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Down under gets some solar thunder


Greenough Solar Farm, courtesy GE Financial ServicesAustralia, land of koalas, kangaroos, shrimp on the barbie and the great barrier reef, now has its first utility-scale solar plant up and running. The 10-megawatt Greenough River Solar Farm is the first time a utility-scale plant has been energized in the great outback.

With vast solar resources, the great outback is an ideal location for solar—indeed, the world’s most famous solar race, the World Solar Challenge, has been held in Australia since 1987. However, the country has been slow to adopt solar on a large-scale. Now that appears to be changing. The Greenough River Solar Farm is near Geraldton, Australia. Power produced by the solar farm is under contract with the Western Australian Water Corporation to help offset the energy used by the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant.

The project was developed by First Solar, Inc. and uses First Solar’s thin-film photovoltaics. It was financed by U.S.-based GE Energy Financial Services and Western Australian state-owned power utility Verve Energy, each of which owns a 50 percent stake in the power plant. The Western Australian government provided $20 million (Australian) in funding, including $10 million (Australian) from from the its Royalties for Regions program.

"This is only the beginning. The Western Australia community has developed a genuine appetite for renewable energy, and today we are 10 megawatts closer to a cleaner energy future," said Western Australia Minister of Energy Peter Collier. Part of the reason Australia’s appetite for solar is growing is because of the rising prices of electric from other means of generation. Indeed, U.S. DOE Secretary Steven Chu remarked earlier this year that solar has already reached parity with other energy sources in Australia.

Verge Energy said it sees the plant as just a first step and is a likely prelude to more, larger facilities. "With this landmark project now complete, partners Verve Energy and GE Energy Financial Services are now evaluating the possibility of expanding the plant to up to 40 megawatts to satisfy growing demand for renewable energy," said Verve CEO Jason Waters.

Under terms of the contracts, First Solar will provide operations and maintenance services at the plant for the next 15 years.

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