The first large scale project in billionaire industrialist Sanjeev Gupta’s plan to generate one gigawatt of dispatchable renewable energy in South Australia has been approved.
The 280MW solar Cultana Solar Farm has been signed off by the South Australian Government with financial close expected to be reached by the end of June and construction to begin in the Upper Spencer Gulf town of Whyalla in the second half of the year.
The project on 1100ha of vacant land to the north of the Whyalla Steelworks will include 780,000 solar panels capable of generating 600GWh of energy generation per year, enough to power almost 100,000 homes while offsetting 492,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
It will be delivered by SIMEC Energy Australia, part of Gupta’s GFG Alliance.
The energy generated will contribute to the national electricity grid via the existing ElectraNet Cultana substation.
SIMEC Energy Australia Marc Barrington said securing Development Approval was an important step in the company’s goal of providing globally competitive energy for Australian business and industry.
“Delivery of this new sustainable energy generation asset will also contribute to emissions reductions, sustainability objectives, and increase the overall reliability and security of electricity supply for users across the Upper Spencer Gulf region,” he said.
SIMEC Energy has amended the layout and construction methods of the farm to reduce the amount of native vegetation requiring removal from the originally proposed 871ha down to 448ha.
It will also pay $3.4 million to the Native Vegetation Fund, which helps restore, revegetate and protect vegetation across South Australia.
The company has also worked with Succession Ecology Australia to identify a new way to flatten native vegetation, which reduces the effects of dust on site during construction and long-term problems associated with disturbing the soil crust.
Today’s announcement strengthens Gupta’s position in South Australia, which began in 2017 when the British billionaire’s company Liberty House purchased the struggling Whyalla Steelworks from Arrium.
GFG Alliance then purchased a 50.1 per cent stake in South Australian renewable energy company ZEN Energy to form SIMEC Energy Australia before launching its 1GW bid in October 2017.
Other proposed projects in the GFG Alliance 1GW energy plan include the Playford Utility Battery at Port Augusta and the Middleback Range Pumped Hydro Project on Eyre Peninsula, which is in the early planning stages.
A development application has been lodged with the South Australian government for the Playford Utility Battery. If it goes ahead, the battery would be charged at times of high-energy output from renewable sources in the region, including the nearby Cultana Solar Farm.
The renewable energy generation and storage projects will also help power the Whyalla Steelworks.
In December, Liberty Primary Steel – part of Gupta’s GFG Alliance – announced major steps towards the transformation of the Whyalla steelworks, signing contracts worth more than A$600m.
GFG Alliance has also contracted China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) to run a feasibility study into building a new steel plant in Whyalla capable of producing 10 million tonnes a year, almost double Australia’s current steel production.
Whyalla and Port Augusta are about 300km north of Adelaide and have been major drivers of steel and electricity industry in South Australia for more than half a century.
Port Augusta’s coal-fired power stations closed in 2016, paving the way for a number of major renewable energy projects in the region including the Hornsdale and Snowtown wind farms, Bungala Solar Project and Tesla’s big battery.
It is also home to Sundrop Farms’ solar thermal powered mega greenhouse and was set to house the 150MW Aurora solar thermal plant until the project was abandoned last month because of financing issues with its proponent SolarReserve.