Brief – 5 November 2009 – Local government councillors say there could be enough forward buying power for electricity from local government areas to fund a thermal solar plant.

A unanimous resolution passed at the Local Government Association of NSW Annual Conference at Tamworth in regional NSW, 24-28 October, promised to  investigate the option.

The resolution was to:

  • establish a working group to investigate the opportunity of the construction and operation of a solar thermal power plant in regional NSW for the supply of electricity to NSW Local Government councils, consisting of interested councillor and professional officers from member councils along with technical support from relevant consultants.
  • seek support from the relevant NSW State Government and Federal Government departments and agencies to participate in the working group
  • report back to the member councils by 30 June 2010 on the findings of the investigation along with an action plan to proceed the development and construction of a solar thermal power plant should the investigation confirm the viability of such a project

Sydney Greens councillor, Chris Harris, who is a long-time supporter of this idea with Waverley Greens councillor Mora Main, said he believed a solar thermal plant would cost no more than a conventional coal fired power station, with none of the running costs.

Waverley Council presented the following note in support of the motion:

“Recent breakthroughs in concentrating solar power technology allow heat energy to be stored almost indefinitely – in molten salts – and dispatched as needed. Australian expertise has been integral to the recently completed Andasol parabolic trough solar thermal plant near Guadiz in Spain, which generates 50MW of clean electricity with enough storage to run for 7.5 hours without sun and around the clock in summer. Solar thermal projects are being developed near Seville and Cediz in Spain, and a series of thermal “power towers” is planned for the Californian desert – generating between 50MW and 300MW each – using molten salts to store energy and able to run 15 hours without sun.

“The US Department of Energy predicts that by 2020, solar thermal power stations with storage will generate clean electricity at a cost of US3c to US6c per kilowatt hour which is comparable with the cost of existing (and heavily-subsidised) coal-fired power and much cheaper than if the unknown additional cost of carbon capture and storage (CCS) was factored in.

“Even better solar technology is being developed at the Australian National University, using superheated ammonia to store energy, in a joint venture partnership with the private sector to commercialise the process.

“Without positive encouragement and real projects, there is a strong likelihood of a continuing brain drain of Australian scientists and research and development expertise, local skills which are currently leading the world. Recent examples are scientist David Mills who had to build his solar thermal power technology in California, and UNSW researcher Zhengrong Shi who has made his fortune using Australian developed PV technology in China.

“Government support to commercialise and capitalise on that research is lacking, even though Australia has the best solar resource in the world. In this regard, Local Government can show true leadership, by promoting and guaranteeing demand for renewable energy, ensuring investor confidence in the renewable energy industry and promoting jobs in the rural sector. The electrical trades union has already recognised the potential for jobs growth through increasing the demand for solar technologies, identifying supply and installation of PV panels as a “massive opportunity” for blue collar workers.

“It is envisaged that with a true collaborative approach at the three tiers of government it will be possible toconstruct and operate a Solar Thermal Power Plant in Regional NSW for the supply of electricity to  NSW local councils. Obviously the capital costs associated with such a scheme will need to be made available via funding from the Federal and NSW State Governments.

“The capital recovery of the investment and the operation and maintenance costs associated with the scheme will be recovered by the pricing strategy of the scheme. Local government will provide the surety of cash flow by agreeing to purchase its electricity demands from this green energy source.

“It is acknowledged that such an arrangement would require the processing of authorisation from the ACCC in accordance with the Trade Practices Act. However the significant community benefit from this strategy would comply with the requirements for authorisation.

“Another 20 years burning coal at the current rate could literally be too late to secure global climatic stability. Our coal-fired power stations have to be retired and replaced with efficient gas-fired and solar technologies. Solar is coming whether we like it or not, and Local Government in NSW can be at the forefront of this change.”