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FRV plans 150MW solar farm for Queensland cane-growing region

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The Australian arm of Spanish renewable energy developer FRV has revealed plans to build one of Australia’s biggest grid-connected solar PV farms in Queensland, south of Townsville, and sell the power it generates back to the grid.

Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) said the project of up to 150MW was planned for the cane farming community in Clare, and that the company was currently in discussions with the regions’s major electricity retailers, as the “natural customers” for the plant’s electricity.

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After somewhat of a big solar drought in Queensland under the former Campbell government, Queensland’s new energy minister, Mark Bailey, last week confirmed his Labor government’s commitment to 50 per cent renewables target by 2030. It has also committed to an auction of 40MW of solar capacity, although with no timetable set.

On the sidelines of the Solar and Energy Storage 2015 conference in Melbourne, Bailey said the Palaszczuk government was determined to reach those targets, and was establishing a state-based Productivity Commission to provide a policy pathway to get there.

“Renewable energy has long since stopped being a fringe issue, now is the time for Queensland to make this happen,” Bailey said before a speech at the conference last Thursday.

FRV built the first large scale solar farm on the National Electricity Market, the 20MW Royalla project built under the ACT government’s reverse auction scheme. It is also building the 57MW Moree solar project, which will also have single axis tracking, which is funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

FRV’s Australian senior project developer, Killian Wentrup, told the Townsville Bulletin that a final decision on the size of the proposed Clare project would be made once a Power Purchase Agreement had been reached.

He said that the technology used for the PV plant would most likely be a horizontal single-axis tracking system.

The Spanish company, which would own the solar farm, has contracted to buy a 340 hectare lot adjacent to the Clare substation.

“There are at least 12 months of further development activities before a final decision can be made,” Wentrup said.

Wentrup also expressed some relief that the federal government and the opposition had finally come to an agreement on Australia’s renewable energy target.

“While it is disappointing that the target is being reduced to 33,000GWh, we are pleased that an agreement has been made,” he told the paper.

Last year, FRV’s Spanish CEO, Rafael Benjumea warned that the company’s pipeline of projects in Australia would  be worthless and the company forced to abandon the country if the federal government implemented the recommendations of the RET Review panel.

“Investors in such a capital intensive industry as ours fear uncertainty and this review, unlike past reviews, has meant that Australia is far less attractive as an investment destination,” Benjumea told RE in an interview.

“We are surprised at the extreme views that have emerged within Australia in areas such as renewable energy and we hope that a sensible outcome will be found from the current review of the Target that will encourage continued deployment of renewable energy.”

He said that, with solar already cheaper than new coal generation, Australia could no longer rely on coal to deliver competitive electricity prices to Australian homes and businesses.  

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  • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

    Why bother with solar in cane country when the baggas scrap left over from cane production has a very high calorific value as biomass fed into a generator is capable of generating a scale of magnitude more energy then solar.
    It’s already being done in many places in Queensland.
    We should be looking to see what renewable energy is cheaply available in what areas and use it first.

    • A good point and furthermore the baggasse is available 24/7 during the can cutting season and can be stored for use during the time of peak summer demand

    • WR

      Photosynthesis utilises about 4% of incoming solar radiation. Further energy losses will occur in the harvesting, transportation, sugar extraction, and combustion of the bagasse. Solar panels have an energy efficiency of about 17%. Single axis tracking at that latitude will ensure that most of the incident light is absorbed. So the PV installation will be producing much more energy per square metre than bagasse production.

      • Helen Holmes

        Yes WR. Also the cane needs water – harvests sometimes fail, cyclones ruin crops, bugs ruin crops. Yes power from the waste should be used but the sun is just THERE – no transportation or combustion needed.!

      • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

        PV might be 17% efficient but what’s the triple bottom line cost in comparison, when were talking about a scrap by product of sugar production, there is no transport costs, the bagasse generation is on site at the sugar mill.
        what’s actually better, bagasse being burnt as waste or using its high calorific energy to turn generators.

        I’ve been involved in a Sugar Mill conversion in Queensland
        Originally the whole mills crushing and processing was done using the steam directly, generated by boilers powered by the scrap from cane, but then it was realised it was more financial to generate electricity with it.

        • Barri Mundee

          I don’t think it an either/or case. Both bagasse and should be part of the mix. Bot will hopefully help to displace coal or gas.

    • Matthew Dawes

      I live on the Tweed in NSW,also cane country. The mill here has a co-generation plant, there isn’t enough bagasse produced to run the generator continuously and it needs to be supplemented with wood chips.
      There is also unused ground in the cane fields that would be excellent places to place renewable energy generators.

      • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

        Yes but the energy it does produce is from biomass renewable energy, even the wood chips, just as the PV is renewable.
        It’s just which is one has the best triple bottom line, they could grow more cane on unused ground or install PV.

  • News Views

    Has anyone wondered how this is going to be economic ally viable when there is an oversupply of power nationally and battery storage is going to take off. It doesn’t stack up to me

    • A good point – can solar PV compete with grid prices in Qld???

    • nakedChimp

      I thought the FF generator for all of FNQ (sans the stand-alone-grids in Cape York) was sitting in Mackay or Rockhampton? TVS is a little bit north of that..
      Might actually make sense if you want to get rid of transmission cost and support growing communities.
      Also TVS has a lot of sunshine – locals call it Brownsville for a reason 😉

      Also Cairns (another 4-5 hours north of TVS) is projected to overtake TVS population wise within the next decade(s), we’ll probably see more of this sort of development. The Mt. Emerald Wind Farm is sitting some kms inland from Cairns on the flat tablelands up there and had been stalled for the last 4-5 years.. seems to be under way now though.

  • Eb

    The fixed target agreed in the Tweedledee and Tweedleedum negotiations is for 33,000 GWh worth of Renewable Energy Certificates to be surrendered for 2020. Publishing ‘kw/h’ in this article reflects poorly but, hey, even the Fin Review gets power (kW) and energy (kWh) wrong!