Monday, June 16, 2008

Brumby planning to plug Victoria into the sun

Sun day: Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and John Brumby (right) tour Nevada Solar One's facility yesterday with the company's vice-president of operations, Gilbert Cohen. PICTURE: JACOB KEPLER Photo: Jacob Kepler
  • Chee Chee Leung, Las Vegas
  • The Age, June 17, 2008

FOUR solar plants capable of producing enough power to meet the annual needs of almost 200,000 homes could be built in Victoria over the next decade, under a plan for renewable energy outlined by Premier John Brumby.

While work is under way on the development of a 154-megawatt solar power station in the state's north-west, Mr Brumby said he could "foresee another three or four plants of that potential size and scale over the next decade".

The $420 million solar plant near Mildura, a partnership between TRUenergy and Melbourne-based company Solar Systems, is expected to provide enough green power for 45,000 homes by the time work is completed in 2013.

Mr Brumby said Victoria had excellent prospects for solar power, particularly in the north and north-west, and large industrial users in the western suburbs could benefit from the technology.

"I really want to push this through, and we're seeing just great opportunities," he said, adding that he would like work to begin on another solar plant in Victoria within two years.

Last month's state budget included a $72 million fund for large-scale, renewable energy projects. The Premier also told The Age he was considering a mandatory solar energy component within the state's renewable energy target, possibly at a quarter of the overall 10% target to be achieved by 2016.

"If we set the 2.5% target, that will lead to a very high degree of interest (from companies) … you'll see a rush of activity," he said.

Mr Brumby made the comments as he and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh toured solar facilities in the US state of Nevada, which has a renewable energy target of 20% by 2015, of which 5% must be solar.

They visited a new Las Vegas factory for Ausra — the solar thermal technology company founded by former Sydney University professor Dr David Mills — and a 75-megawatt solar thermal plant in Boulder City.

After taking part in a solar thermal business forum — in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation's climate initiative — the two premiers jointly announced a $680,000 project to develop a solar atlas for Victoria and Queensland that would help companies identify the best locations for solar investment.

The atlas, due for completion by the year-end, would consider not only the amount of solar radiation but factors such as the suitability of land and proximity to existing transmission cables.

Clean Energy Council spokeswoman Irene Bukhshtaber said the prospect of additional solar plants in Victoria was "logical, do-able, necessary and affordable".

But she said the council, which represents clean-energy businesses, wanted an open market for renewable energy "so that the lowest-cost options win".

Environment Victoria's campaigns director, Mark Wakeham, said the best thing the Government could do to was to broaden the reach of a new solar subsidy scheme.

The scheme, restricted to households with solar panels producing up to two kilowatts, provides a premium rate for excess power that is fed back into the grid.

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