Alinta signs up for huge solar and battery project in South Australia

A 200MW South Australia solar project that proposes to add 'one of the largest' batteries in the Southern Hemisphere should be under construction by Christmas, after its developers snared a power purchase agreement with major utility, Alinta Energy.
The deal, announced on Thursday, locks in finance for the $480 million Solar River Project, which is being developed by Jason May and Richard Winter near Robertstown, in South Australia's mid-north.
May, who says this moment has been two years in the making, would not disclose the financial details of the 15-year PPA, but told RenewEconomy that the deal with Hong Kong-owned Alinta was for 75 per cent of the solar farm's output, making the project 'very bankable.'
Solar River, which May says has been in the conceptual phase for a good deal longer than two years, is a substantial project, integrating 200MW of PV and a 100MW/300MWh battery under one generation licence.
Exactly who is supplying the battery is not being disclosed yet, either, but May does say it will come from one of the largest companies in the world, and use 'cutting edge,' never before deployed technology.
(RE notes that Korean energy storage company Kokam last year supplied a 30MW/11.4MWh Energy Storage System to Alinta
to pair with an existing 178MW open cycle gas turbine in the Pilbara, W.A.)
'This is the first purpose-built PV battery system in the world,' May told RE on Thursday. 'It's never been deployed before, but because of who (the company supplying the battery) are, it can be banked.'
May says the energy storage system, billed in the joint press release as 'one of the largest batteries in the Southern Hemisphere' will have a three-hour charge cycle, and will be cycling one to two times a day, depending on the needs of the network.
For Alinta – described here
by Giles Parkinson as one of the big four games in town for the renewables industry in Australia – the PPA meets a decent chunk of the 1000MW of contracts for wind and solar the utility put out a call for last July
.
The utility closed down the last of South Australia's coal generators in Port Augusta in 2016, but a year later bought the 1050MW Loy Yang B brown coal power generator
in Victoria.
In a formal statement published on Thursday, CEO Jeff Dimery said the Solar River deal symbolised Alinta Energy's 'determination to deliver cleaner and more affordable energy for South Australians.”
'We're committed to backing smart, high-quality renewables projects that support our growing customer base,' he said.
Just last month, the company confirmed plans
to develop a 60MW solar farm in the Pilbara region of north west Australia, to slash energy costs for the big mining operations in the area and underpin in new investments and mine expansions.
As we reported at the time, the project is considered ground-breaking because 'it is likely the biggest solar farm to be built into such a small and isolated grid, and landing in the middle of a major mining province, will likely change some key thinking about the shift to renewables.'
Certainly, May – who with Winter has two more major solar and battery projects in the pipeline, also targeting South Australia – is grateful for companies like Alinta, in a market that has been less than stable.
'We'd certainly enjoy a bit more stability at a federal level on policy, and also with the market operator on (Marginal Loss Factors),' he told RE.
'At the moment, with some of the uncertainty about policy and the MLF thing, that's sort of upset some of the key investors.
'We really need to get our act together … It's already challenging enough to secure investment, we don't need to make it any harder.'
For Solar River, May says construction is expected to begin sometime around Christmas this year, and first electricity generated in 2021. Downer EDI is lined up to be the EPC contractor.
The project is expected to create more than 350 regional jobs during construction, and generate 'affordable, reliable, locally produced electricity' for 90,000 South Australian homes.
It will also establish up a Mid North Regional Community Fund and a Ngadjuri Nation Aboriginal Corporation Heritage Agreement for, community, employment, education, sport and arts programs over the next 25 years. A large nature park will be established near the site for conservation purposes.
Another major project planned for the same area, the 500MW PV plus 250MW/1000MWh battery Robertstown Solar Farm, won development approval from the South Australian government earlier this month
.
Its development will likely depend on a go-ahead to a new link from South Australia to Wagga Wagga in NSW being proposed by EectraNet, and supported by the state government and the Australian Energy Market Operator.
Sophie Vorrath
Sophie is editor of One Step Off The Grid
and deputy editor of its sister site, Renew Economy
. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.
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