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Areva-led Consortium Pulls Plug on 250-MW Australian CSP Project

A consortium led by French nuclear group Areva has ditched a A$1.2 billion ($1.2 billion) concentrated solar thermal project after the federal government pulled critical funding.

The Solar Dawn consortium, which includes developer Wind Prospect, has been plagued with problems since winning $464 million in federal funding through the Solar Flagship program to develop a 250-MW solar thermal plant in Queensland’s outback. Without a supply agreement in place, it failed to meet a 30 June financing deadline, prompting Queensland’s government to withdraw A$75 million in state funding. In July, federal energy minister Martin Ferguson referred it to the newly formed Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena) for consideration.

Although Solar Dawn remains committed to Australia's large-scale concentrated solar power industry, it will no longer be pursuing development of the proposed 250-MW solar thermal power facility in Chinchilla, southwest Queensland. "With Arena soon to embark on a range of new initiatives, we look forward to sharing our experience and working with Arena to help build Australia's clean energy future," said Solar Dawn consortium spokesperson Anthony Wiseman.

Arena — established last year to spur investment in renewable energy technology — also said it will not fund a solar power project in Victoria proposed by EnergyAustralia, owned by Hong Kong-listed CLP Holdings, because it was considered too similar to an AGL-First Solar project. U.S. thin film supplier First Solar and local utility AGL won A$129.7 million in government funds to build a 159-MW project across two sites in New South Wales (NSW) last June.

The agency continues to talk with local developer Pacific Hydro and Spain’s Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) about its proposed solar farm in NSW and is still in discussions with Australian developer Infigen Energy and China’s Suntech on another proposal for NSW.

Arena chair Greg Bourne says the agency’s new investment plan for 2012-2015 will target four new programs aimed to deliver renewable systems in regional and remote locations, remove roadblocks for regional and remote renewable energy, build Australia’s next generation solar and develop a comprehensive knowledge sharing program. 

“The Regional Australia’s Renewables program will aim to deliver renewable systems in regional locations where energy consumption is forecast to increase and where fossil fuel-based generation costs are the greatest,” Bourne said. The Emerging Renewables program and the Southern Cross Renewable Energy Fund remain open for business. 

Arena’s current portfolio includes a range of renewable energy projects, soon to be supplemented by solar research and development projects from the Australian Solar Institute, Bourne says.

Despite today’s setback for Solar Dawn, solar thermal proponents say the government’s Energy White Paper calls for 16 percent of total electricity demand to be sourced from solar thermal by 2050, which would make Australia a global leader.

The Port Augusta, South Australia project, currently under consideration by local independent energy retailer Alinta, may be Australia's only short-term prospect for solar thermal development. 

Alinta told Renewable Energy World it was keen to build a pilot solar thermal plant in Port Augusta alongside the existing coal-fired power stations and has undertaken a “high level pre-feasibility study," and "progressing discussions with government and various agencies seeking funding support for a commercial feasibility study.”

Lead image: Pulled plug via Shutterstock

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