QLD attracts United Green “majority” stake investment in Rodds Bay Solar Farm despite “wet blanket” federal policy

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Queensland (QLD) Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced this morning on Twitter that a major UK Investment Firm, subsequently revealed to be United Green, has purchased a significant stake in the 300 MW Rodds Bay Solar Farm

This investment, says Palaszczuk, “is a vote of confidence in our state’s economic recovery.” Some sources online claimed United Green had purchased 50% of the Rodds Bay project, however, in speaking to pv magazine Australia, United Green Chief Investment Officer, Tim Mole, actually corrected this information, noting that United Green had purchased a “majority” stake in the project. 

United Green’s investment is indeed another major boost to QLD as the state looks to push through the pipeline of renewables for its economic recovery from the impacts of Covid-19. 

This week’s publication of the Clean Energy Council’s (CEC) most recent Clean Energy Outlook – Confidence Index, found that despite energy policy uncertainty at a federal level, the clarity of ambition at the state level is boosting investor confidence in renewables, a pivotal shift in this moment of unprecedented economic stress and opportunity. 

Though the CEC singled out New South Wales (NSW) and its Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) for particular praise, investor confidence in Queensland is also on the rise, emphasised by United Green. 

Renewable Energy Zones 

In a Ministerial Forum hosted by the CEC this morning, QLD Energy Minister Anthony Lynham said that as QLD seeks to recover and revive the state’s economy against the global economic headwinds post-Covid-19, “renewable energy will be a strength.” 

Lynham said that Queensland is watching NSW “with interest,” as regards the success of its REZs. Late last month, the NSW Government’s plan to deliver a 3 GW REZ in the state’s Central-West was met with overwhelming investor interest and project proposals valued at $38 billion. The original plan was to deliver 3 GW of firmed renewable energy to the region, but the expressions of interest totalled 27 GW, prompting NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean to commit a further $31.6 million to the REZ. 

It is great for NSW, said Lynham, “but it (REZs) has been firmly on our radar for some time. So watch this space when it comes to renewable energy zones.” Of course, Lynham pointed out that Queensland does essentially have “informal renewable energy zones,” which is to say, the state government provides guidance to industry of where it would like the industry to be, and where system and transmission has, or will have, strength. 

Lynman made specific reference to the Western Downs region, but other parts of the state, particularly those potential REZs singled out in AEMO’s Integrated System Plan (ISP) might also be deemed informal REZs. 

For instance, the Fitzroy REZ, located outside Gladstone, is already primed for the 2 GW Central Queensland Power Project (CQP), and depending how the zone is formally drawn, could also include the Rodds Bay Solar Farm, located near the town of Bororen, approximately 50km south of Gladstone. Rodds Bay is expected to be one of the nation’s largest solar installations, producing up to 625 GWh of solar energy every year, enough to supply 88,000 homes. 

“There is no doubt that industry likes renewable energy zones,” concluded Lynham, “they like the guidance provided and we’re up for the challenge.” 

Federal Policy Vacuum

Despite the ambitions and clarity of state governments and investors, QLD Energy Minister Lynham seconded the sentiment of his Victorian counterpart in stressing that, “it is difficult having a federal government that doesn’t have a concrete energy policy that can guide both government here in Queensland and also private enterprise in to their investment decisions.” 

The federal government, concluded Lynham, is being “a bit of a wet blanket.” And as such, “it’s been up to the state governments to make sure we’re driving renewable energy investment forward.” 

“I notice the federal opposition leader has offered bipartisanship in regard to renewable energy policy, climate change policy, and I know that hasn’t been accepted, and it’s particularly distressing,” lamented Lynham. 

Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor did not show the courtesy of showing up to the CEC’s Ministerial Forum, instead he chose to submit a pre-recorded message chock-a-block with all his usual evasive catchphrases, such as “technology not taxes,” a phrase which would’ve already fallen into cliché if it didn’t reek so strongly of false-dichotomy.

United Green

United Green, an investment firm already possessing 650 MW of renewable energy in its portfolio globally, has shifted its investment strategy in the last 18 months toward a focus on projects of scale. This shift brought the Australian market firmly into United Green’s crosshair, for despite the impacts of Covid-19 and the federal energy policy vacuum, Australia remains ideal for large scale renewable energy.

However, Tim Mole told pv magazine Australia that finding the right project to invest in was crucial, and crucially, United Green wanted to get a firm foothold in the Australian market from the beginning, and that meant entering the market with a shovel-ready project. This brought United Green to Renew Estate, the Rodds Bay Solar Farm developer who had already delivered its Notice to Proceed (NTP) to Powerlink. 

For Tim Mole and United Green, the Rodds Bay project promises to be a “cornerstone,” the “first of many.” Indeed, United Green has set itself the ambitious goal of investing in 500 MW of solar PV in Australia over the next 12-18 months. 

This ambition is more impressive for the arrested development of energy policy at the federal level. However, Mole said that there remains room for a “more entrepreneurial approach.” 

Renewable developers Renew Estate and Beast Solutions, along with majority stakeholder United Green expect construction on the Rodds Bay Solar Farm to begin in Q4 2020.