By Nichola Davies
With full-scale commercial operation commencing in November 2018, Neoen’s Coleambally Solar Farm has proven to be a behemoth of a power plant with the highest energy output of any solar farm in Australia’s national electricity market (NEM).
Set on a sprawling 550 hectares of country New South Wales is Neoen’s recently completed Coleambally Solar Farm. With 567,800 solar PV panels set to produce more than 390,000MWh of renewable energy per annum, it’s currently producing the highest energy output of any solar farm in the national electricity market (NEM) – enough to power 65,000 households.
With climate a hot topic with recent nation-wide student protests and the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Katowice, Poland, it’s positive news the project will make a significant contribution to reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to taking either 90,000 cars off the road or planting 530,000 trees.
Neoen’s managing director for Australia Franck Woitiez says the company is a firm believer that the future is clean, green energy, “to ensure generations to come can enjoy the planet as we have”. Indeed, the project in New South Wales’ Riverina region was proposed and built to provide New South Wales residents with sustainable, reliable and competitive energy.
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Site preparations for the solar farm began in January 2018, with full construction and connection completing between March and September 2018. Mr Woitiez says the construction phase of the project went off without a hitch.
“All Neoen projects go through multiple stages of development,” Mr Woitiez says.
“We always assess the technical, economic, societal and environmental viability of every project we undertake.
“This involves a two-stage feasibility study that includes initial site research by qualified professionals as well as a physical site inspection.
“Once the site is determined to be suitable, Neoen then discusses the project with local land owners and community members to address any concerns early and formulate a plan that incorporates the initial feedback.
“After the development application is approved and the site reaches financial close, site preparations and construction can begin.”
Neoen worked closely with the engineering, procurement and construction company Bouygues Construction Australia, Transgrid, and the community throughout the construction timeline and saw Coleambally Solar Farm delivered in record time, with minimal disturbances to locals and surrounding communities.
Through the course of the project, Neoen says the community of Coleambally – said to be one of the friendliest towns in Australia – welcomed the development of the solar farm, which created 400 jobs for the region, with Coleambally itself having only 600 residents.
It’s also set to continue to provide permanent employment opportunities during its service life, which is expected to be well beyond 30 years, and contribute to the local economy through ongoing contracts and services.
As part of a 12-year power purchase agreement, EnergyAustralia will take 70 per cent of the solar farm’s energy output. The remaining 30 per cent, will be sold directly to the market. Neoen is also working with network operator TransGrid, connecting Coleambally to its high voltage transmission network, which sits are the centre of the national electricity grid.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation, German Landesbank, German government-owned development bank KfW Ipex and Bouygues Construction all backed the development and construction of Coleambally.
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Neoen’s chairman and CEO Xavier Barbaro says the company is proud to be bringing into service this new power plant, which is a perfect illustration of Neoen’s wide-ranging expertise.
“[This expertise includes] our ability to work on both wind and large-scale solar projects in Australia, to negotiate purchase agreements bilaterally with utilities, and to sell part of our production in the spot market now that grid parity has been achieved,” Mr Barbaro says.
The project is 100 per cent owned and operated by Neoen, and is a landmark project for the company and Australia’s’ renewables sector, helping the New South Wales Government achieve its goals of drastically scaling back power generation from coal to renewables by 2040.
It wasn’t the only milestone for Neoen in late 2018, with it’s Hornsdale project in South Australia exceeding market expectations in its first year of operation, slashing costs of $40 million from the wholesale market, according to Aurecon. It came to fruition in 2017 after the backouts in South Australia in 2016, where Tesla’s Elon Musk said he could have it up and running in 100 days. It’s now the largest lithium ion power reserve in the world.
Founded in 2008 and based in France, Neoen currently has more than 2GW of renewables projects already in operation or under construction, with a further 1GW secured. The company says it aims to have a 5GW capacity by 2021.
With the success of its latest projects, the company has doubled in size over the last 18 months and is active in France, Australia, El Salvador, Zambia, Jamaica, Portugal, Mexico, Mozambique, Finland and Argentina.
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Neoen operates Europe’s most powerful solar PV farm, a 300MW farm in Cestas, France, and in 2017 won one of the largest and competitive solar projects in Mexico, a 375MW farm.
But for Australia, Neoen says Coleambally sets a precedent for the projects that will underpin the modern energy system in Australia in the future.
“Australia’s renewable energy industry is maturing, with record growth in 2017 and 2018,” Mr Woitiez says.
“Consumers are now more conscious of their impact on the world, and are therefore looking to energy providers to make more environmentally aware decisions.
This is especially pertinent at a time when COP24, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, and Australia-wide student protests held against government inaction on climate change drew mass media attention.
“It is projects like the solar, wind and storage facilities Neoen is developing that will continue to drive and shape the future of the energy industry,” Mr Woitiez says.
Neoen says there are plenty of opportunities for the company to expand and indeed has nine projects in operation in Australia, with two more under construction.
“Diversification of sources of generation provides a better range of options for energy providers and consumers,” Mr Woitiez says.
“Neoen will continue to work with our partners, and particularly the local communities, councils and state government, to ensure that the people of New South Wales, and wider Australia, enjoy clean, efficient and affordable electricity for decades to come.
“Australia is well-suited to the development of renewable energy and this latest project confirms Neoen’s status as Australia’s number one independent renewable energy producer.”