Momentum builds for Port Augusta solar tower

Momentum for the country’s first solar thermal tower in Port Augusta is building, despite the fossil fuel sector’s recent attack on South Australia’s renewable energy leadership. 

Testament to the success of the grassroots Repower Port Augusta campaign and the viability of the solar thermal in the region, pioneering U.S. company SolarReserve held a public meeting in Port Augusta last night (Monday September 12). 

CEO Kevin Smith and colleagues travelled from Los Angeles to brief community members and undertake meetings with state and federal politicians over the coming days. Construction of a solar thermal plant near Port Augusta would be an anchor project for up to six projects across the state.

Local member of Parliament, Dan van Holst Pellekaan (shadow energy minister) is a strong backer of the solar thermal project. Mr Pellekaan told the audience that it’s time to insert solar thermal with storage into South Australia’s energy mix. The MP has long given in principle support to the project and pledges to “take the next step” after getting a full briefing on the economics of the project.

Mr Pellekaan is right. Inserting solar thermal with storage into South Australia’s energy mix would help the state smash its Renewable Energy Target of 50 percent by 2025 and give it the capability to go all the way to 100 percent. Not only that, but it would create an estimated 1,000 construction jobs, 50 ongoing positions, and 4,000 flow-on jobs.

With benefits like this on the horizon, it’s no wonder why solar thermal represents a new era for the Port Augusta community after the recent closure of polluting coal power plants. Solar thermal will allow Port Augusta to bring its history of power generation into the 21st Century.

Former coal power worker and solar thermal advocate, Gary Rowbottom, captured the community’s sentiment in his powerful address:

Over four years ago our local Repower Port Augusta group was formed because we had listened and learned what Beyond Zero Emissions, a think tank of mainly engineers and scientists in collaboration with the University of Melbourne’s Energy Institute had shown what could be done in Port Augusta.

It could remain a force in the power industry after a transition from emission intensive brown coal electricity generation.

We could see these Concentrated Solar Thermal plants had been built already, it had been done in other countries and could be done in our home town. They and others thought it was a good idea and we believed them, and wanted to be a part of making it happen.

Of course there wasn’t a transition.

Four months ago almost to the day, Northern Power Station where I worked was shut down for the last time, and I and my work colleagues lost the best job they ever had. That has hit the community hard. A fair number of people have either left town and the state with their families or worse, left them behind for jobs interstate.

Port Augusta will survive this, we took harder blows in the mid 90’s when both the rail and power industries downsized significantly.

But we know we can have so much more. We know Port Augusta can become the renewable energy capital of Australia. A new Concentrating Solar Thermal electricity generating facility with storage can be the centrepiece of that.

We already have Sundrop Farms operating just South of PA, using Australia’s biggest CST plant to harness the sun’s energy to desalinate seawater, heat and cool the greenhouses, and make electricity to operate the site.

Other solar technology based developers also have their eyes on Port Augusta. They too, all believe building solar in Port Augusta is a good idea. Again we believe them.

Of course the thing that is most needed in the electricity generation system is the storage ability, the despatchability. That was evident in the events that occurred in the SA electricity supply industry in July. It is that storage ability, along with the good number of good jobs in solar thermal because of all those components that go spin, whizz, hum and whirr that attracted us to this technology.

And of course we could see the planet needed it, that fragile blue marble surrounded by that oh so thin layer of life sustaining atmosphere. These are the reasons our local group and the alliance believe solar thermal with storage should be built.

Last year the the SA government issued an Expression of Interest to supply 481 GWh/year of ‘low carbon’ energy. Some 25 percent of that has been allocated to support PV and batteries. What we want, is for that remaining 75 percent allocation, 360 GWh/yr to be allocated for solar thermal with storage.

This week, the CEO of Solar Reserve, the developer and constructor of the Crescent Dunes 110 MW solar thermal with storage plant in Nevada, is in Australia. They are here to talk to politicians, and our community in Port Augusta about their proposal bid into the state government’s EOI, to replicate that plant in Port Augusta, and their vision beyond that.

They too believe building Concentrating Solar Thermal with storage in Port Augusta is a good idea. And we believe them too.

Please listen to them Jay Weatherill and Josh Frydenberg. And act. Give them some good news. Give us some good news.

South Australia’s power system needs the utility scale storage and grid balancing ability that CST with storage brings, and the job creation value for SA and our region is something the South Australian Government should care about.

Get it done!

TAKE ACTION:

  • Show your support for the Port Augusta community by signing their community petition.
  • If you’re passionate about solar power and want to defend SA’s renewable energy leadership, then you might like to take the Pledge to Defend Renewables. 

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