Many of you will be aware that Port Augusta faces an immediate challenge. When Alinta closes the doors of the old coal fired power station, at least 100 jobs will be lost between Port Augusta, Leigh Creek and the towns in between like Quorn. When over half your cricket team work for Alinta it means a local economy can be devastated by a closure like this.
We have known about this transition for years and the Repower Port Augusta campaign have made many aware that solar thermal energy offers a possible, job rich, alternative. They have strong community support. Unfortunately for many investments in renewable energy, the bulk of the funding flows to international manufacturers so while some jobs have been generated locally by South Australia’s wind power boom, it is nowhere near the local investment that would come from solar thermal if we could also provide a local manufacturer of heliostats (mirrors).
This post is about three big energy investments in the region and the Government’s opportunity to tweak the investment settings to ensure local benefits:
- The Remote Area Energy Supplies have just been out for tender. This is a guaranteed investment into the energy supplies for 2,400 customers in 13 remote towns and it is some of the most expensive energy in the state – much of it backed by diesel generators. I’m guessing that somewhere between $5-$10 million flow each year to create and sell this electricity. These remote towns could be world leading models for an energy transition because if you can do a 100% renewable micro-grid in remote South Australia and grapple successfully with the climate, maintenance and community issues then you can do it anywhere. Port Augusta is at the gateway to these communities. Innovation and energy transition should underpin any contracts the Government signs. I have fleshed out this idea some more here.
- Development Approval will be sought shortly on a Port Augusta Energy Park for a combined 300MW wind and solar PV power station. The investment is up to $0.5billion and the project promises some $45million in construction investment that would flow into the local community. I think there is also an opportunity for an ongoing role for the locals. These projects only go ahead if someone is stitched up to buy the power through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). (The ACT has underpinned a number of SA wind farm investments with a reverse auction process for renewable energy which included requirements for local economic benefits in Canberra). To the extent that Government can increase local benefits through the development approval process and any PPA’s, this should be their highest priority. My proposal is that innovation should be what Government demands, ie treating the project as a lead customer and including a small but consistent % of funding for developing the leading edge of renewable projects through this Energy Park.
- Solar Thermal is a more remote proposition for Port Augusta but it doesn’t need to be seen as a competitor to the Energy Park above, rather it would be complementary. Solar thermal is the only proposal that seeks to be an adequate replacement for coal by providing baseload power. Solar thermal is the only proposal that seeks to build an ongoing South Australian manufacturing industry on the back of this investment. (Heliostat is a spin off from a former car manufacturing base and they are already looking at export opportunities in India). The slow start for this solar thermal proposal is due to 1) costs are higher than solar PV which continue to fall globally and 2) Alinta has been given the prime opportunity to invest but may not proceed. Opening the opportunity to other solar thermal investors may speed up the project. What Government support would be needed to get this over the line? read more here…
- SunDrop Farms has received grants from both state and federal Governments and is also worth a quick note. They will grow greenhouse produce (think tomatoes) but all the water and energy will come from solar thermal energy. This is a great demonstration of using renewable energy directly for it’s end use and if successful as a model, will surely benefit the local community. It would be interesting to know how much local interaction exists with the innovation and learning that must be taking place at this site just outside of Port Augusta as it is built and once production commences.
Read more on each of these ideas here and tell me what you think:
- Turning all remote towns into renewable micro-grids
- Innovation component within Port Augusta Energy Park
- Repower Port Augusta with solar thermal