Susan River solar farm opened by Elliott Green Power.

US Hedge Fund backed Elliott Green Power have successfully opened the Susan River solar farm. The 95MW farm adds to their current portfolio and is another great step in the right direction for solar farms in Australia and Esco Pacific.

Susan River solar farm

Construction on the Susan River solar farm commenced in mid-January last year and about 150 workers helped finish the farm, which occupies 176 hectares and has 350,000 solar panels. Construction was handled by Esco Pacific, who have plenty of experience in the field, being responsible for projects such as the Finley Solar Farm.

Esco chief executive Steve Rademaker said the project has created five to ten full-time jobs post-construction.

“Choosing a location came down to the suitable size identification and proximity to the electrical grid, among other factors,” Mr Rademaker said.

“The Fraser Coast ticked all these boxes. It’s a good location to build a project like this.”

Energy Minister Dr Anthony Lynham attended the opening of the Susan River solar farm and didn’t miss the opportunity to play politics:

“Elliot Green Power’s $175 million investment is another demonstration of industry’s confidence in the sector and further evidence that consistent energy policy from this Palaszczuk government drives generation investment,” Lynham said in a statement.

“That’s in stark contrast to what the Morrison government’s policies are doing to investment in new generation.”

RenewEconomy are reporting that another of Elliot Green Power’s farms is almost complete (Teebar Solar Farm), and a third (North Aramara Solar Farm) which will be finished later this year.

They also report that Elliot Green Power’s Childers Solar Farm and Susan Rivers Solar Farm were the two first farms to sign up for a ‘proxy revenue swap’. This is a hedging product Nephila Holdings Ltd provided, which protects both farms from varations in output (click here to read more) 

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Tesla in Townsville – Bohle Plains’ 4MW solar battery.

Tesla in Townsville – Solar giant Tesla will install a 4MW/8MWh solar battery in Townsville, North Queensland to help manage renewable energy within the community. The battery is expected to be operational by the end of 2019.

Tesla in Townsville – Bohle Plains’ 4MW solar battery.

A community-scale battery will be installed in Townsville to help store excess energy, provide backup power to the community, and assist in providing support to Ergon’s virtual power plant, which draws electricity or reduces load from customers Queensland wide. This helps shore up any supply issues to the National Energy Market (NEM), especially during peak times such as during a heatwave.

Publicly owned Yurika manage the plant and it’ll be fascinating to see some statistics as to how this Tesla Powerpack helps QLD – with the South Australian Tesla Battery at the Hornsdale Power Reserve saving $25m in its first year of operation, we expect the result to be similarly impressive. 

Tesla in Townsville (Powerpack) (source: Tesla.com)
Tesla in Townsville (Powerpack) (source: Tesla.com)

“This is a small but significant addition to Queensland’s publicly-owned electricity system, a system which is delivering cheaper prices on average compared to other mainland states in the National Energy Market,” said Acting Energy Minister Mark Furner.

“Battery storage technology is the next stage in steady progress to enabling a renewable energy future and reaching our target of 50% renewable energy by 2030.”

“With around 20,000 residential rooftop solar systems in Townsville, battery storage technology will help ensure power quality and reliability in the local network.” he continued in quotes repeated in Clean Technica

Design work has already started on the battery and Tesla in Townsville is closer than you may think – the battery is scheduled to be fully operational in late 2019. Given that Townsville and its surrounding areas have seen a significant amount of investment in solar over the past few years, it’s going to be fantastic to have this battery to help stabilise the grid and provide cheaper power.

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Approved Solar Retailer | Clean Energy Council Program

Approved Solar Retailer – the Clean Energy Council’s program is over five years old now – the voluntary scheme authorised by the ACCC in 2013 has had its ups and downs. Is it worth it? Let’s take a look. 

Approved Solar Retailer | Clean Energy Council Program

The Approved Solar Retail program has grown to over 200 companies in January 2019, according to EcoGeneration. A hundred of these have been added since September 2018, which makes you wonder what the program was like for the previous five years (there are around 4,000 solar companies Australia wide). Is it worth joining the CEC or are they a toothless tiger (or a cash cow)? How does the CEC deal with complaints about members? Does this represent a glorified rubber stamp and is self-regulation something we can trust industries to work on? That’s something worth discussing with other solar owners who have had experience with the program.

Here’s their code of conduct: 

“This non-prescribed voluntary code of conduct (the Code) aims to promote best practice measures and activities for retail businesses selling solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. This Code is for retail businesses that want to demonstrate the commitment they have to promoting responsible activity and development in the renewable energy sector across Australia. This Code is not intended to replace existing consumer, energy or environmental planning legislation, policy or regulations at local, state or federal government levels, but to bring about increased accountability within the PV retail industry”

The program’s recent growth appears to be directly tied to schemes like the South Australian Government’s Home Battery Scheme and the Victorian Government’s Solar Homes Package – it appears that the ACCC isn’t ‘enough’ to regulate the industry. 

One important thing to note – being an Approved Solar Retailer is different to being a Clean Energy Council member. You can find a list of members on the Clean Energy Council members page.

If you’re having problems with an accredited solar company please fill out a solar accreditation dispute form

If you’d like to check whether an installer is accredited with the Clean Energy Council please click here.

If you’re a solar company hoping to get accredited please click here to learn more about the process and what you can expect. Membership is on a sliding scale and starts from $600 p.a. depending on the size of your company.

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Solar Backpackers – Solar jobs not going to locals?

The dozens of solar farms in various stages of construction or approval in Queensland are being flooded with ‘solar backpackers’ – with local staff being eschewed due to the perception of being too difficult to manage. This has led to a situation where ‘solar backpackers’ are being employed instead of local staff as it’s easier for the companies. 

Solar Backpackers and Solar Jobs

According to the ABC, in the last fortnight Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and the Electrical Safety Office conducted inspections across many of Queensland’s regional solar farms. 30 Notices were issued to various companies – this includes 23 breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act and seven breaches of the Electrical Safety Act.

Industrial Minister Grace Grace discussed the issues and advised that a new Code of Practice will be released by the end of the year:

“With the construction of solar and wind farms expanding throughout Queensland, we must ensure electrical safety is paramount,” she said.

“While there is a robust system in place to ensure the highest levels of safety, we are far from complacent and we want to ensure world’s best practice in this area.

“Following the completion of the solar code, a similar process will be undertaken to develop a separate code of practice for wind farms,” she said.

The Australian Border Force have also become involved, but haven’t confirmed any instances of ‘illegal workers’ or ‘worker exploitation’:

“The Australian Government is committed to ensuring that Australian workers have priority and that foreign workers are a supplement to, and not a substitute for, Australians,” an ABF spokesperson said.

“The Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa allows ‘backpackers’ to stay and holiday in Australia for up to 12 months, work in Australia for up to six months with each employer, study for up to four months and leave and re-enter Australia any number of times while the visa is valid.

“WHM visa holders can undertake any kind of work with any employer during their stay in Australia as long as they do not work more than six months with that employer.”

List of Solar Farms in Queensland (Information from abc.net.au)

Company Solar Farm Area Size Owner Solar Jobs Created
Biosar Energy Childers Bundaberg 120MW Elliott 200
Biosar Energy Susan River Fraser Coast 100MW Elliott 300
Biosar Energy Oakey Solar Farm Stage 2 Toowoomba 70MW Canadian Solar 200
Downer Group Ross River Solar Farm Townville 148MW Palisade Unknown
Downer Group Clare Solar Farm Burdekin 100 MW FRV Unknown
Downer Group Sunshine coast Solar Farm Sunshine Coast 15MW Sunshine Coast City Council Unknown
Acciona Lilyvale Solar Farm Central Highlands 100MW Fotowatio Renewable Ventures Unknown
CIMIC Group & UGL Limited Collinsville Solar Project Whitsunday 42.5MW Ratch Australia 120 at peak
RCR Tomlinson Darling Downs Solar Farm Western Downs 110MW APA Group 3,000 across eight projects
RCR Tomlinson Daydream Solar Farm Whitsunday 180MW Edify Energy 3,000 across eight projects
RCR Tomlinson Hayman Solar Farm Whitsunday 60MW Edify Energy 3,000 across eight projects
RCR Tomlinson Longreach Solar Farm Longreach 15MW Canadian Solar 3,000 across eight projects
RCR Tomlinson Oakey Solar Farm Stage 1 Toowoomba 25MW Canadian Solar 3,000 across eight projects
RCR Tomlinson Sun Metals Solar Farm Stage 1 Townsville 124MW Sun metals Corp 3,000 across eight projects
RCR Tomlinson Emerald Solar Park Central Highlands 72MW Renewable Energy Systems 3,000 across eight projects
RCR Tomlinson Haughton Burdekin 500MW Pacific Hydro 3,000 across eight projects
Bouygues Construction Australia Hamilton Solar Farm Whitsunday 69MW Edify Energy 325
Tranex Whitsunday Solar Farm Whitsunday 69MW Edify Energy Approx. 60
Beon Energy Hughenden Solar Farm Flinders 20MW BayWa r.e 100
Windlab and Erus Energy Kennedy Energy Park Flinders 60MW Windlab Approx. 130 to 140
Yarranlea Yarranlea Solar Farm Toowoomba 121MW Risen Energy 200 proposed positions
Adani Rugby Run Solar Farm Stage 1 Isaac Region 65MW Adani Renewables 150 proposed jobs
 

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RCR Tomlinson Solar Farm Writedowns

Australian solar contracting company RCR Tomlinson has taken a $57m write down on the Daydream solar farm and the Hayman solar farm, which are owned by Edify Energy and to be installed in North Queensland.

RCR Tomlinson Solar Farm Writedown

We reported earlieir this year on the Hayman and Daydream solar farms and how First Solar will be handling the installation for Edify – at that time everything looked rosy but it appears that a couple of major factors have led to cost and time delays. Edify have cited “external” delays, bad weather, and local issues like poor ground quality.  Also being blamed are the increasingly stricter requirements being imposed by the Australian Energy Market Operator which are affecting solar farms Australia-wide. 

RCR Tomlinison Daydream solar farm in Collinsville, Queensland.
RCR Tomlinson -Daydream solar farm in Collinsville, Queensland. (source: thewest.com.au)

As of last year, RCR have over half a Gigawatt of large-scale solar projects in their order book and over a Gigawatt currently being developed or progressed under early contractor involvement processes, according RCR Managing Director & CEO, Dr Paul Dalgleish (who has since left RCR). As a result of the writedown RCR are now attempting to raise $100m from investors and have had to offer a significant discount on RCR shares on a one-for-1.65 basis at $1 each. This represents a ~65% discount on the stock’s last trade price ($2.80).

According to RenewEconomy, Tomlinson has written down $57 million on the $315 million contract values for both the 150MW Daydream and the 50MW Hayman solar farms owned by Edify Energy. They’re both located in North Queensland and both nearing completion.

A statement to shareholders noted that: 

“These project-specific issues required the Company to continuously revise its execution methodologies to mitigate delays, leading to increases in subcontractor costs (both people and plant) and logistics cost overruns.

“As a result of these cost overruns that arose over the life of the Project, RCR has realised cumulative write- downs of $57 million from the tendered margin on the Project.”

Some bad news for solar farms in Australia but we have no doubt that these projects will end up completed and can start making their investments back. We’ll be watching closely how the AEMO’s ongoing changes to legislation affects the many other solar farms currently in various stages of completion/operation. 

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