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.”