Final panel installed as Australia’s largest solar farm nears full capacity


Australia’s largest solar farm is close to achieving full capacity with renewables developer Neoen announcing that the last of the more than one million solar panels has now been installed at its $600 million (USD 403 million) Western Downs solar farm being developed near Chinchilla in Queensland’s southwest.

The 400 MW Western Downs solar farm is the biggest yet constructed in Australia. It encompasses 1,500 hectares and is expected to generate 1,080 GWh of clean power annually, enough to power 235,000 homes. Construction of the project has also delivered a huge boost to Queensland’s regional economies, with the state government saying it has generated an estimated $800 million in economic activity.

The mega project is part of the Western Downs Green Power Hub that will also include a 200 MW/400 MWh big battery with Neoen having last month begun construction on the energy storage system.

The solar farm has already commenced production with Neoen confirming it has reached a peak capacity of 350 MW as it works through the various hold points required by the market operator. The developer said the completion of panel installation means the project can now progress through the final testing and commissioning phase as it moves to full capacity.

Neoen Australia Managing Director Louis de Sambucy said the company and its construction partners had to overcome significant Covid-related challenges, including border closures, the inability to travel, and supply chain disruption to bring the project to completion.

“We are delighted to have completed the panel installation of the largest solar farm in Australia at Western Downs, and we’re excited about the strong contribution that this asset will make to Queensland’s rapidly accelerating energy transition,” he said.

“It’s a massive solar farm, one of the most competitive assets that we have worldwide.”

While it is the largest solar farm yet constructed in Australia, the Western Downs facility will soon be joined by the 400 MW New England Solar Farm being built in New South Wales by Acen Renewables.

Acen announced only last month that the 400 MW first stage of the planned 720 MW New England Solar Farm is now progressing through the commissioning process.

The Western Downs Green Power Hub covers 1,500 hectares.

Image: Neoen

The Western Downs solar farm is underpinned by a 10-year power purchase agreement with state government-owned renewable energy operator CleanCo which has agreed to purchase 80% of the project’s capacity.

CleanCo Chief Executive Officer Tom Metcalfe said the energy will be delivered to some of the utility’s largest commercial and industrial customers and will contribute to the energy needed for CleanCo to meet its target of bringing 1.4 GW of new renewable energy into the market by 2025.

“The renewable energy generated by the Western Downs Green Power Hub will supply some of CleanCo’s biggest customers including Coles and BHP,” he said.

Metcalfe said the solar energy generated by the facility will also contribute to the long-term sustainability of Queensland industries and communities, “helping them to thrive in a net-zero future.”

The Queensland government last year unveiled a $62 billion, 10-year energy and jobs plan, which included new renewable energy targets of 70% by 2032 and 80% by 2035.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was on hand to watch the final panel being installed.

Image: CleanCo

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who joined de Sambucy at the project site on Wednesday to mark the million-panel milestone, said the solar farm is another major investment towards achieving those renewable energy targets.

“Our government has made it clear that Queensland homes will be powered by renewable energy from solar farms just like this one,” she said.

“We’re going to be seeing more and more of these solar farms across Queensland because that’s what we need to transition to our renewable future.”

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