Northern Territory signs PPA with 25MW solar farm, as grid reforms take shape

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Northern Territory’s largest solar PV project seals a solar off-take deal with NT-owned utility Jacana Energy.

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Plans to build the Northern Territory’s largest yet solar PV farm near Katherine have move a step closer, after a 25MW project sealed a solar off-take deal with NT-owned utility Jacana Energy.

The $40 million solar project, proposed by renewables developer Epuron outside of Katherine, had already gained development approval from the Territory government, as part of its efforts to reach 50 per cent renewables by 2030.

A power purchase agreement (PPA) between NT government-owned Jacana Energy and Katherine Solar was announced on Monday, in a move the both parties said would enable construction of the large-scale solar project to go ahead, “in coming months.”

The PPA – a key big solar milestone for the Territory – was announced as part of a series of electricity market reforms unveiled on Monday “to deliver lower cost and reliable power,” the government said.

“This will ensure the growing interest in renewable energy can be facilitated in the Darwin-Katherine power network,” the statement said.

The reforms include the establishment, within 12 months, of a competitive wholesale electricity market – to be called the Northern Territory Electricity Market (NTEM) – in keeping with recommendations made by an independent panel in the Roadmap to Renewables report, released in late 2017.

The NT Labor government said it was also set to begin a review on solar feed-in tariffs, in an effort to encourage the territory’s existing solar households to add battery storage, and to stimulate greater take-up of energy efficient technologies.

As we have reported, the Northern Territory’s three small grids – around Darwin, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs – and host of stand alone systems and micro-grids have been largely reliant on gas and diesel.

Alice Springs has more recently made a major push into solar – including 12MW of rooftop solar and the 4MW Uterne solar system (the first large scale system in Australia, also built by Epuron) – and is installing a 5MW battery storage unit to help allow more solar into its small grid.

The Roadmap to Renewables report, commissioned by the government in 2016, is expected to help deliver some 400MW or more of mostly solar capacity in the territory over the next decade.

NSW-based Epuron, which is developing the Katherine Solar farm with UK outfit Island Green Power, already owns and operates solar plants in the NT at Alice Springs, Yulara, Kalkarindji, Ti Tree and Lake Nash/Alpurrurulam.

The Katherine Solar project will comprise over 70 hectares of solar panels mounted on single axis tracking technology and connected to the existing Katherine substation, adjacent to the Katherine Power Station.

“Epuron is pleased to be entering into an agreement to sell solar electricity to Jacana,” said the company’s executive director, Martin Poole, in comments on Monday.

“The NT has great potential for solar energy, and it is exciting to see the Territory government’s initiatives to enable investors to compete to generate the lowest cost solar power for the grid.”

Territory minister for renewables and essential services Dale Wakefield said the agreement between Katherine Solar and Jacana would increase renewable energy use in the Territory by between 3-4 per cent.

“It’s a huge step towards our renewable energy target and will put downward pressure on electricity prices,” Wakefield said on Monday.

“There are lessons learned from the National Energy Market which we have incorporated into the design of this policy.

“This is a common-sense and best practice approach tailored for the Territory’s unique circumstances.”

The government said it would work closely with stakeholders on the design and implementation of the NTEM, which was expected to be up and running within 12 months.

“We have kept our promise to stabilise power prices after massive hikes under the CLP,” said NT chief minister Michael Gunner.

“The fact we have also kept public assets in public ownership means we are perfectly place to transition to more renewable energy while maintaining system reliability.”

Sophie Vorrath

Sophie is editor of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and deputy editor of its sister site, RenewEconomy.com.au. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.

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