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Solar Dawn rejection reasons explained

15th Nov 2012

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency's (ARENA) decision to withdraw funding from two large scale solar projects this week has dominated energy sector headlines - leading a top boss at the organisation to give more detailed reasons for the announcement.

Chairman Greg Bourne admitted it was a tough choice, but there were several factors that influenced the final outcome.

In an interview with Renew Economy, he defended pulling support from the 250 MW solar thermal plant, claiming ARENA had done everything in its power to move forward with the development.

"We worked very, very closely with the proponents to see if we were able to get things up and running and make the project fly," he explained.

"Even though we had a couple of good shots at making it go, it's just not going to."

A plan for the facility was drawn up by the Solar Dawn consortium and has received both state and federal government support in the past.

However, it seems this wasn't enough and Greg gave several reasons why ARENA decided to pull out.

"I think it was a combination of size – it was a two-phased assessment, the amount of money going in and then the benefit," he stated.

Not only this, the expert argued, but many similar projects worldwide come with storage capabilities as part of the scheme - something this particular initiative was lacking.

So what does this mean for solar thermal power in general? According to Bourne, ARENA is still dedicated to providing financial support to this form of solar energy.

In fact, he noted that the agency will be specifically focusing on this area over the next six months.

And as for the Solar Flagships program, which has only approved one application so far, the chairman claimed ARENA is close to making a decision on the last two projects on its books.

The Moree Solar Farm and a separate Infigen-Suntech venture are still in "very good discussions", he added, with a final announcement due "relatively soon".

ARENA's decision to cut funding has drawn criticism from several quarters, although Renew Economy's editor Giles Parkinson admitted it was not a surprise.

The facility was due to be the first of its kind, as well as the biggest solar project in Australia - factors that Giles claims made it a high-risk scheme.

Withdrawal of support from the Queensland state government was the final nail in the coffin, he concluded.

Posted by Mike Peacock

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