A 142-megawatt solar farm to be located near Townsville in Queensland is marching towards certainty, following the securing of an equity partner and the signing of a 13-year power purchase agreement – believed to be the largest solar PPA struck in Australian history.

The Ross River Solar Farm, which is being developed by ESCO Pacific on a disused mango plantation, on Monday welcomed Palisade Investment Partners as a 50 per cent equity partner. In a further boost to the project, EnergyAustralia has signed a power purchase agreement to buy 80 per cent of the electricity generated for a period of 13 years.

Mangoes out, solar in

The site is considered perfect for a solar farm, with the previous mango farm being closed due to solar irradiance being too high – an average of 320 days of sunshine a year – and close proximity to a grid connection point.

Palisade, which is a specialist infrastructure manager, will finance the project through funds it manages, including a recently launched renewable energy fund that has a mandate to invest in Australian-based renewables. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has also come on board, with a $20 million equity stake, the first time it has taken an equity stake in large-scale solar.

There’s a strong message in CEFC commitment

A statement from the CEFC said it was sending a signal to institutional investors regarding the commercial potential of greenfield clean energy developments.

ESCO Pacific managing director Steve Rademaker said his company was delighted to be working with Palisade on the development.

“Palisade’s experience in the funding of renewable energy assets will be invaluable as we progress with the project,” he said.

Palisade chief executive Roger Lloyd said it was an “excellent opportunity to develop a standout project in northern Queensland”, and also furthered the company’s strategy of diversifying its current renewables portfolio, which is currently made up of wind assets.

EnergyAustralia managing director Catherine Tanna said customers expected cleaner energy, “and as an owner of big coal?fired power plants EnergyAustralia has a responsibility to lead change”.

“That’s why we’re proud to support development of the Ross River Solar Farm as a great example of the projects that will underpin the future of energy supply in Australia,” she said.

The PPA is part of a $1.5 billion program by EnergyAustralia to buy 500MW of power from new wind and solar projects.

Construction is expected to begin in the first quarter of this year and will take about 12 months to complete. There are another two solar farms for which ESCO Pacific has gained development consent. When completed this will bring total installed capacity to 320MW.

“We are on track to achieve our 1GW development goal by 2020,” Mr Rademaker said.

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