SunEdison to co-develop ‘world’s biggest’ Bulli Creek solar farm in Queensland

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US solar giant SunEdison to co-develop proposed 2GW Bulli Creek solar project in Queensland – the worlds’s largest – along with Solar Choice.

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US solar giant SunEdison has been named as the co-developer with Australia’s Solar Choice of the proposed 2GW Bulli Creek mega solar project in south-west Queensland, which would be the largest in the world once fully developed.

Solar Choice obtained planning approval in February 2015 from Toowoomba Regional Council for a staged deployment of up to 2GW over eight years.

The first stage of the massive project could start construction in mid 2016, although this will depend on negotiations for a power purchase agreement with retailers or industrial consumers.

rsz_bulli_creek_solar_farm_indicative_footprint

The involvement of a major player like SunEdison is another key milestone for the project, given the scale of the proposal and the capital costs involved.

“SunEdison has partnered with Solar Choice with the intention to co-develop the Bulli Creek Solar Farm in Australia,” the two companies said.

“SunEdison has signed a shareholder agreement for the Bulli Creek Solar Farm, expected to become the world’s largest solar farm, powering up to 700,000 homes.”

No other details about SunEdison’s involvement were available, although it should be noted that SunEdison has become one of the biggest developers of large-scale solar plants in the world.

It, and others such as SunPower and First Solar have created newly listed “yieldcos”, which act like real estate trusts and offer solid returns for investors, and therefore low-cost finance for projects.

A recent report by Deutsche Bank predicted that such vehicles for solar projects would quickly outstrip the $1 trillion market for their equivalent in the oil and gas industry.

Angus Gemmell, the head of Solar Choice, says the Bulli Creek project is “progressing well”.

It already has planning approval from the local council, and this week Gemmell and his team met with Queensland energy minister Mark Bailey and minister for state development and natural resources and mines Anthony Lynham to discuss the project.

“We are not seeking their assistance, but they have a positive attitude towards the proposal and are looking forward to stage one proceeding,” Gemmell said.

Queensland is the prospective state for large-scale solar, because of its excellent solar resources, and because it is one of the few growth areas for demand in Australia.

Even the first stage of Bulli Creek is likely to be the biggest solar farm in Australia, a title currently held by the 103MW Nyngan project in NSW, which was heavily subsidised by the old Solar Flagships program.

Gemmell said the prospects of the Bulli Creek project, and other solar projects were boosted by numerous “uplift factors” that solar PV enjoys.

These included its ability to target peak events on the NEM, which were enhanced by horizontal single axis trackers in the afternoon, and the “bankability of the sun” rising every morning, as opposed to when the wind is blowing.

He also said the Bulli Creek solar project enjoys huge social licence in regional and rural Australia, particularly in Queensland.

Indeed, the federal government has also expressed its preference for large-scale solar, particularly over large-scale wind, and has called for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to direct funding towards that area, as well as other emerging technologies.

Some analysts suggest that large-scale solar could provide nearly half of the new build required to meet the renewable energy target, even though it has been cut to 33,000GWh from 41,000GWh. Much of this would be in Queensland, whose Labor government is showing interest in renewable energy.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Kobad Bhavnagri said in May that the strong solar resources, increasing grid demand, and the shape of that demand, meant that solar may only need a renewable energy certificate price of little more than half that of wind projects in southern states.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has said that utility-scale solar in Australia costs around $140/MWh. That compares to around $80MWh for the best wind projects.

But ARENA says these costs can be reduced quickly if the cost of finance falls, alongside costs associated with a mature supply chain and maintenance.

Canadian Solar recently estimated that the costs of large-scale solar PV in Australia could fall by half by 2020 – to around $75/MWh – if financing, supply, maintenance and planning costs were reduced, and technology improvements also continued.

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12 Comments
  1. Phil Patterson 4 years ago

    Hi Giles, quick question, is this an additional project along with the proposed wind/solar hybrid farm competing with proposed coal mines (1.2GW plant if memory serves), or is this part of the same venture? If not, does that technically mean there could be two massive large-scale projects going through in Queensland equalling over 3GW in total?

    • Alen T 4 years ago

      They are in two very different locations in Qld: 1.2 GW near Townsville, which is north Qld; 2GW near Toowoomba, which is South-west Qld. So I don’t imagine they would be competing.
      Correct me if I’m wrong, but Qld’s 50% renewable target just got extremely easy to achieve.

      • Phil Patterson 4 years ago

        Fantastic! Do we know what roadblocks are likely to possibly stall or prevent them both (other than the competing 800MW coal station in Townsville)?

    • David Osmond 4 years ago
    • Giles 4 years ago

      And there are others in the wings too! Qld may be mostly solar quite quickly!

  2. Rob S 4 years ago

    Big solar farm…awesome! Replacing fossil fuels is a good thing.
    Question I have is in relation to the transmission and distribution network, we replace the fossil fuel generators with renewables but we still need the network to distribute the energy. With all the complaints about the cost of electricity (most of which is network costs) how will this impact on electricity prices? If at all?

    • Alen T 4 years ago

      Can’t dispute that networks are important, however, gold plating the network is why costs have increased this significant amount. Ergon seems to be going down the path of installing battery storage to defer upgrades or completely eliminate them. Batteries are especially useful for demand management and peak times, thus eliminating network upgrades that are only used few hours of the year.

      Renewables and storage should, in my opinion, go hand-in-hand now. So it will be matter of managing network costs better in future, integrating new technology, and keeping network costs lower, i.e. Bill component.

      • Rob S 4 years ago

        Agree!
        However the network we have now is the network we have, my understanding is that until the peak demand is able to be lowered we need to continue to maintain the network as it is. Residential solar panel households are able to avoid some of these network costs, effectively being subsidized by non solar users. In other articles I have seen complaints that the fixed portion of our electricity bills are being increased and the complaint is being supported by the flawed use of averaging the price including the network cost and implying that frugal users are being hard done by. Surely it makes sense to all electricity consumers that the network is needed as it is (at least until peak demand can be reduced- batteries may be the answer?) and this being the case the cost of maintaining the network should be a separate item within the bill?
        (The efficiency of how the network is being maintained and/or gold plated is another issue that should be addressed separately)

  3. Greg Wilkins 4 years ago

    So at about 5000hectares, this is about the same size as the coal mine proposed for the Liverpool plains (probably less if you include the rail link needed). So 2GW forever vs 20 years of coal production?

  4. Marcelo 4 years ago

    Bulli Creek is in the Darling Down region. South West Queensland is a region further to the west. More great news for Queensland.

  5. Sebastian 4 years ago

    Can someone explain the price difference of 140 AUD/MWh for Australia and the 59.80 USD in Dubai (Roughly 81.60 AUD, based on today’s exchange rate), which is (was?) the cheapest solar project in the moment)

    Greetings from Germany

  6. Sohail Hasnie 4 years ago

    This is great. Wow.

    Price is expensive thiugh. Lowest soalt is USD 38.7/MWh or say AUD 53/MWh.

    is the difference Austrlain ocst of labor or the 275 kV transmission line to the remote load center?

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-07/buffett-scores-cheapest-electricity-rate-with-nevada-solar-farms

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