Next round of ACT feed-in tariff for large-scale renewables to foster solar-plus-storage projects

The ACT government is set to follow up its successful utility-scale solar and wind energy reverse auctions with another renewables bidding round – this time for large-scale solar plus storage installations.

The government plans to begin the process for auctioning 50MW of capacity later this year, and to conduct consultations before hand to see how the auction might work.

Australia is yet to develop a large scale solar plus storage plant, such as the solar currently being built in the US, South Africa and South America.

Various projects have been mooted – such as one to replace the Playford coal generator in Port Augusta, South Australia. But that process – for a potential 50MW solar tower plus storage facility – has been slowed by the sale process of the plant’s owners, Alinta, by its private equity backers.

Efforts to convince mining groups of commissioning a solar plus storage plant have been frustrated because miners are highly conservative, although Rio Tinto’s Weipa mine will have storage added to a solar PV array under a project funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

ACT energy minister Simon Corbell, the driving force behind the government’s 90 per cent renewable energy plan, says options for the “next gen” solar project are still being considered.

Corbell told RenewEconomy in an interview that the ACT planned to run an expression of interest process to understand the range of proposals and options, and then frame the structure of the auction round in response.

Among those thought to be interested are US-based Solar Reserve, which is putting the finishing touches to its 110MW Crescent Dunes project in Nevada, the first solar tower technology with direct molten salt storage built at this scale.

Solar Reserve has also secured a win in a recent tender by the South African government, and is known to be developing a smaller module of around 30MW to 50MW that could be attractive to miners and regional centres.

Such a project would likely be built in western NSW, rather than in the ACT, where the solar resources are much better.

The ACT’s successful reverse auction program – which has also seen 40MW of solar PV plants allocated – and 20MW completed – may also be exported to other states, such as Queensland and Victoria.

Queensland’s new Labor government has already signalled it will use the process to kick-start large scale solar in the state and its ambition of reaching 50 per cent renewables by 2030.

Corbell says he has not had direct talks with Queensland Labor, but is aware that the renewable energy industry has been pushing the idea, and looks forward to the opportunity of talking to the new government.

Corbell did say, however, that he had held numerous talks with the new Victoria Labor government. He said he was not aware if Victoria intended to follow the ACTs lead, but he had been informing them how it worked.

“I’ve certainly been in discussions with my counterpart in Victoria,” he said. “It is not for me to speak to them … I understand that the new Victorian government is looking closely at developments in the ACT.”

© 2015 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson