The first solar farm in Sanjeev Gupta's ambitious plans for Whyalla has received planning approval from the South Australian government, overcoming objections from its neighbour, Adani Renewables.
The Cultana solar farm is being developed by Simec Zen Energy Australia and is being financed through Sanjeev Gupta's $1 billion fund
to support the development of solar power in the manufacturing heavy region of Whyalla.
The Cultana project will see the construction of a 280MW solar farm and is a first of a series of renewable energy projects that Gupta intends to develop in the Whyalla region as part of wider investments in steel manufacturing plants in the region.
As reported previously by RenewEcocomy
, the Cultana solar farm faced objections to the project from Adani Renewables, which is seeking to build a solar farm on a neighbouring block of land. Adani was the only objector to the project.
Adani Renewables made submissions in response to Cultana's planning application that argued that Simec Zen had not properly considered the project's impacts on the threatened western grass wren and the slender-billed thornbill.
Adani Renewables requested that the project undergo an assessment by the Federal Department of the Environment under the EBPC Act and raised concerns about impacts to aboriginal heritage, the production of dust from the site and the impacts on traffic around the solar farm during development.
It is difficult to understand the rationale behind these objections, as Adani Renewables intends to build its own solar farm on the neighbouring property and such objections are likely to apply to its own project.
These objections were also made as Adani Renewables' parent company battles with its own planning process in trying to secure approval for Adani's Carmichael coal mine.
The approval process for the Carmichael coal mine has come under heavy scrutiny after what appeared to be a rushed assessment process completed just prior to the calling of the 2019 Federal Election, along with strong objections from environmentalists.
Details continue to emerge
about the pressure that was placed on the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia to indicate their approval for the Adani coal mine, after both agencies raised serious concerns about deficiencies in the mine's water management plans.
Environment Minister Melissa Price has been notably absent during the election campaign, prompting Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young to issue a mock missing person notice
suggesting that Price hasn't been seen since she signed off on the Adani approvals.
A total of $350 million will be invested in the Cultana solar farm project which is set to generate 600GWh of electricity annually. The project will create 350 jobs during the construction phase, and 10 full-time operations jobs after completion.
The Cultana project received final sign off from SA Minister for Planning Stephan Knoll, with conditions being placed on the project. Prior to the commencement of construction, Simec will need to submit Environmental Management Plans for both the construction and operation of the project.
The solar farm will be built on vacant land close to the Whyalla Steelworks, which are undergoing a significant expansion by Gupta's GFG Alliance.
As part of these larger plans, Simic Zen Energy has been shortlisted under the Coalition's Underwriting New Generation Investments scheme, with a proposed pumped-hydro energy storage project in the Eyre Peninsula. Gupta's GFG Alliance had previously committed to the completion of a feasibility study for a pumped hydro storage project in the Middleback Ranges.
Gupta has also progressed plans for a new mega battery in Port Augusta. The proposed battery project will deliver 140MWh of backup battery storage with 100MW of capacity, overtaking the Tesla battery at Hornsdale Wind Farm.
Construction of the Cultana solar farm is expected to be completed within the next 12 months.
Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.