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Sun Brilliance gets approval for WA’s biggest solar plant

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A 100MW solar power plant in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt region has taken a significant step towards realisation after getting approval from the Mid-West Wheatbelt Joint Development Assessment Panel.

While the project’s initial timeline has slipped a little, it now appears likely Australia’s first “merchant” utility scale solar array will go ahead, although it will be competing against a rival plant in Queensland being developed by UK-based Eco Energy.

nyngan solar 25MW

Aerial photo of Nyngan solar farm in NSW, which is 102MW

Perth-based developer Sun Brilliance confirmed the news last Friday, noting that the $160 million project will be a significant source of Large Scale Generation Certificates (LGCs) in WA.

The Mid-West Wheatbelt Joint Development Assessment Panel approved the plan at a meeting on November 28, with adjoining landowner Ray Lehman, and Sun Brilliance’s Ray Wills and Dilawar Singh answering questions posed by the panel.

The development group placed some conditions on the PV power plant and the proposed accompanying visitor precinct. These conditions include: that the project is developed within two years of the approval grant; that the electrical substation is relocated to a site at least 200 meters away from the nearest home; and that a detailed transport management plan be developed accounting for the construction period.

The 100 MW power plant will be located outside the WA Wheatbelt town of Cunderdin, 158 km east of Perth, at a property owned by Sun Brilliance known as Creswick. The plan is for sheep grazing to continue on the property at the same level as today, with the sheep reducing the need for for grass and weeds to be regularly cut as a part of scheduled plant Operations and Maintenance (O&M).

An advantage of the Creswick location is that it lies 2 km north of a 132 kV Western Power transmission line. Sun Brilliance will develop the 132 kV/22kV substation required.

“We have been very pleased with the professionalism of Western Power in their consideration of our project needs, and with just a few small variations on milestones, still within the framework of our original timeline,” said Sun Brilliance director Ray Wills.

Wills sits on the board of regional WA utility Horizon Power.

Sun Brilliance Chairman and CEO Dilawar Singh said that construction on the project is set to begin in April 2017, with the installation to be completed by September.

At the time of completion, the 100 MW project will likely be Australia’s largest by electricity production, when the effect of the single axis tracking system is taken into account.

The project developer must now finalise debt and equity financing and is aiming for a 70/30 split.

Recent indications are that funding conditions for large scale solar in Australia have improved rapidly recently, partly as a result of ARENA’s large scale solar scheme. The Sun Brilliance WA project did not apply for an ARENA grant.

Sun Brilliance is unwilling to provide further details on the progress it is making with its financing efforts, nor to the project’s revenue stream.

While it has fallen slightly in recent weeks, Green Energy Markets figures reveal LGCs are currently trading in the high $80/MWh range. The 100 MW project is expected to create 200,000 LGCs annually.

WA utility Synergy has developed very few renewable energy projects of its own in recent years, preferring to purchase certificates on the spot market – generally from solar and wind projects in the eastern states. RenewEconomy understands that WA Energy Minister and Treasurer Mike Nahan has instructed Synergy, which is state owned, to purchase LGCs locally, to encourage renewable project development in the state.

If Synergy comes to a purchase agreement with Sun Brilliance for the 100 MW project, it would significantly reduce the developer’s risk, with the electricity generated to be traded on the WA spot market.

The solar project is expected to create 150 jobs during the construction phase, and eight to ten full-time jobs during operation.

Sun Brilliance would not provide any details as to EPC arrangements nor to component suppliers. However, in its public presentation on the project it is revealed that it is considering both multicrystalline and cadmium telluride modules (CdTe) – with First Solar the only manufacturer with sufficient manufacturing capacity to supply 100 MW of CdTe panels.

Interestingly, the Sun Brilliance presentation notes that the warranted life of the project is 30 years. The warranty period indicates that dual-glass modules, where the foil backsheet is replaced by a second sheet of glass, are currently being considered by the developers. Glass-foil modules, the industry standard today, are issued with 20-year warranties as common practice.  

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  • Tomfoolery

    Does anybody know why the Nyngan Solar Farm was set up without single-axis tracking? Seems really short sighted, and frankly a terrible business decision due to the reduced output.

    • Jonathan Gifford

      My understanding is that back when Nyngan was developed tracking was not being widely deployed – particularly for PV power plants using thin film technology (it uses First Solar CdTe modules). Essentially when the PV module price collapsed back in 2012, tracking was seen as less important as developers could simply “add more modules”, rather than add to the (perceived) complexity by utilizing trackers.

      Since then, tracker suppliers have – it seems – satisfied a number of concerns when it comes to reliability and O&M (and also park design flexibility) and the growth of tracking in the last 18 months has been very impressive. As Giles has noted in previous articles, all of the projects to be developed under ARENA’s LSS program will deploy trackers.

      • Tomfoolery

        Wow! Thanks for that great explanation – makes a lot of sense now đŸ™‚

        Have a good day, Jonathan.

  • disqus_gF5uXVTUbL

    Good for the environment. No storage means can’t stand alone and offer resilience to any local community in broader challenges with storms of fires. Less evolved than small scale wind integrated with inverters and storage. Lack of systems thinking in design. Really not suitable for a vast country with long runs of poles and wires.

    • Chris Drongers

      Sun Brilliance site at Cunderdin is on a transmission line between the major load centres of Perth and Kalgoorlie, both Perth and Kalgoorlie have smaller (gas fired) plants which can respond quickly to load variations. Evening loads match well with wind generation from the sea breezes (aka strong winds) up the west coast and along the Kalgan and Avon valleys from Albany to Merriden.

      Storage is not needed or economic, yet.

      • disqus_gF5uXVTUbL

        Relying on gas, especially fracked gas, is not a sustainable or medium or long term option. The project is likely to use entirely different hardware than that required for storage, make later conversion to storage expensive. The project will likely cease generation in the absence of a 50Hz fossil fuel generator on the network. Not having storage co-located makes the generation useless for the local area, if long runs of poles and wires are damaged by storm or fire.

  • Brunel

    Another reason to build a HVDC line from WA to SA.

    • George Darroch

      ACIL Allen estimated that this would cost $2.4b. Many disadvantages compared to the other options available.

      • Brunel

        How about one from WA to NSW if we are going to get more and more solar power – it does not necessarily rain on PER, ADL, MEL, SYD, BNE at exactly the same time.

        How can UHVDC be viable in China and India but not AUS?