Another big solar farm nears completion in vulnerable part of Victorian grid

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Another big project is readying to join the big PV fleet in north-west Victoria where the grid has been badly affected by Marginal Loss Factors (MLFs) and system strength issues. The 106 MW Yatpool Solar Farm started in April and is nearing completion, with all solar panels installed, electrical works almost complete and commissioning underway.

Just last week, a major system strength event highlighted the limitations of the regional grid. In reaction to voltage fluctuations in the Victorian and NSW 220 kV network, AEMO constrained the output of of five large-scale solar generators by 50%, including four solar farms located in north-west Victoria: Gannawarra, Karadoc, Wemen and Bannerton.

Alongside north Queensland and south-west NSW, the region has been affected by particularly adverse Marginal Loss Factors (MLFs) this financial year.  MLF is of vital importance for project economics as it represents the loss of electricity as it flows through the transmission network from a power plant to load capacity and determines how much of the output is credited for payments. Due to the insufficient carrying capacity of transmission lines and their location far from load centres, MLFs have translated into major dents in revenues of 10% or more for some utility scale PV projects.

Instead of waiting for grid upgrades, some projects, such as Total Eren’s 256.5 MWp Kiamal Solar Farm in north-west Victoria, have opted to incorporate costly synchronous condensers to help support system strength and hedge against curtailment. All of the above highlights the importance of choosing the right location for solar PV development.

To help prospective developers make the right call, the  Victorian government has incorporated a new set of planning guidelines in all state planning schemes this week. The guidelines are an attempt to ensure solar farms are built in appropriate locations in terms of network strength and delivered with the least possible environmental and social impacts.

Yatpool job bonanza

Meanwhile, the pipeline of operating PV projects in north-west part of the state continues to grow and the 106 MW Yatpool Solar Farm is readying to join it. Owned by Germany’s BayWa r.e., the project features 350,000 solar panels across 250 acres, generating enough energy to supply the equivalent electricity required by approximately 40,000 homes.

The project being built by Beon Energy Solutions has created over 190 regional jobs as part of the EPC’s employment strategy created in partnership with Jobs Victoria and The Mildura City Council Employment Program. Beon says it has successfully built on the employment strategy used at the nearby 112MW Karadoc Solar Farm, also owned by BayWa r.e.

“While Yatpool Solar Farm will soon contribute to Australia’s renewable energy transition, it has already made a substantial contribution to the Mildura region’s economy,” said Beon General Manager Glen Thomson. “The Yatpool and Karadoc Solar Farms highlight the benefits of renewable energy projects for rural towns, especially when meaningful employment strategies are implemented with support from local and state government, training providers such as SuniTAFE and industry.”

Forty five workers were supported into work across the Karadoc and Yatpool projects by Jobs Victoria. Twenty-two electrical apprentices who began work at the Karadoc Solar Farm transitioned to the Yatpool site and have nearly completed the second year of their apprenticeship. Over 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people worked across both solar farms and there were 12 workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

“In addition to helping long-term unemployed people back into work, we’ve focussed on employing apprentices and upskilling them so they can take the skills gained in this project into future employment, providing significant benefits across the local community, and the industry as a whole,” Thomson said

Karadoc and Yatpool have signed offtake agreements with Flow Power and will provide 20 MW and 28 MW respectively to power the retailer’s corporate renewable PPAs. The Karadoc Solar Farm has also a signed 12-year PPA with major Australian brewer Cartlon United Breweries, to purchase 74,000 MWh a year.