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Council approves 350MW PV farm, stage 1 of massive solar and storage hub

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SolarQLowerWongaSite

A view of the site for the 350MW Lower Wonga Solar Farm. Image: SolarQ

Plans to build a massive solar and battery storage energy hub in the Queensland agricultural centre of Gympie have gained ground this week, with the project’s first phase of development – a 350MW PV array – receiving development approval from the local council.

In a statement on Friday, local developer SolarQ said that the Gympie Regional Council had approved the 350MW Lower Wonga Solar Farm, on the basis that it was a positive development for the local and state communities.

All up, the three-stage Gympie Regional Energy Hub aims to include more than 1 gigawatt of PV capacity – stage 3 proposes another solar farm, of 800MW – and a huge 4,000MWh/800MW of battery storage.

That level of storage sounds immense. But SolarQ managing director, Scott Armstrong, said the sizing of the battery system had been calculated with “energy redistribution” in mind, and not just as a back-up facility to store excess solar generation and smooth output.

“We’re actually designing for the future,” Armstrong told RenewEconomy. “We’re looking to create the equivalent to a peaking power station.

“The final design of the Gympie Regional Energy Hub will meet customer demand and growth, will be scalable, despatchable, will align with solar variability and will provide security of energy supply,” he said.

Armstrong said that the project site in Gympie – a former gold center that is now best known for fruit farming and industry – was well suited to the project, based on a number of key metrics, including high levels of unemployment in the region.

All up, the project is expected to provide 450 jobs for four years for the total scope, and the 12 jobs for 30 years during the energy hub’s operations, as well as “significant” indirect jobs for the region.

Armstrong said that the project had received great support from the Lower Wonga, Widgee, and Kilkivan local communities and the Wider Gympie regional community, including the Gympie Chamber of Commerce.

The next step for the 350MW stage 1 solar project is finance, on which the company plans to make an announcement before Christmas this year.

Armstrong said he expected it to be financed through a combination of power purchase agreements and the merchant market, after it had attracted strong interest from private sector investors.

In particular, he said, the company was looking to partner with local companies; large energy users that understood the benefits of large-scale solar and storage.

“Our plan is to bring in (investors) who have an understanding of ultra high-speed dispatch” and the various ancillary services that big solar and batteries can provide, he told RE.

“PPA’s tend to steralise (a project’s) capabilities,” he added. “We need to start looking beyond them.”  

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  • George Darroch

    Congratulations to Gympie, and to SolarQ for bringing this forward.

    4GWh of storage. That’s massive by any standard, and even if only some of this is realised it will still make this a very different solar farm than we’re used to seeing.

    • Tom

      I’m looking forward to the 4GWh battery too.

      I wonder how long it will last before it needs replacing/ reprocessing? If they’re using it at a 5-hour discharge rate then it might last longer than if they’re using it at a 1-hour discharge rate – I’m not sure how it all works.

  • PacoBella

    When you add the 450 jobs mentioned here for construction and you add in the 1,386 jobs identified by Sophie Vorrath in a recent article I wonder where all the skilled trades people are going to come from. I recently spoke to an electrician who was telling me about all the problems being experienced by people who put solar on their roof during the boom when the 44 cent tariff was on the go and there were a lot of dodgy firms importing dodgy panels from China and using badly trained staff to install them. If that situation is to be avoided at the scale of these new mega-projects, I would like to be assured that somebody somewhere is doing the labourforce planning and training necessary for high long term quality and reliability.

    • Ken Dyer

      Paco, I think you will find that many of these problems occurred some years ago, In more recent times as solar become a more mature product, the Queensland Government has taken some positive steps to get rid of the shonks.
      https://www.qld.gov.au/law/your-rights/consumer-rights-complaints-and-scams/buying-products-and-services/buying-products/buying-solar-products

      • solarguy

        Ah but one company I can mention as big time shonks EUROSOLAR.

        Have a look at what Finn Peacock has to say about them and the multitude of complaints on his website SOLAR QUOTES.

        • solarguy

          Update on EUROSOLAR. Late yesterday I received a call from another victim of the these shonky bastards, who has been fighting them for a year.

          WARNING to all who think they are going to get a solar bargain, you won’t get it.

          If you see an ad for a 5KW system that’s only $3,999 DON’T BE SEDUCED!

          Quality systems that work will cost about twice that. You get what you pay for.

  • Roger Franklin

    What a significant step in the right direction. Jobs for the construction phase, then along with the maintenance team – add a coffee shop, visitors centre and tours including being a destination for Schools for Educational purposes.

    I cannot imagine funding will be an issue either as there appears to be many international funds looking for green projects with known long term returns even if our local investors and the majority of the Canberra FIFO workers aren’t