Is WA’s Support of Solar Utilities at the Expense of Domestic Projects?

When we think of Western Australia we generally consider mining booms, expanded gas projects, black swans and the West Coast Eagles football team (and Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh for those of us with age on our side).

But as an Australian leader in solar technology? After a recent government decision to close down its solar feed in tariff scheme because of its (wait for it) popularity, the expected answer would generally be no. However recent developments in the West have shown government-owned corporations partnering up with the private sector to lead the state down the path of potentially being one of the country’s leading exponents of renewable energy.

According to an August 31 News Release from state-owned Verve Energy, the company, in conjunction with global energy giant GE Energy Financial Services and US-based manufacturer First Solar, will build a massive 10-megawatt project on an 80 hectare area of land located 50km southeast of Geraldton.

When completed, the solar farm will be Australia’s first utility-scale PV project, dwarfing other existing projects as it will be 10 times larger than any other operating solar project in the country.

“The solar farm is important for Verve Energy, for Western Australia and for the local renewable energy sector. It enhances Verve Energy’s reputation as a renewable energy innovator,” said Verve Energy’s Strategy and Business Development Manager, Tony Narvaez.

GE Energy also expressed delight at being involved in the project, pointing out the partnership enables them to look further afield in their renewable energy aims.

“This transaction enables us to apply our renewable energy investment expertise to a new market, add to our portfolio of projects with First Solar and to GE’s broader work with Verve Energy,” said Jason Willoughby, GE Energy Financial Services’ Australia business leader.

The WA Government’s has put its hand in its pocket (well the taxpayer’s pocket) to the tune of $20 million, including $10 million from the WA Royalties for Regions program.

Local media has trumpeted the decision, rightly pointing out that the WA Water Corporation has ensured the farm’s viability by committing to purchasing 100 percent of the energy for its Southern Seawater desalination plant in Binningup, in southwestern WA.

However is it unfair to suggest that the WA Government is more than prepared to commit taxpayers’ dollars towards larger utility solar projects while pulling the plug on subsidies that would kick start the domestic solar industry?

W.A., which helps keep the Australian economy afloat partly through hosting a large percentage of the fossil fuel mining boom, should also be suited to being the country’s Central Station of renewable energy. With its vast coastline, solar energy to burn (sorry!) and available space, the state is a renewable energy enthusiasts wet dream.

But will all renewable energy roads lead to Perth? Is the conservative Barnett government doing enough to support domestic solar initiatives in the state? Indeed what do you think are the most effective ways that the domestic solar industry be given a boost?

All comments welcome either here or at our Facebook site.

About Rich Bowden

Rich Bowden is a freelance journalist specialising in working for the green sector. His interests are renewable energy, organic gardening, his family and writing, though not necessarily in that order.

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