European Energy seeks green light for 1.1 GW Queensland solar plant

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The largest solar power project planned for Australia’s main electricity grid has reached a new milestone with European Energy seeking a green light under the federal government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act to build the 1.1 GW Upper Calliope Solar Farm in Queensland.

If approved, the Upper Calliope Solar Farm would be the biggest in the National Electricity Market (NEM), spanning 2,700 hectares and producing 2.8 TWh of clean energy per year – enough to meet about 5% of Queensland’s current demand.

The project, which is supported by a 25-year power purchase agreement with mining giant Rio Tinto, is being developed about 50 kilometres southwest of Gladstone in the midst of the Callide phase of the planned Central Queensland Renewable Energy Zone. The project site is currently being used for cattle grazing activities.

European Energy said the detailed design, including the type and number of modules and inverters, specific layout and electricity generating capacity of the project have yet to been finalised.

The developer did say battery energy storage is not part of the initial development but may be added as a future stage.

It is expected the Upper Calliope plant would connect into the NEM via Powerlink’s 275 kVa network with a new substation to be built by the state-owned network operator adjacent to the project site.

Construction of the Upper Calliope plant is set to start in 2025 or 2026, pending approvals. It is anticipated the construction phase will span two years and engage a workforce of 1,000. When complete, it is expected the project will support 100 direct and indirect jobs.

The output of the 1.1 GW solar farm has been accounted for with resources heavyweight Rio committing to buying all electricity generated to power its Queensland aluminium operations.

The power purchase agreement spans 25 years and would have the potential to lower Rio’s operating carbon emissions by 1.8 million tonnes per year.

Upper Calliope is the first successful applicant in a formal request for proposals made by Rio for renewable power and firming projects in central and southern Queensland to help meet the energy needs of its three production assets in the Gladstone region.

Rio estimates the Boyne aluminium smelter, Yarwun alumina refinery and the Queensland alumina refinery require more than 1GW of reliable power to operate, which equates to more than 4 GW of solar or wind power with firming.

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