Covering an area the size of 550 Adelaide Ovals, British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance has unveiled plans for a 280MW solar farm in the Upper Spencer Gulf. Part of a broader US$1 billion, one‐gigawatt dispatchable renewable energy program, it is a further signal of moves to even greater capacity of renewable energy coming online in Australia.
The Cultana Solar Project will include 780,000 solar panels capable of generating 600GWh of energy generation per year, enough to power 96,000 homes while offsetting 492,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. Construction is expected to begin in early 2019.
The announcements strengthen Gupta’s position in South Australia, which began last year when the billionaire’s company Liberty House purchased 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 ZEN Energy before launching its 1GW bid in October 2017.
“Today’s event is symbolic of our desire to develop an invest in new‐generation energy assets that will bring down Australia’s electricity prices to competitive levels again, as well as our commitment to local and regional Australia,” Gupta said.
“In particular, this signals the beginning of our journey with a number of stakeholders to not only transform GFG’s operations in Whyalla, but also further enhance the appeal of this great city.
Gupta’s other projects in the Upper Spencer Gulf region, about 300km north of the South Australian capital Adelaide, are yet to be detailed but include: cogeneration at GFG’s Whyalla Primary Steel plant using waste gas; the world’s largest lithium‐ion battery; and pumped hydro projects at GFG’s Middleback Ranges mining operations.
Gupta said the Cultana project – together with SIMEC ZEN’s second solar project to be built nearby – would combine to become one of Australia’s largest solar farms, with even larger projects to follow in other states.
“All of these projects will not only improve reliability and greatly reduce the cost of electricity in our own operations, they will also provide competitive sources of power for other industrial and commercial users, while at the same time playing a key role in the market’s transition towards renewables,” he said.
SIMEC ZEN Energy has commenced preliminary consultation discussions with the local community regarding the project, and will continue to engage closely with key stakeholders as it progresses through the remaining approval processes.
Whyalla Mayor Lyn Breuer said her local council was keen to partner with GFG in the rejuvenation of Whyalla over the coming decades, including leasing a portion of the land for the Cultana project.
“We’ve already seen Sanjeev invest tens of millions improving efficiencies and reducing input costs for his Whyalla operations, this now marks the beginning of his long‐term investment program,” Mayor Breuer said.
“Most importantly for Whyalla, this project signals to the nation that Whyalla is open for development, helping attract industries to our great city and further diversify and strengthen our economy.”
The announcement is the latest in a string of renewable energy projects underway in South Australia. South Australia leads the nation in the uptake of wind energy and rooftop solar with renewable sources accounting for more than 40 per cent of the electricity generated in the state.