Queensland’s 110MW Darling Downs solar farm has been officially – and finally – launched, after a tortuous path to commercial operations that included a last-minute change of engineering and construction partner and lengthy grid connection delays.
The project, which started its journey in the development pipeline under Origin Energy, was opened on Tuesday by current owners APA Group, with Queensland energy minister Anthony Lynham in attendance at the site, 43km west of Dalby.
Origin sold the project to APA for $200 million in May 2017, but signed up to take all of its output under a 12-year power purchase agreement, as part of the gen-tailer’s obligations under the large-scale renewable energy target.
The solar farm – which was backed by a $20 million ARENA grant – is located next door to Origin’s relatively new 644MW gas-fired generator of the same name outside Dalby, which the company conceded in 2014 was likely to be used only as a peaking plant due to the rapidly changing nature of the grid.
As noted above, APA last December formally dumped RCR Tomlinson as contractor for the Darling Downs solar farm after the collapse of the big engineering and contracting group.
But as RenewEconomy reported at the time, it was not clear if the project had suffered delays because of this turn of events.
At the time the company said Darling Downs had been fully built – the last PV module was actually installed in June – and was generating electricity to ramp up set point limits under its commissioning plan. Commencement of commercial operations had been expected in Q1, 2019.
Darling Downs in just one of many big solar projects that has been waiting patiently to join the grid in Queensland. Adani Renewables’ 65MW Rugby Run project finally sealed its connection to the grid in May of this year, some seven months after it was built and mechanically complete.
But grid connection does not necessarily mark the end of frustrations for solar developers. As Giles Parkinson reported here, the curtailment and switching off of solar farms when wholesale electricity prices fall into negative territory has become increasingly common over the last few months, particularly in Queensland and South Australia.
“This latest solar farm owned by APA Group is one of five clean energy generators to come online in the Darling Downs region in just three years and is one of Queensland’s 30 clean energy generators,” Dr Lynham said at the opening.
“The Darling Downs Solar Farm is APA’s first renewable project in Queensland and is a stone’s throw away Origin Energy’s Darling Downs gas power station,” he said.
“In fact, the benefits of co-location means clean energy generators like Darling Downs Solar Farm reduce their project footprint meaning less impacts on the local community whilst tapping into existing transmission infrastructure.”
APA Group CEO and Managing Director Rob Wheals said Darling Downs – the company’s sixth clean energy project in Australia – illustrated what could be achieved when industry, government and communities come together.
“Darling Downs Solar Farm is part of our growing renewables infrastructure portfolio, which will, together with our gas infrastructure, contribute to Australia’s transition to a lower carbon economy,” he said.