman Mark Butler.

“We had the opportunity to meet with the offices of key decision makers including the Prime Minister and Environment Ministers,” said Lisa Lumsden, a spokesperson for Repower Port Augusta. “These were productive discussions and there is definitely interest in the need to do something for our region.”

The group is targeting ministers because any funding of the more than $50 million from ARENA requires ministerial support. ARENA is providing $100 million in funds to a range of large scale solar projects, but these will only be solar PV, not solar thermal (towers) with storage.

There are no large-scale solar tower with storage plants in Australia, although several have and are being built in Europe, north and southern Africa, and north and southern America.

Costs are expected to fall quickly once more plants are built and Australia is considered to be a prime market for solar tower and storage, because of its excellent solar resources and increasing amounts of wind and solar PV, particularly in South Australia.

port augusta canberra

The delegation said brought a banner with 1500 signatures from the local community to demonstrate the community support in Port Augusta and had an accompanying letter of support from the Upper Spencer Gulf Common Purpose Group an alliance of the Port Augusta, Whyalla and Port Pirie city councils.

The Port Augusta coal station closing in eight weeks now, and US company SolarReserve has said it is looking to build solar thermal near Port Augusta.

“Quite a few jobs including my own will be disappearing in eight weeks time. I decided that this project was my time to stand up and not just talk about doing something, but to actually try to do something about it,” said Gary Rowbottom, the chair of Repower Port Augusta and a worker at the coal power station for 17 years.
“The Australian Renewable Energy Agency could supply the funding needed and with the South Australian Government seeking to buy low-carbon energy there has never been a greater need or a better opportunity for solar thermal in Port Augusta to happen,” Rowbottom said.
“There’s a company that wants to build it and both the Federal and South Australian Governments have the policies in place that could make it happen but we need them to work together.”
The South Australian government has called a tender for around 150MW of clean energy to help it source all its own power needs, but has left open the option to sign a deal with an existing gas-fired station rather than a new solar plant or wind farm.
The result of the tender is not expected for several months, possibly around the time of the actual closure of the Northern Power Station, now scheduled for around May 8.
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