‘People power’ helped secure the world’s largest solar thermal power plant

Tim Dornin
(Australian Associated Press)

People power played a big part in delivering the world’s largest solar thermal power plant to South Australia’s mid-north, Premier Jay Weatherill says.

The $650 million plant will be built near Port Augusta with lobbying and support from the local community helping to get the project across the line.

“This is an example of people power in action,” the premier told reporters after visiting the proposed site on Tuesday.

“The efforts that this community have made have delivered this project. It gave the company the heart to continue to campaign and to put their resources into this project.

“It gave the social license for this company to operate in this part of the world.”

The plant will be made up of 12,000 billboard-size mirrors which direct the sun’s rays onto a central receiver at the top of a 220-metre high tower.

That process heats molten salt to 565 degrees Celsius with the heat used to generate steam, drive a turbine and produce 150 megawatts of electricity, even when the sun doesn’t shine.

The bulk of that electricity will be purchased by the SA government to power the state’s schools, hospitals and other facilities under a 20-year deal.

The plant will be built by US-based company SolarReserve, which already operates a similar facility in the United States, and should be operational by 2020.

Chief executive Kevin Smith also paid tribute to the local community and said while financing was still to be finalised, the company would not let them down.

“We’re now in the last 10 metres of the race and we’re going to deliver,” he said.

Mr Weatherill said the solar thermal plant would help lower power prices and provide for more secure energy supplies.

But he said it also offered hope to other communities doing it tough across Australia, struggling as Port Augusta had, with the transition from old to new industries.

“It was resilient, it was strong, it faced facts about coal not being the future and it was advocating a future which was renewable,” the premier said.

Port Augusta Mayor Sam Johnson said SolarReserve should be commended for its vision.

“We know the project will provide significant economic benefits to our city and the region and is great news for local business, accommodation providers and local employment,” he said.


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