Saturday, February 21, 2009

Canberra gives solar cell factory thumbs up

Brendan Nicholson 
The Age, February 9, 2009

AS PRESSURE increases to boost renewable energy sources in the face of global warming, the Federal Government has declared that a company that wants to manufacture solar cells is of "strategic importance" to Australia.

Considerable home-grown expertise on renewables has been lost to Australia in recent years, with local innovators unable to win financial backing.

Now a company called Spark Solar Australia has been awarded "major project facilitation status" by the Federal Government for its planned $60 million high-tech solar cell factory.

Spark Solar's photovoltaic cells convert sunlight to electricity and are being used increasingly to provide safe and low-cost power.

The company is the first to be given such status by the government. Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said the factory would produce more than 10 million solar cells each year, generating an estimated $135 million in annual export revenue.

No decision has been made on where the factory will be built, but Geelong, Canberra, Queanbeyan, Wollongong and Adelaide are all being considered. The company plans to start building late this year and produce the first cells in late 2010.

There is no funding tied to the major-product status but Mr Albanese said it would help private sector companies get through the approval processes of federal, state and territory governments and to head off problems that might arise.

Spark Solar said 10 million solar cells would produce 40 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 9000 homes. That could soon expand to 30 million cells producing more than 120 megawatts.

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