The federal Morrison government has unveiled plans to underwrite the construction of a 1MW solar farm on Christmas Island, an external territory in the Indian Ocean with a population hovering around 2,000 – and an unwanted reputation as an Australian “prison island.”
The federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications published on Friday a request for expressions of interest for the construction of a solar plant on the Island, as part of a power purchase agreement to sell its entire output back to the department.
The Australia government, which is responsible for the delivery of all “state-type services” on Christmas Island, acts as its electricity retailer, with fees aligned to those in Western Australia.
In a statement on Thursday, assistant minister for regional development and territories Nola Marino said a 1MW solar plant could be integrated into the island’s existing power system with minimal impact and cost.
“It will also complement smaller systems being installed under the recently revitalised [Indian Ocean Territories] Renewable Energy Buy Back Scheme,” the statement said, while construction and associated works would contribute to the local economy.
Presumably, the idea is to also help the government deliver lower-cost and cleaner electricity to the island’s inhabitants.
As the statement acknowledges, IOT communities aim to have most of their energy requirements met by renewables by 2030, as outlined in the Our Christmas Island 2030 Strategic Plan and Our Cocos (Keeling) Islands 2030 Strategic Plan.
The launch of the solar farm tender follows closely on news that the Morrison government has decided to reopen the controversial immigration detention centre on Christmas Island, which refugee advocates argue is used to keep asylum seekers “out of sight and out of mind.”
The exorbitantly expensive immigration detention facility was closed in 2018 and then reopened this year to quarantine travellers returning to Australia from Wuhan in China, where the Coronavirus first struck.
The island is also being used to house a Tamil family of four from Biloela, in central Queensland, that is contesting its deportation while their youngest child’s asylum claim remains unresolved.
Australian Border Force said on Tuesday it was reopening the centre to house people currently in immigration detention on the Australian mainland. On Wednesday it clarified on Twitter that no refugees would be transferred to Christmas Island, only “those convicted of serious criminal offences.”
According to reports, this news has not been well received on the Island, with the President of the Shire of Christmas Island, Gordon Thomson, telling SBS News “we would rather they all piss off, we don’t want the detention centre reopened. It’s very simple.”
Perhaps solar will sweeten the deal?
Marino said the REOI would be advertised through the West Australian newspaper on August 7 and in the next editions of local publications on the same day and would be open until September 23, 2020.