Construction of AGL Energy’s $300 million solar PV plant in central NSW is set to begin, with the head contractor, First Solar, going on-site on Tuesday.
The ARENA-backed Nyngan Solar Plant – with more than 1,350,000 PV modules expected to be installed on a 250 hectare site – will be the largest PV plant in Australia, and the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, once finished.
Construction is expected to take around 18 months to complete, with the 102MW plant slated to be fully operational by June 2015.
Nyngan Solar Plant had its inception in the federal government’s Solar Flagships program, a renewables scheme created under the first Rudd regime to foster the development of utility-scale solar projects.
After some years and a good deal of trouble securing the private financial backing necessary to gain access to the government funds, AGL managed to bridge the gap with a little help from the NSW Government ($64.9 million), the Education Infrastructure Fund($40 million), and the federal government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency, or ARENA ($166.7 million).
Once completed, the Nyngan Solar Plant will produce enough electricity to power more than 33,000 average NSW homes and to reduce CO2 pollution by more than 203,000 tonnes every year.
AGL group general manager of merchant energy, Anthony Fowler, said the project, which began more than four years ago, would provide significant flow on benefits to the Nyngan region, including 300 direct construction jobs created to support the plant’s construction, and with the majority of workers expected to be housed in an accommodation camp being built in Nyngan.
The Nyngan plant will be complemented by AGL’s second solar plant at Broken Hill, due to commence construction in mid-2014, with an expected completion date of November 2015.
Together the two solar plants will cover an area equivalent to Sydney’s CBD and North Sydney with PV modules, and will deliver a total capacity of 155MW of energy for NSW.
First Solar will provide engineering, procurement and construction services for the Nyngan and Broken Hill Solar Plant projects, using its advanced thin-film PV modules. First Solar will also operate and maintain both projects for AGL for five years after commercial operation starts.
“Breaking ground at the Nyngan solar project is a significant milestone for the advancement of Australia’s utility-scale solar industry,” said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s Vice President of Business Development for Asia Pacific.
“Each project that First Solar constructs builds acceptance of and confidence in utility-scale solar as an effective source of power generation in Australia. As the Nyngan project develops, we look forward to seeing its impact, not only in generating important local job opportunities, but also in strengthening the solar industry’s position within Australia’s energy mix.”
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the project would generate valuable know-how in deploying large-scale solar PV as well as help support job creation in regional NSW.
“The transfer of skills and experience to the local labour market will provide a boost to the local community and beyond as well as benefit the solar industry and the Australian economy,” Frischknecht said.
“AGL has already learned valuable lessons during the planning stages of the project, which ARENA has shared with the industry in a guide to gaining regulatory approvals, he said. “Sharing knowledge helps build investor confidence, reduce risk and costs on future projects and paves the way for more solar energy plants to be built across the country.”