Massive solar plant proposed for WA Wheatbelt

Sun shining on solar panels (gallium)

The Western Australian Wheatbelt could soon host Australia’s largest solar farm under plans by Perth-based company Sun Brilliance.

Company director Professor Ray Wills said the $160 million project would build a 100MW solar farm on 165ha of farmland 2km east of Cunderdin. That would make it the biggest solar farm in the state by size, and the biggest in Australia according to output, producing 20 per cent more electricity than the similarly rated Nyngan solar farm in NSW.

Sun Brilliance originally planned only to build a 25MW solar farm, but Professor Wills said the company decided to quadruple the size because of rising prices for wholesale electricity and investor interest.

WA’s biggest existing solar farms are the 10MW Greenough River solar farm and the 10.6MW facility at the Degrussa copper mine, as reported by Perth Now.

Professor Wills said Sun Brilliance had applied to connect to Western Power’s grid, the South-West Interconnected System, and proposed to build its own substation at the plant site in parallel to the installation of the solar power plant.

He said the solar farm could potentially generate more than 200 gigawatt hours of renewable energy per year, creating 200,000 Large Generation Certificates.

Energy Minister Mike Nahan said on Monday he wanted WA’s obligations under the Federal Government’s revised renewable energy target to be sourced locally. That could mean about 500MW of renewable energy projects were needed by 2020.

Professor Wills said his project would “solve some of that problem”.

“Our solar farm will make a significant addition to WA’s renewable energy generation,” he said.

Sun Brilliance chief financial officer Kalwart Dhillon said the company had not sought assistance from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

“The project stacks up commercially, especially given current favourable interest, forex and LGC rates,” Mr Dhillon said.

He said project partners were in final negotiations with several investors for 30 per cent equity investment, and also several lenders for 70 per cent debt, with financial closure expected in December. It was hoped construction would start in January, with operations by July.

Western Power said it had worked with Sun Brilliance on a proposed project location.

“We have received a connection application, and will continue to work with them to progress their application,” a spokeswoman said.

Acting Energy Minister John Day said Synergy had an “obligation” under the Federal Government’s Renewable Energy Target to procure and surrender a certain number of LGCs every year until 2030.

“It is the Energy Minister’s preference to have the LGCs produced locally. He is awaiting advice from Synergy and will determine a course of action in the best interests of the state,” Mr Day said.

“The state government is a huge supporter of renewable energy and WA continues to lead the way in this space.

“This government is funding both the Residential Feed-in Tariff Scheme and the Renewable Energy Buyback Scheme, which have driven the huge growth in rooftop solar installations across WA.

“West Australians are embracing renewable energy in unprecedented numbers, with about 20 per cent of the State’s households having installed rooftop solar systems to help manage their energy needs.”

The latest statistics from the Public Utilities Office show there are now more than 185,000 residential solar systems operating within SWIS, compared to just 431 in 2007.

“Through the State Government’s Electricity Market Review, we are undertaking significant reforms to the electricity market with the aim of keeping electricity prices as low as possible,” Mr Day said.