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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Half price solar for Victorians in $1.2b plan.

Half price solar in conjunction with solar loans will be available to Victorians under a $1.2b plan announced by the state government over the weekend.

Half price solar for Victorians

Half Price Solar for Victorians
Half Price Solar for Victorians (source: premier.vic.gov.au)

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a $1.24 billion solar plan yesterday. According to the press release the Labor Government released on their website, Victorians will save around $890 / year if they are interested in being part of the half price solar scheme – which involves 50% off solar panels and no upfront cost. The second 50% will be in the form of a solar loan from the government – but to get this loan the Andrews Government will need to be re-elected and implement it from July 2019. 

Premier Andrews has an ongoing argument with the federal government over the National Energy Guarantee – so this is a shot across the bow of Malcolm Turnbull who has recently decided to abolish all energy targets inside the NEG. 

“I can’t give you an answer on the NEG because I don’t know what the NEG actually means, this thing is changing every 24 hours,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Sunday.

 
Not wanting to see a repeat of the pink batts insulation fiasco, an independent agency named Solar Victoria will work with the industry, regulators, and training organisations to ensure the quality of installs is high. Around $9m will be spent to support accreditation of up to 4,500 electricians. Looks like there will be plenty of solar jobs in Victoria if they’re able to get this project over the line.
 
The Victorian Government are hoping to bring solar power to 650,000 households over the next ten years with the Solar Homes program, which they are investing $68m in to launch immediately.
 
Click here to view the Media Release, entitled ‘Cutting power bills with solar panels for 650,000 homes’. 
 
 

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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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Beryl Solar Farm Sold To New Energy Solar

We’ve written about the Beryl Solar Farm reaching a financial close back in May – now the 87MW (108MW according to the AFR) project has a new owner and is continuing construction. 

Beryl Solar Farm Sold To New Energy Solar

Beryl Solar Farm Sold to New Energy Solar
Beryl Solar Farm Sold to New Energy Solar (source: FirstSolar.com.au)

According to PV Magazine, the farm has been purchased by New Energy Solar – who also bought the 50MW Manildra Solar Farm for $113m last month. Both farms were previously owned by First Solar and the Beryl farm will be using their 420W large-format Series 6 thin film PV modules. Beryl also comes with a 15 year PPA with Transport for NSW – who will purchase 134,000 MWh from Beryl Solar Farm each year – using the power for the Sydney Metro Northwest railway. This long PPA with a AAA rated customer (i.e. the government) makes the farm a great buy in its current shape.

The EPC project was estimated at $150m according to Reuters, but it’s now estimated at $187m. Downer Utilities started work on the project in May and hope to have it finished in mid 2019. The farm will produce enough energy to power 25,000 households and doesn’t require any water for its electricity generation.

New Energy Solar said the cost of the farm won’t be announced but it was pegged to a target for five-year annual average gross yield of 8.2%, in comparison with yield on its existing portfolio of about 6.8% p.a, so by those metrics it looks like a canny purchase. 

New Energy Solar’s CEO, John Martin, discussed how the extra-long 15 year PPA helped get the sale of this project over the line:

“Beryl, New’s second investment in Australia, will further enhance the scale and contracted cashflows of our Australian portfolio,” said Martin. “Following the Manildra acquisition last month, we are delighted to be consolidating our relationship with First Solar through this second sizeable transaction in the Australian market.”

Martin continued to say that ~69% of the energy provided by the Beryl project will go to Transport for NSW – with the rest slated to package up with a 20MWh battery and sold to a corporate customer as commercial solar

To learn more about the project from the First Solar website please click here

If you’re interested in solar employment and working at the Beryl Solar Farm, please click here to visit the Downer Group’s careers website.

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Pallamana solar plant and battery in the works.

Pallamana solar plant – the suburb in South Australia will receive a 176MW PV solar plant and a battery storage system as part of plans released by renewable energy company RES. It gained “Crown sponsorship” in February and is one of two Murraylands solar projects (The other is Vena Energy’s $200m solar farm at Tailem Bend) currently in progress.

Pallamana Solar+Storage Facility

Pallamana Solar Plant and Battery
Pallamana Solar Plant and Battery (source: RES)

A 730 hectare site, which is currently used for cropping, could generate enough electricity to power 82,000 homes. This would result in co2 emissions decreasing by more than 140,000 tonnes per year. RES are planning to apply for DA (development approval) within the next month and then begin construction Q2 next year. 

The site is located in between Hillview Road and Monarto Road, just south of the Pallamana airfield and approximately four kilometres from Murray Bridge. It’s also adjacent to a power substation, (which you can see in orange on the picture above). 

No word yet on the specifics of the project but we’ll be sure to update you as soon as we know what sort of equipment they’ll be using. Of particular interest is the solar battery which hasn’t even got a size yet – so we’re not sure exactly what they’ll end up doing with regards to energy storage. 

The project is expected to create 200 solar jobs during construction and around 320 down the supply chain (accommodation, hospitality, cleaning, and so on). Hopefully RES hire as many locals as possible – there is a lot of solar talent in South Australia!

It’s not all peaches and cream for everyone involved, however – local aviation students have been known to make (infrequent, but necessary) emergency landings in the field where the solar panels will be installed and local residents told a meeting the rows aren’t wide enough for a light aircraft and they were concerned about what would happen in an emergency. 

Councillor Fred Toogood said the proposal was ‘exciting’ and that ‘we’ve got to be open to this sort of thing’ so we’ll see how they resolve the aircraft issue over the next month or so.

As per the Murray Valley Standard, if you’re a local and would like more information about the proposed Pallamana solar project, please visit www.pallamana-solarfarm.com or call 1800 118 737.

 

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