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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Darling Downs Solar Update | Jobs, Farms & More

Darling Downs solar is helping the area by providing jobs to locals and kickstarting the economy – with one council already approving $6b worth of wind and solar projects. There’s now a ‘buzz’ around the Darling Downs and renewable energy – let’s take a look at what they have in the pipeline!

Darling Downs Solar 

Darling Downs Solar Farm
Darling Downs Solar Farm (source: Origin Energy)

“We’ve got $1.2 billion of that under construction now, and that’s the exciting thing, this isn’t just about approvals, this is about action to deliver renewable energies to this region,” Western Downs Regional Council mayor Paul McVeigh said in comments to the ABC

“And we know there are another three [solar farms] in the pipeline.”

In Warwick, the 154,000 megawatt-hour generating UQ / Warwick Solar Farm is to be installed on ‘good agricultural land’ has had to wage a battle against NIMBY detractors. Mayor Tracy Dobie defended her decision (she had the deciding vote to allow the farm DA):

“This region is about growth and development and we can sit here and go poor slowly or we can progress our region and the more development we can get in our region the more jobs,” Ms Dobie said.

“The more progress we can make, the better off we are.”

Mayor Dobie continued to discuss the project and what she sees the future of renewable energy in the Darling Downs as looking like:

“This is a turning point in our region to show we are moving forward, that we are looking to the future, and there is nothing more evident than that than renewable energy.

“There’s a buzz about the Darling Downs, this is a great place to be and great time to be here.”

Toowoomba Solar

There’s been an amazing amount of renewable energy movement in Toowoomba – with the billion dollar project at Bulli Creek approved by the Tooowoomba Council. This will be built by Solar Choice over a 10 year staggered period. 

Toowoomba mayor Paul Antonio spoke about the concerns some residents may have and why he’s happy to continue approving solar farms:

“I guess we have to be a bit cautious of the type of land we put it on, but in saying that, the land is restorable, its not going to be destroyed in any mining effort or anything like that, and in 20, 30, 40 years’ time that land will be back to full production.”

Have a look at the short video below from ABC Landline which was part of an article about using ‘good farmland’ for solar farms. 

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Susan River Solar Farm Construction Commences

The up-to 100MW and $175m Susan River Solar Farm located between Hervey Bay and Maryborough in Queensland is commencing construction this month after being granted DA in 2016.

Susan River Solar Farm

Susan River Solar Farm
Susan River Solar Farm Mockup (source: http://susanriversolarfarm.com.au/)

The Susan River Solar Farm was granted DA (development approval) by the Fraser Coast Regional Council in December 2016 and is now commencing its construction, with roadworks already underway to ensure the infrastructure is set up correctly before building commences. The project is being developed by one of Australia’s biggest renewable energy developers – ESCO Pacific Pty Ltd. They currently have nine solar farms in various stages of completion – with three under construction (The Ross River Solar Farm, Childers Solar Farm, and Susan River Solar Farms) and six with planning secured. These six are in Rollingstone, Dino, Horsham, Koberinga, Moura, and Finley.

With regards to solar employment at the Susan River Solar Farm, Esco chief executive Steve Rademaker said the project will create up to 300 jobs during its inception and five to ten full-time jobs after the plant’s construction is complete. He went on to explain why the Fraser Coast location was ideal for their solar farm:

“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.”

According to the Fraser Coast Chronicle, the project will occupy 176 hectares and will involve the installation of 350,000 PV solar panels. 

Fraser Coast infrastructure councillor Denis Chapman called it a “jewel in the crown” of the Fraser Coast. 

The project doesn’t have a PPA (Purchase Power Agreement) signed yet, which means the farm will sell its output on the spot market once launched (unless they sign one first!).

The utility scale renewable energy project is expected to finish completion next year. 

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Cubbie Solar Farm | Solar Power in Resources

Cubbie Solar Farm – Nasdaw listed company VivoPower said this Monday that its wholly owned Australia subsidiary, Aevitas, has been chosen to build the solar project at Cubbie Station in South West Queensland.

Cubbie Solar Farm

Cubbie Solar Farm
Cubbie Solar Farm (source: cubbie.com.au)

Cubbie Station, located in Dirranbandi in South West Queensland, is the largest irrigation property in the southern hemisphere and as such has very significant power and water requirements. Since January 2013, the Cubbie Ag property group is owned by CS Agriculture Pty Ltd. The major stakeholder of this company is Ruyi Australia Group, who manage Australian operations on behalf of Ruyi Group, a Chinese multinational company.  They’ve been spending this year working on getting a solar farm up which will be able to supply around 40% of the station’s power requirements during its peak season (April to September). 

Stage 1 of the project will involve the creation of  3.5MWDC Solar Farm Non-export generation – to do this ~9,800 solar panels will need to be mounted onto a fixed structure and wired through to the inverter. Aevitas Group Limited was awarded the EPC (Engineering design, Procurement and Construction) contract last week, as per a press release posted on the Nasdaq website

Cubbie Ag have a plan for the future as well – they are aiming to provide power to Dirranbandi and St George as the project grows and generates more renewable energy. According to One Step Off The Grid, their goal is to expand the solar farm to 7.2MW and also add battery storage to it.

Solar power in resources and commercial solar have both been growing in leaps and bounds (and often in conjunction) so it’s exciting to see more of these projects coming to fruition. Solar power for farms and business are popping up very frequently. 

The Cubbie Solar Farm is expected to commence construction in October and will be operable by the end of the year.

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