Every large scale solar plant supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) in its ground-breaking solar competitive round will now become a reality after NSW’s White Rock Solar Farm became the twelfth and final development to reach financial close.
ARENA is providing almost $90 million of grant funding towards the 12 projects in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia, which together will triple Australia’s big solar capacity. Eight of the projects are also receiving a total of $320 million debt finance from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the Large Scale Solar Competitive Round meant utility scale solar was now almost as cheap as wind energy, at least five years earlier than expected.
“This competitive round is the perfect demonstration of how ARENA is accelerating Australia’s shift to a low emission, renewable energy future,” Mr Frischknecht said.
“From zero to more than 20 plants in five years, Australia’s large-scale solar industry has grown at a tremendous pace thanks to concerted efforts by ARENA and the CEFC. We know of at least six new plants that are being developed without any ARENA grant funding support.
“In practical terms, this latest milestone means each of the 12 projects is fully financed and has locked in engineering, construction and connection agreements, along with council approvals and environmental approvals. “Significantly, this round has unlocked a billion dollars in investment from other sources.
“Regional economies will benefit massively from the growing big solar industry, with an estimated 2,300 direct jobs and thousands more indirect jobs expected to be created by these plants.” Works have already begun on 9 of the 12 plants, with work on the remainder to commence imminently. Mr Frischknecht said when ARENA developed its competitive funding round in 2015, it expected $100 million funding to support 200 MW of new projects.
“We’ve managed to more than double this: 490 MW of big solar with $87 million funding. It’s enough renewable energy to power 150,000 Australian homes and generate one-tenth of the new capacity needed to meet 2020 Renewable Energy Target.”
Mr Frischknecht said planning, developing and financing large-scale solar projects remained a complex task involving multiple different parties. That’s why the knowledge gained from the project is so valuable.
“ARENA believes in the power of shared knowledge. That’s why we require project developers to share the learning from each stage of development, construction and connection with the renewable energy sector,” Mr Frischknecht said. “Our support for Whitsunday Solar Farm assisted project developer Edify Energy to secure debt finance for two additional plants, Hamilton Solar Farm in Queensland and Gannawarra Solar Farm in Victoria. ARENA is benefitting from knowledge sharing activities across the three projects.
“This invaluable knowledge from 14 solar farms in total will further accelerate the growth of our large-scale solar industry.” The projects are expected to be completed between late-2017 and mid-2018.