Plans to pair solar farm with an ageing coal plant in New South Wales look like going ahead, after the state's Department of Planning approved a $117 million 55MW solar project at Vales Point on Lake Macquarie.
The project, which was flagged over a year ago, and placed on public exhibition earlier this year, will be one of the first Australian examples of a large scale solar operating side-by-side with a coal-fired power station.
Indeed, it is expected that the addition of solar may work to extend the life of Vales Point, which is now expected to continue to operate past its technical closure date of 2029, when it will turn 50.
As we reported last year, Vales Point was was bought up by Delta Electricity – the company founded by energy consultant Trevor St Baker and coal baron Brian Flannery in 2015 – for just $1 million.
“We believe Vales Point is going to last a lot longer than 2029 when it reaches its 50-year age,' St Baker told the AFR in September last year.
'We are investing in life extension with a capability beyond 2029. We'll wait and see what happens progressively by then but the technology is capable of extending and while ever the fuel is there we will extend its life.'
The company said this week that the Vales Point solar farm was being designed to help to bridge any shortfall brought about by the closure of coal-fired power stations.
'Delta recognises that both dispatchable power and low emission technologies have a role to play in supporting an affordable, reliable and sustainable national electricity grid,' said company secretary Steve Gurney.
Approval for the NSW Vales Point solar addition follows closely on the launch of the state government's Emerging Energy Plan, designed to help replace most of the state's ageing coal plants with wind, solar and storage over the next 15 years.
NSW Department of Planning resource assessments director Clay Preshaw said on Tuesday that there was billions of dollars of private investment in renewable energy projects, currently, spanning right across state.
'Solar energy is a key part of NSW's energy mix and will become even more important into the future,' he said.
For Vales Point, the 55MW of PV panels will be installed on a 80 hectare area of rehabilitated ash dam that forms part of the broader power station site – a project that will support 100 construction jobs. Work is expected to begin early in 2019.