Australia's largest solar farm opens amid renewable target debate

Wed Oct 10, 2012 1:11am EDT
 
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By Rebekah Kebede

WALKAWAY, Australia (Reuters) - Australia switched on its first utility-scale solar farm on Wednesday, bringing the country a small step closer to achieving ambitious renewable energy use targets that traditional coal and gas power producers are now fighting to soften.

The Greenough River Solar project, just outside the small town of Walkaway in Western Australia state, is a joint-venture between Western Australian state-owned Verve Energy and U.S. conglomerate General Electric. It is expected to generate 10 megawatts, enough to power 3,000 homes.

"The Greenough River Solar Farm demonstrates that renewable technologies can contribute to meeting Australia's future energy needs on a sustainable, cost-competitive basis," Jason Waters, chief executive of Verve Energy said on Wednesday.

Australia has committed to getting 20 percent of its power from renewables by 2020 but big coal and gas-based utilities are arguing for generation targets to be cut.

The plant is General Electric's first investment in Australian renewable energy, and plans are already underway to eventually expand it to 40 megawatts.

The electricity generated by the plant will be purchased by Western Australia Water Corporation to power a nearby desalination plant.

Australia is one of the world's most ideal places for solar projects. It has the highest average solar radiation per square meter of any continent in the world, according to government, and a population the size of New Delhi spread over an area the size of the contiguous United States.

Australia currently gets about 10 percent of its electricity supply from renewable energy, about two-thirds of which comes from hydro power.   Continued...

 
Rows of solar panels face skywards at the Greenough River Solar project near the town of Walkaway, about 350 km (217 miles) north of Perth in this handout photo received October 10, 2012. Australia switched on its first utility-scale solar farm on Wednesday, bringing the country a small step closer to achieving ambitious renewable energy use targets that traditional coal and gas power producers are now fighting to soften. REUTERS/First Solar-GEEFS-Verve Energy/Handout