Mildura is becoming a solar power centre

by Lynne Blundell

Mildura on the Murray River in northern Victorian could be the location for two new solar power plants after the Federal Government’ announcement to invest $1.5 billion over six years in solar energy.

As part of its clean energy initiative, the government promised a new Solar Flagships program, which will invest in up to four solar electricity generation plants, with Mildura believed to be one of the potential locations.

The town has already been named as a site for Australia’s first solar thermal power station of 80MW capacity by Solar Energy Company Pty Ltd also known as Solenco.

The Federal Government’s announcement is for an extra 1000 megaWatts of solar generation capacity.

Together, the four plants are expected to generate as much power as a large coal-fired power station, making them the largest solar energy project in the world.

Prime Minister Rudd, said that the plants’ generating capacity would be “three times the size of the largest solar energy project currently operating anywhere in the world.”

The power plants will be commercially run and overseen by a manager that will be selected through competitive tender.

The project is a major step forward for the Government when it comes to solar power. Soon after coming to power in late 2007 the Rudd government came under heavy criticism when it introduced a means test for rebates on household rooftop solar panels.

While the scheme was altered to allow a great number of people to receive the rebate, it was still at lower levels than initially expected.

Mr Rudd announced the solar scheme at the Liddell power station in Newcastle, where Macquarie Energy has co-located a solar power station and coal-fired power station.

Mr Rudd said Macquarie Energy’s co-location of an eight megawatt station with an existing coal-fired power station was a world-first and a good example of what could be done with old and new technology.

“This is a very good way in which to demonstrate how this sort of energy can complement traditional forms of energy.”

Mr Rudd said that in the first six months of 2010 the Government would nominate successful tenders for the new solar project.

“Our objective is to co-invest with industry in what will end up being a network of stations across the country. Co-locating as close as possible with the existing electricity grid, locating as best as possible in terms of access to Australia’s biggest natural resource – our sunshine.

On the same day Mr Rudd announced the Government would become a full member of the International Renewable Energy Agency, which will have its first global meeting in June.

Mildura preferred site

Proponent of the thermal solar power plant, Solenco has applied for funding under the Federal Government’s Renewal Energy Development Program. If the company is successful in its application it would then qualify for Victorian government funding of up to $100 million to assist in the project.

Victorian premier John Brumby said the Victorian government was backing the Mildura project as well as other solar projects in the state.

“Expressions of interest will be called for immediately and the aim will be to have the plant operating by 2015.”

Mr Brumby said that because the solar industry was still in its infancy solar power generation was expensive. Costs could be driven down by speeding up development of solar plants.

The lastest funding was just one of many Victorian Government initiatives designed to increase renewable energy sources such as solar energy.

Mildura mayor, Glenn Milne, said that the focus and investment in renewable energies and the ability to generate solar power would provide Mildura with a major opportunity that could change the area’s future.

“We are all sold on solar power generation for its environmental benefits and because it is bringing a new and exciting industry to our region,” said Cr Milne.

“Solenco obviously see our abundant sunlight, well developed facilities, employment, education and transport links as important factors in the success of their project.”

“Council is excited by the prospect of another solar energy development in our region,” Cr Milne said.

lblundell@thefifthestate.com.au