The ACT is moving forward as planned with its ‘reverse auction’ feed-in tariff, or Solar Auction, for large-scale solar, with the submissions for Phase 2 of the program now in. In all, the ACT government is considering 15 project proposals received from project developers from both within Australia and around the world.
In the end, only 20 megawatts (MW) worth of solar capacity will be selected to receive the feed-in tariff, for which the applicants will compete by under-bidding one another. Phase 1 of the program, which also had an allotment of 20MW, after whittling down the options from 49 applicants, ultimately awarded the full amount to a single project–a solar farm south of Canberra to be developed by Spanish firm Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV). Construction on this project is set to begin later this year. Until the government announces the Phase 2 winners in several months’ time, it will not be clear whether all 20MW will be allocated to a single project or to multiple projects.
The ACT’s Solar Auction is one of the most important and promising support schemes for utility solar power in Australia. Although not on the same scale as the federal government’s Solar Flagships Program, whose projects are in the 150-250MW range, the reverse-auction feed-in tariff is widely seen as being much more economically and bureaucratically efficient; whilst Solar Flagships projects have faced numerous delays and complications, the ACT’s program has been moving along expediently and without undue hang-ups. Furthermore, it is arguable that, given the scalable nature of technologies like solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind, plants do not need to be built to the same scale as conventional generators such as coal and gas-fired power stations.
ACT Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Simon Corbell, was conscious of the greater implications of the success of the ACT’s program. “This is another milestone in the Solar Auction Program and the outcome of the regular stream is keenly anticipated by industry and policy-makers in Australia and internationally,” he said. “The government will now analyse the proposals and consider options for the second allocation of the scheme.”
The 40MW of solar power projects that will be developed under the Solar Auction program will go some way towards forwarding the ACT’s target of 90% renewable energy by 2020, currently the most ambitious in the country. Until the Solar Flagships plants come online, they will also be some of the largest in the country. Projects of comparable size in other areas of Australia include the Western Australia’s 10MW Greenough River Solar farm, which came online in October 2012, and a 30MW solar farm that has been granted planning permission in Kerang, Victoria.
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