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Port Augusta solar thermal attracts investors: Hewson

Business

The long-standing concept of a solar thermal power plant for Port Augusta can be realised without significant government funding, says former Liberal leader and businessman John Hewson.

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Hewson, who advises the State Government on climate change and the low carbon economy,  is in Adelaide today to pitch the $1.2 billion Solastor project – and he’s confident the company can raise the money from investors.

“We’ve got one bank that wants to do the lot; a bit reluctant to do that because then they own this sort of thing – you know banks,” Hewson told 891 ABC radio this morning.

Hewson, the chairman of Solastor, said that beyond some possible loans from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation as part of the project’s debt package, private investment will fund the project.

No government grants had been factored into the project’s funding package.

“… Basically we don’t see that there’ll be particular difficulty financing it,” he said.

“We’re going to break it into two stages: 50 megawatts in the winter and 80 megawatts in the summer is stage one, then repeat it stage two. So that’s $530 million to raise in the first stage and we’re pretty confident that we’re well-advanced in terms of that financing.”

The need for huge government investment has been seen as a sticking point to the development of a baseload solar thermal plant for Port Augusta, which lost its coal-fired station just a few weeks ago.

However, Hewson said Solastor hadn’t factored any government subsidies into its business case.

Hewson said the Solastor project would use proven Australian-developed technology. The plant will consist of a series of graphite tower blocks, each heated by 86 mirrors which turns water to steam and drives a generator.

The system is modular, and the company is considering building five towers by the end of this year as a demonstration of the technology.

“We can produce the lowest price 24/7 solar power in the world and we’re confident of that,” he said.

A plant had already been built in China, and the company is rolling out projects in the Middle East. It would also be an exportable technology, Hewson said.

“It’s base load solar – 24/7- or peak load solar with storage, and that’s the difference between the solar and wind projects you’ve seen so far which only contribute when the sun shines and the wind blows.”

The project, which has the backing of state and federal governments, could store a week’s worth of energy.

It would be able to power more than 200,000 homes and fill the gap left when the last of Alinta Energy’s coal-fired power stations shut down in Port Augusta last month.

The solar thermal plant would create 600 construction jobs and more than 100 permanent jobs.

Premier Jay Weatherill said the project, if it is built, should lead to lower power prices.

“South Australia is leading the world in renewable energy production and all we need to even go further is a bipartisan position at a national level to give us the support we need,” he said.

He said the national energy market penalised renewables and that needed to change.

He said the State Government would support the company in gaining access to land, if that was required.

InDaily has previously reported on the company SolarReserve’s idea to build a solar thermal plant in Port Augusta, using molten salt technology.

Hewson said the molten salt process wasn’t as efficient as his company’s technology.

However, he said competition was good and South Australia could support a number of different technologies.

– with AAP

 

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