Construction has officially begun on the huge New England Solar Farm, the first stage of a proposed 720 megawatt hybrid solar and battery project developed by UPC\ACRenewables Australia near Uralla in northern New South Wales.
Eventually UPC/AC Renewables says the $768 million project will produce1,800,000 megawatt hours of electricity, enough, it says, to power 250,000 typical NSW homes. However, that is likely to be at least three year away.
Construction is expected in two stages. The first will build 400MW of solar capacity, a substation and a 50MW/1hour Battery Energy Storage System (BESS). Green Light Contractors, a subsidiary of Spanish solar company Elecnor, has been contracted to build the first stage.
The initial construction, currently underway, involves road construction before the first solar panels can start going up.
A spokesman said stage one in its entirety would hopefully be finished by early 2023, when the project would start feeding energy into the grid through existing 330kV transmission lines, owned by TransGrid, that pass through the site.
The second stage will build a further 320MW of solar and extend the battery capacity to 400MWh. However, the finances for that stage have not been finalised. The spokesman said the hope was to start work on phase two before phase one was finished, meaning the entire project could by up and running within three years.
At the height of construction UPC/AC says the project will employ around 700 people, though by the end the project will need a workforce of only 15 people.
The solar farm will be built on 2,000 hectares of sheep grazing land traditionally used for sheep grazing, leased off graziers. The plan is for sheep to continue grazing on the land among the solar panels, though the details of that have yet to be arranged with local graziers.
“Once fully complete, the solar farm and battery project will be Australia’s largest hybrid solar and battery energy storage facility. It will play an important role in the energy transition already underway across the country,” UPC/AC Renewables chief executive Anton Rohner said.
“The local community, our project landowners and civic leaders have been very supportive of the project over the past three years. We’re extremely excited to see construction start and the opportunities that are being returned and created for local business and workers.”
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.