Spanish infrastructure development group Elecnor was yesterday appointed the lead contractor for stage one of the massive, and transmission-blessed, New England Solar Farm and battery project just outside the town of Uralla in New South Wales.
Design and engineering work can now accelerate on the first 400 MW of the ultimate 720 MW project, along with an initial 50 MWh of the potential 400 MWh battery energy storage system (BESS).
The largest hybrid solar and battery project in Australia, New England Solar Farm’s two solar fields sit within the area of the recently announced New England Renewable Energy Zone (REZ), but the project was planned and had connection to transmission approved by TransGrid before the 8 MW REZ (the second to be set on a path to development by the NSW Government) was announced in July this year.
Funded by shareholders of UPC\AC Australia, a joint venture between UPC Renewables and AC Energy, a subsidiary of Ayala Corporation in the Philippines, the project is one of several that the JV has in its Australian pipeline, including the proposed 400 MW Stubbo Solar Farm in central western New South Wales, the 160 MW Axedale Solar Farm in central Victoria, and the fully approved 250 MW Baroota Pumped Hydro project in South Australia.
“We’ve been working very closely with the local Uralla community and our other stakeholders on this project for the past three years,” said Anton Rohner, UPC\AC Renewables CEO, who added, “It’s exciting to reach this milestone.”
The appointed engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor Elecnor is listed on the Madrid Stock Exchange, and controlled by family company Cantiles XXI, which has an annual turnover of around $4 billion and is involved in infrastructure projects spanning more than 50 countries. It’s subsidiary Elecnor Australia was established in 2014 to develop renewable-energy and other projects in Australia and New Zealand.
One of Elecnor’s recent local builds was the 20 MW Barcaldine Remote Community Solar Project, completed in December 2016.
Connection to transmission? Tick!
Some contractors including Downer EDI, have deemed the risks of building solar in the current Australian grid, regulatory and policy environment too high. When Downer exited the market in February this year, CEO Grant Fenn cited a dire situation with fixed-price bids for construction undermined by risks associated with transmission losses (known as marginal loss factors), grid stability, equipment performance issues and connection problems.
With connection to 330 kV power lines that intersect the site approved, the New England Solar Farm and battery project is ahead of the game.
In addition, its first-phase 50 MW/1 hour BESS will be constructed with the support of the NSW Government’s $75 million Emerging Energy Program, which is designed to encourage large-scale projects that can dispatch energy to the grid on demand.
UPC\AC Renewables has previously stated that “as batteries come down the cost curve and the need for firming energy increases”, it will consider increasing the battery capacity “up to 400 MWh”, an expansion for which it already has planning approval.
First-stage works carried out by Elecnor at New England Solar Farm will deploy solar panels on single axis tracking technology spaced to allow sheep to continue to graze the field; and include the installation of a 33 kV substation on the northern section of the site.
“We expect to start on-site construction of the first stage of the solar farm in 2021,” said Rohner, who added that upgrades to local roads are already well progressed.
Let the community benefits roll
The initial round of a community grants program associated with the solar farm was launched this month with the opening of applications for $100,000 in funding and ongoing rounds tied to the completion of the project, which is expected within the coming two years.
Elecnor has also been contracted to provide operation and maintenance services in the two years subsequent to commissioning.
“We are extremely pleased to have been awarded the most significant solar PV project in the Australian energy sector,” said Joseph de Pedro, Managing Director of Elecnor Australia.
The two stages of the project are expected to generate 700 jobs during construction, and New England businesses and contractors have already been engaging with UPC\AC Renewables and Elecnor in recent months.
Chief Operating Officer at AC Energy International, Patrice Clausse said in a statement, “As we adopt new technologies in the construction of Australia’s biggest solar farm, we also aim to play a prominent role in spurring sustainable and inclusive economic growth in NSW.”
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