It promises to be the largest of its kind, but the future of its construction is currently up in the air.
Dubbed the ‘dawn of large-scale power solar power in Australia,’ the proposed Solar Dawn project, a 250 megawatt solar thermal project set to be built near Chinchilla in South West Queensland, aims to provide the foundation for large-scale, grid-connected solar power and to accelerate the commercialisation of solar power in Australia.
Unfortunately, the project’s future is now in doubt following the withdrawal of support from the Queensland government.
According to media reports, Queensland Minister for Energy and Water Supply Mark McArdle wrote to federal environment minister Martin Ferguson last week to say the state had withdrawn its previously promised financial contribution of $75 million for the project.
The reports said McArdle told Ferguson that Solar Dawn was unable to meet the requirements of an earlier federal partnership arrangement struck between the federal government and the former Bligh government, and that the agreement between the two governments was terminated.
The withdrawal followed indications from the Solar Dawn project that it had been unable to reach financial close by June 30.
The future of the project, which was set to start in 2013 and was slated to be completed within three years, will now be determined by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), an independent statutory authority which came into operation on July 1 with the aim of supporting the government’s Clean Energy Future package.
Federal Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson has expressed disappointment with the decision, saying the project offers Queensland the opportunity to be at the forefront of solar thermal technology and serve as home to one to the largest solar power stations in the world.
“These opportunities have to be grabbed but the Queensland Government seems content to let them slip by,” Ferguson says.
Ferguson notes the federal government remains committed to the deployment of large-scale solar energy technology in Australia, and the he has written to ARENA requesting further consideration for the project.
Solar Dawn Consortium project director Anthony Wiseman acknowledges that Queensland government withdrawal is a setback but hopes the project can go forward as it is already in an advanced state and is set to deliver strong environmental and economic benefits.
“Solar Dawn is offering something incredibly promising – benefits previously not available within the Australian renewable energy industry,” he says.
Wiseman says there are various options to move the project forward, adding that the Consortium has achieved significant progress in other areas of the project of late.
This progress includes development approvals received from the Western Downs Regional Council for the power plant and assembly facility and the finalisation of a contract for a $68 million research and development program with the University of Queensland.