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Massive 1.5GW solar plant proposed for south-east Queensland

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A 1.5GW solar farm is being proposed for construction in south-east Queensland, as part of a massive new development application that would include two substations and a provision for battery storage.

The Somerset Regional Council said on Friday that it had received the application for the solar PV power plant, proposed for a 2,055 hectare site east of Harlin, on the D’Aguilar Highway.

Somerset Mayor Graeme Lehmann said the “complex development application” had been submitted by Ethos Urban planning consultants, on behalf of a newly registered company called Sunshine Energy Australia.

“We understand the attractions of the site include its proximity to the existing high voltage power network and … to Brisbane,” Lehmann said.

“The site has been largely cleared in the past and is within one hour of the 570MW pumped storage hydroelectric plant at Splityard Creek, which is also in the Somerset Regional Council area.”

Lehmann said the development application – which included two substations, facilities for up to 60 employees and provisions for battery storage – had been referred to various government departments and agencies for their input.

“We will carefully assess it against our planning scheme like any other proposal,” he said.

The region, although home to both the Splityard Creek hydro plant, and the Wivenhoe pumped hydro power station, has hosted no large-scale solar farms as yet.

In 2011, a 400MW PV plant was proposed for near Kilcoy by a small local company called Energy Makers. That proposal was rejected by Somerset council in 2014 – a decision that was later upheld by the Queensland Ombudsman.

At the time, however – as we reported here – that project would have seemed ambitious, compared to Australia’s one and only existing large-scale solar farm, the 10MW facility near Geraldton in WA.

Much larger, even, than the “flagship” Nyngan and Broken Hill plants in NSW, on which construction had just begun.

Ironically, the new 1.5GW plant now being proposed for the Somerset region by the little known Sunshine Energy Australia promises to be among Australia’s largest – at least for a while – if it wins approval.  

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  • George Darroch

    What reasons did the regional council give (real or spurious) for rejecting the application in 2014?

    This is a welcome addition to our energy mix. At the same time I’m curious to know what kind of arrangement (if any) Sunshine Energy expect to have with Wivenhoe’s owners and other energy providers.

    • Richard Werkhoven

      An arrangement would be nice but not essential as the market should handle the interactions to make the whole thing work as a system.

      That’s why we have AEMO

  • Chris Schneider

    Any progress in renewables in Queensland is great. We’re the only state where Residential solar is the most significant renewable contributor… at only 4%!

    In the next two years though that seems likely to change! So many new Renewable projects are on the go! I hope this one is added it would actually e great if it was tied to the Dam ensuring it is filled everyday for night time usage. It’s an important asset Queensland rarely uses!

  • Rod

    Probably a good thing it was knocked back in 2011. The precipitous drop in the cost of solar means they can now install four times as much for the same cost and include tracking.
    I found this last night. A solar farm in Mexico half the size of this proposal.
    https://youtu.be/sQ7KnJxU66E

    • Alastair Leith

      @0:54
      “More than 25,000 [native/threatened/something] species fauna relocations” Is there a word missing in that bottom third text?!

      • Rod

        Not sure. This text from another article doesn’t make it much clearer either.
        It sounds like whatever was on site (not necessarily endangered) has been moved to a site adjacent to the farm.

        “In line with the Creating Shared Value (CSV) model
        adopted by Enel Group, which aims to combine business development and
        local community needs, EGPM has carried out initiatives in the
        surrounding areas of the plants to enable income generation for local
        stakeholders. These initiatives include the training programmes in local
        communities on how to make furniture from 2.6 tons of pallet wood and
        boxes used in Villanueva’s construction works. In addition, 600
        additional hectares, complementary to the construction area, are being
        used for the relocation of specimens of local flora and fauna.”

        “As of today,
        more than 147,000 specimens of flora, such as various types of cacti,
        and more than 25,000 fauna, including frogs, snakes and lizards, have
        been relocated to the area. ”

    • Joe

      Thanks Rod. An impressive piece of kit that the Mexicaners have out together. Perhaps the Trump, instead of building walls to keep Mexicaners out, should invite them in and show how it is done with the Sun.

    • solarguy

      I thank you also Rod.Great video.

  • Jon

    With 12,000MW of solar already proposed in QLD, this one will have a lot of competition!

  • Steve Jordan

    I think you will find that “the Splityard Creek hydro plant, and the Wivenhoe pumped hydro power station” are the one and the same, just different nomenclature.

  • John Saint-Smith

    What concerns me is that while this proposal has good credentials on the supply side – close to major transmission lines and PHES at Splityard Ck – there is little in the report which indicates how this additional ‘average daily output of roughly 10 GWh will be utilized. Because the electricity would be potentially cheaper, one option would be to further reduce the output of Tarong, (currently 700 MW) and Tarong North (440 MW), and would also allow the pumped hydro to be re-charged more economically during the day to meet the evening peak.

    Looking at the live generation data as I write (9.40 pm, I notice that ‘market forces’ have determined that Queensland’s black coal and gas are picking up the short fall in NSW and SA – due to a shortage of wind in southern regions. That suggests that Queensland’s fossil fuelled generators are potentially more cost efficient than those in the southern states, and more competitive with the combination of solar and PHES.

    it is also true that Queensland isn’t finished installing small scale residential solar. The small to medium industrial market is also beginning to take off, as business owners recognize the potential of their roof space for what is largely a daytime operation.

    Many of the new renewable generation units being developed in South Australia are actually linked to exciting new manufacturing and agricultural projects. It would be good to see more such linkages in South East Queensland.

    • Richard Werkhoven

      What will happen for a while is that the Solar will cut back on the peaking plants and not do so much to the coal plants.

      So gas will be reduced or eliminated during the day, and then kick in at sunset.

      Eventually the storage will cut the peak time gas use out.

      Slowly the coal contribution will be reduced, but it will be the last to go from AEMO management as none of these alternatives are yet being deployed at night because they are not yet sufficient to do so.

      Coal will be cut back to running for nighttime demand levels though, as it won’t be able to run flat out and then live with the oversupply at night.

      Coal economics are looking worse all the time as a result. Coal will die out due to the shift of the spend to renewables.

      The best thing we can hope for is more Solar PV and home storage. That really is already driving the move away from coal by changing the mindset of the gentailers from monopolies who decide what the consumer can have to trying to maintain some control and keep a customer base.

      Renewables for high demand users is a no brainer in most cases.

      It’s unfortunate to see though that some of the biggest users lack brains or have other agendas.

      Tomago Smelter for instance has the roof space for 20MW of solar, but they are too busy lobbying for government owned coal power in the hope of returning to the days of subsidised power deals.

      OK 20MW is nowhere near their 970MW of demand and will only do daylight hours but even at their discounted price it would be a huge saving, plus would insulate them to some extent from having to pay peak pricing for the odd occasions where they do.

      They argue that Solar is not continuous and that storage doesn’t exist and yet they are one classic case of being able to use every kW of the solar output.

      There is the reason that coal is still around. Take Tomago (and the like) off coal and it’s future is short in NSW, plus the politics shifts enormously.

      And yes it will take more than their own Solar PV to do it.

  • Tim Buckley

    Without experienced management, strong financial backers and a signed PPA, the headline is very exciting, and the conceptual logic appealing, but there are plenty of project proposals flying around that are little more than an application and a dream – a bit like Adani’s Carmichael proposal (but absent all the government subsidies, royalty holidays, free water and pollution, so looking good by comparison in that regard!). It would be good to know who are the backers and how they propose to finance this proposal, over what timeframe and how it fits within the currently non-existent forward energy plan for Eastern Australia.