First Solar seeks aid for WA solar plant expansion

First Solar, a partner in Australia's first large-scale solar project, expects a decision to be made within 12 months to boost the size of the development.

The General Electric and Verve Energy-owned Greenough River project is seeking funding from the federal government to help expand the plant as much as fourfold to 40 megawatts, Jack Curtis, First Solar vice president of business development and sales for Asia-Pacific, said in an interview in Sydney.

“I'd be very disappointed if we didn't see some positive traction on that in the next six to 12 months,” he said. “We're pretty confident that the federal government would view that as a very likely candidate for future support since the economic value proposition would be compelling.”

First Solar, the largest US solar-panel manufacturer by shipments, is supplying panels to the 10-megawatt Greenough River project to contribute to the government's plan to get at least 20 per cent of the country's power from renewable energy by 2020. The project in WA started last year.

AGL Energy's planned 155-megawatt solar project in New South Wales, which received $166.7 million in funds from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is also using Arizona-based First Solar's modules. AGL said Wednesday that it's going ahead with the $450 million project at two sites in western NSW.

Australia challenge

“One of the challenges we have is that we bring a US cost frame of reference to Australia, and we realise it's more expensive to build in Australia, largely because the experience just isn't there,” Curtis said. “So what these projects do is accelerate that experience, so that next time we can build more efficiently, more cheaply.”

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency expects decisions within six months on whether to invest in solar plants planned by Infigen Energy and Pacific Hydro, Chief Executive Officer Ivor Frischknecht said.

While Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square meter of any continent, according to the government, some projects picked to receive solar grants, including a venture led by Areva in Queensland, have failed to meet financing deadlines and sign power-supply agreements.

Bloomberg

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