Update: Can-do Campbell Newman torpedoes Solar Dawn

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Solar Dawn still hopeful despite Queensland dropping funding for $1.2 billion project, and Canberra hand-balling issue to ARENA.

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Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has finally found a mechanism to pull his government’s share of funding of Australia’s largest solar project, the $1.2 billion Solar Dawn solar thermal facility planned for south-west Queensland.

The state government had threatened to can the $75 million funding soon after its election win earlier this year, but could not find a legal out. It finally found one after Solar Dawn failed to obtain a power purchase agreement – either with the government-owned utility Ergon Energy, or with other parties.

Solar Dawn, however, which is led by the French energy giant Areva, is still hopeful the project can go ahead, even though it failed to meet an   extension till June 30 to arrange financing (and a PPA) by the Federal Governmnent, which had promised $464 million as part of the Solar Flagships program.

Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson has now referred the matter to the newly established Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which assumes responsibility for such grants as of this weekend. However, t is not clear whether the $464 million Solar Flagships grant remains in place, and can be renegotiated, as Solar Dawn hopes, or if the money is thrown back into the $3.2 billion pool to be administered by ARENA and is subject to competing applications from any project developers.

Ferguson expressed disappointment that Queensland had passed up the opportunity to support the project and be a leader in solar thermal development in Australia, and possibly the world.

“These opportunities have to be grabbed, but the Queensland Government seems content to let them slip by,” Ferguson said in a statement.

The Solar Dawn project was to have used compact linear fresnel reflector technology pioneered by Australian-founded company Ausra, and could have transformed Chinchilla and the western Darling Downs into the nation’s mixed-energy capital. Areva is using the technology in a 44MW “solar boost” project currently under construction at the Kogan Creek coal fired power station.

The state energy minister Mark McArdle wrote to Ferguson last week saying that Solar Dawn was unable to obtain a PPA and as a result state funding would be withdrawn. According to the Courier Mail newspaper, he expressed “disappointment” at the outcome and hoped the project would still work with federal backing.

Solar Dawn project director Anthony Wiseman told RenewEconomy in an interview on Monday that he was still hopeful the project could go ahead. He said it was the best placed of any large scale solar thermal project in Australia, had project approvals, and would bring 300 jobs to the state, as well as a $1.5 billion investment and a $68 million research program with the University of Queensland.

“It’s important to understant that we have not ceased work on project,” he said. “We will continue to pursue discussions with the Queensland government, and with ARENA.”

Wiseman said there were no plans at this stage to change the specifications of the project – such as making it smaller – and would not comment on any cost reductions, or how the project will go forward without the $75 million in state government funds.

He said negotiations about a PPA were continuing with Ergon and other parties. It was possible that several smaller agreements, rather than one large off-take agreement, could be concluded.

“We are competing in quite a dynamic energy market here,” he said.  “The PPA is very important for the project. We working towards getting a PPA (but) I don’t want to raise expectations to a level where we are over-confident.

“It should not be lost that Solar Dawn is offering something that has never really been seen before.”








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  1. Andrew Thaler 7 years ago

    As I have said before… are we surprised? Governments are great on the talk, but very poor on the followup walk these days.

    When business groups, likeminded individuals, philanthropists etc get together and say “to hell with government, let’s just do it” we might begin to see some action.

    The opportunities are enormous, and entirely commercial without subsidies, but everyone seems content to try to make the project ‘cheaper’ by holding out for government money. It’s way past time to accept and adjust to the current reality that Governments DO NOT HAVE MONEY!

  2. Concerned 7 years ago

    The Qld government ie the people owe $86 billion.It would be nice to see these things funded to allow progress, however the money is not there.

    • michael r james 7 years ago

      Then please explain why Newman is determined to build the Legacy Way tunnel which will cost about $1.5 bn–TWENTY times the Qld state contribution to Solar Dawn.

  3. Peter Davies 7 years ago

    No we are not surprised either. Which is why some of the leading but unpublicized projects on renewable s are quietly going ahead without any government monies let alone political drum beating. One day the policy makers will wake up and discover the real low carbon economy transition has been achieved despite government policy, not because of it.

    Notwithstanding that Solar Dawn and similar projects were always doomed under current utility arrangements in Australia. Don’t be surprised either when this is re-birthed with one of these utilities as the lead partner and project owner.

  4. Tom 7 years ago

    QLD Premier Campbell Newman has said that Queensland “is in the Coal Business “, therefore any energy projects that do not involve digging up stuff and setting fire to it, is not anything they, or their Corporate backers (the Clive Palmers of this world) are interested in.

    Like the S. American ‘Banana Republics’ of old, QLD is turning into a ‘Carbon Republic’. . .

  5. Matthew Wright 7 years ago

    French Nuclear company Areva, is offering an outdated and inefficient technology option.

    Solar Thermal plants that perform well in winter (elevation tracking) and have integrated high temperature storage (565C molten salt or better) Are the way of the future.

    On sun solar is a solution that has been won by Solar Photovoltaic technologies. There is no way that Solar Thermal will ever compete with that real time power delivery option.

    It’s the baseload/dispatchable option that makes the grade. Torresol/SENER Gemasolar and Solar Reserve’s Tonopah Nevada plants are the way of the future. Where they have 10hours (intermediate) to 17 hours (Baseload) storage. (Currently binary salt mixture (Potassium Nitrate/Sodium Nitrate)

    • Arnoo 7 years ago

      Wright is wrong again. He is obsessed with one form of solar thermal technology, without understanding that it’s not commercially viable in the Australian market at this point in time.

      Linear Fresnel is far cheaper than the power tower technology which Matthew Wright obsesses over. Linear Fresnel delivers peak power generation, which is what Australia has a shortage of. Forget baseload solar thermal for now – why oversize a solar field and incorporate expensive energy storage if you need to give your power away overnight when wholesale power prices drop so low?

      We have plenty of baseload generation in this country, but we need more peaking power, ideally emissions free. Solar Dawn is an ideal way of delivering that.


  6. Thanks for the article, Giles. Insightful as always.

    Commercial solar power will have to stand on its own two feet in the coming years, especially in the subsidy drought that is likely to come into place when Labour loses power after the next election. Although most solar power proponents want to see the government back solar power in a meaningful way, support has proven to be erratic and so prone to policial liabilities that it can be heartbreaking to watch. It’s true that the commercial solar industry in Australia will probably only come into its own once all the subsidies have been withdrawn and the industry matures, but a steady guiding policy hand in the meantime would certainly speed up the process.

    Solar Choice Commercial is currently managing tenders for a number of commercial solar power projects across Australia. The feeling here is that it’s just going to take a handful of successes to open the floodgates for a commercial solar power boom. Now the issue is to get those first few across the line. I don’t think many are holding their breath for Solar Flagships at this point, given all the bureaucratic dilly-dallying and melodrama that has thus far plagued the program.

  7. Dirk 7 years ago

    Actually, I think Qld is the original “Banana Republic”! Shame, I thought they were growing up… and thought maybe they’d learn that Climate Change is happening, given the recent extreme weather events.

    Agree with comment below not to worry so much about “baseload”. Peaks are during the day and if we can decrease those we can reduce our other “baseload” (outdated and polluting) technologies.

  8. John Bowman 7 years ago

    Was that Martin Crocodile Tears Ferguson?

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