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May 20th 2009
NQ economic groups push for solar plant

With an average of 320 days of sunshine per year Magnetic Island was well qualified to become a Solar Cities suburb and, with the release of a new report, regional business leaders have lined up to push the state and federal governments to choose north Queesland as a site for one of the plants comprising the $1.4 billion solar thermal power station network proposed this week by the Prime Minister.

The Renewable Energy Report, produced by a collection of north Queensland regional economic development agencies, including Townsville Enterprise, highlights north Queensland’s renewable credentials and came as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the solar plans.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that $1.4 billion would be spent on solar energy. "In the next six months or so the Government will define the tender specifications for industry right across the country. In the first six months of 2010 the Government will nominate successful tenders. Our objective is to co-invest with industry in what will end up being a network of stations across the country. Co-locating as close as possible with the existing electricity grid, locating as best as possible in terms of access to Australia’s biggest natural resource – our sunshine. And making sure that we are doing so in an effective and efficient way with business on the way though."

Solar thermal plants operate differently to silicon-based photovoltaic cells as have been attached to Magnetic Island roofs under the Solar Cities scheme. Solar thermal plants include vast arrays of reflectors which aim and focus the sun's rays to a single location which may be a tower in which materials such as graphite are heated to extreme temperatures. Due to the special qualities of the materials heat can be stored for extensive periods at levels capable of generating power at night and for days when the sun isn't shining.

Townsville Enterprise Economic Development General Manager Dr Lisa McDonald said the Prime Minister’s criteria for the location of the world’s biggest solar power station are addressed by the report.

“According to the report North Queensland receives 50% more solar energy exposure than anywhere to the south and the region’s well documented need for energy generation and lower transmission costs make us the ideal candidate for this technology.”

“Economic Development organisations from the greater north Queensland region have been beating a path to the offices of State and Commonwealth ministers for energy for many years highlighting the need for power generation in our region.”

“We’re calling on the Federal Government to act now on the region’s need for power, and pick a North Queensland location for this solar power station.”

“We believe renewable energy represents our best chance for securing generation in the region – and this report backs that up with facts and figures. The report considers a broad range of renewable energy options that could feasibly deliver up to 1200 Megawatts of generation per year.”

“Implementation of the renewable technologies suggested by the report would reduce margin loss factors – the costs of transmission of power into the region – by between three and seven percent, and provide a long term, environmentally responsible solution to the energy conundrum facing North Queensland users.”

“It’s highly unlikely that northern Queensland will have our power woes addressed using any traditional power generation technologies – we aren’t ideally positioned to tap into thermal coal power stations or any gas reserves – but we are in a prime location for renewable energy generation,” Dr McDonald said.

Mount Isa to Townsville Economic Zone Executive Officer Glen Graham said the study was commissioned in order to better equip northern Queensland’s economic development agencies as they advocate for energy investment.

“As a group we believe the modelling work carried out in our report would be most valuable for decision makers such as the federal government and other renewable energy investors as it factors in the north’s growth projections and examines ways future power generation could meet Australia’s mandatory renewable energy targets”.

“Our report provides the sort of detailed information required and clearly meets the criteria the federal government is looking for as part of the 1000MW of renewable power generation it seeks to provide across Australia. A 250MW solar farm in the north could be the first of such projects and the power would go straight onto the grid to help meet our ever increasing energy demand, particularly in the North West Minerals Province,” Mr Graham said.

Advance Cairns Chief Executive Officer Ross Contarino said any decision to build a solar thermal power station in the region would have a positive impact on regional employment.

Mackay Whitsundays Regional Economic Development Corporation Chief Executive Officer Narelle Pearse said the report’s release means the region is ideally positioned to capitalise on the prevailing government attitudes.

The Renewable Energy Report was commissioned by Townsville Enterprise, the Mount Isa to Townsville Economic Zone, the Mackay Whitsundays Regional Economic Development Corporation, Advance Cairns and the Queensland Department of Infrastructure and Planning, and conducted by ROAM consulting.

NQ economic groups push for solar plant
May 19th 2009
This is the ideal project for our regional economic development organisations to get into cahoots on. But (there should always be a 'but' with Townsville Enterprise), those bodies need to be consistent in their ideology or they begin to sound like a pack of barking dogs.
Townsville Enterprise has a reputation for jumping on the bandwagon of every half-baked snake oil scheme that comes within cooee of NQ. Witness the grovelling and pimping that went on around the Townsville Ocean Terminal proposal as soon as the Queensland Government revealed its intention to throw about $15 million towards a one billion dollar project that was really a glorified canal estate on the gambler's doormat of the state sponsored Townsville casino. Townsville Enterprise thought it was Christmas (and it may have been) but the environmental and philosophical downside of such stupid indulgence suggested that our regional economic development organisation (TEL) didn't care about the consequences as long as the money landed in Town.
As it turns out, even the money wasn't real. So now TEL has a reputation to repair before its prognostications can be taken seriously. Does it have a philosophy or does it simply line up next to the trough with all the other snouts and demonstrate how to push in?
Jonathan Cheyne
May 19th 2009
I agree Chasmac but I think that good new directions need to be encouraged and this is one. They were also pushing to save to Cromarty wetland which is again a big surprise for that mob but one I support wholeheartedly. What I thought was interesting about the Rudd announcement is that it demonstrates that the government and these economic agencies are convinced that a solar thermal plant must be able to compete with coal and gas for base load power (power that's available when the wind stops blowing or the days when the sun doesn't shine). So the dumb question of the government and the rest is why bother to suck up to the all-powerful coal lobby anymore? We have the technology to send them back down into the ground where they belong(just read Guy Pearse on them). Carbon capture technology is an expensive and time wasting joke so why dont we just get going with solar thermal for all of Australia because, after they are built the fuel is absolutely FREE!
Jon Cheyne

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