Victoria’s biggest solar farm up and running, powering steelworks and Melbourne tram network

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The 128 MW Numurkah Solar Farm has become Victoria’s largest solar farm to commence full-scale operation. Owned and developed by French renewable energy producer Neoen, the facility will generate 255 GWh of clean energy into the national power grid each year and power key infrastructure such as the Melbourne tram network and the Laverton Steelworks.

The opening ceremony took place on Friday in the presence of Victoria Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio. “This is Victoria’s largest solar farm – we’re proud to have supported a project that has delivered hundreds of jobs in regional Victoria,” D’Ambrosio said. “The Numurkah Solar Farm will play an important role in supporting the transformation of our energy system towards clean, renewable energy and reaching our renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2030.”

Located on the Goulburn Valley Highway in northern Victoria, the project features 373,839 solar panels spanning on 515 hectares. With Downer EDI handling the EPC duties, site preparations began in October. Construction and connection were completed in April. The project created almost 300 jobs for the Numurkah region during the construction phase and will offer more employment opportunities during the its service life. In addition, Neoen has established a Numurkah Solar Farm Community Fund to provide financial support to community groups to grow the region.

“Numurkah is an important project for Neoen and the commencement of commercial operations here is a significant milestone for our operations,” Louis de Sambucy, Managing Director of Neoen Australia, said, adding the support of the Victorian government was instrumental in the success of the project. “As the biggest solar farm in Victoria, it will deliver enormous benefit as it powers transport, industry and more.”

Before the project broke ground, Neoen had secured major power supply contracts: a 38 MW Green Certificate Purchase Agreement with the Victorian Government towards the Melbourne tram network, and a 15-year PPA with Simec Zen, the Australian energy arm of Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, which was signed in the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron and then Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull last May.

The Numurkah Solar Farm is one of two solar farms supplying 100% renewable energy to offset Melbourne’s entire tram network, the second one being the 110 MW Bannerton Solar Farm near Robinvale owned by Foresight Solar Fund. Overall, the Renewable Certificate Purchasing Initiative and Solar Trams Initiative have brought forward construction of around 350 MW of new solar and wind capacity – leveraging around $720 million in capital expenditure and creating 755 construction jobs and 33 ongoing jobs, all in regional Victoria, according to the state government.

With the government’s initial support, Neoen has secured a 15-year deal with Simec Zen to help power its Melbourne-based Laverton Steelworks, taking the initial project size from 34 MW to 128 MW. The deal represented another turn to solar to reduce power costs in steel making, where energy can account between 20 and 40% of input costs, following the largest corporate solar PPA in Australia inked by Bluescope Steel to cover 20% of its electricity requirements.    

The Numurkah’s cost of around $198 million has been covered by Neoen, the Australian government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) with $56 million in debt finance, clients managed by Vantage Infrastructure, an independent specialist investment manager, as well as German Landesbank NORD/LB. The CEFC described the Numurkah project as a “path-breaking example of how solar energy can deliver a cost-effective solution for Victoria’s energy-intensive manufacturers.”