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Solar power project '4 times size of Sydney' to go ahead

31 July, 2013

Federal Minister for Climate Change, Mark Butler has announced construction will start in January on the largest solar power station in the southern hemisphere after the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) reached financial close with AGL Energy Limited (AGL).

Butler said the project will be built across two sites in Western NSW and will cover a combined area four times the size of the Sydney CBD.

"Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the world and we should take advantage of that natural asset," Butler said.

"This project is 15 times larger than any other solar power station in Australia and represents a big step forward towards making solar a bigger part of Australia's energy mix.

"The Rudd government is committed to transitioning Australia to a clean energy future and this combined 155 megawatt solar project helps make renewable energy cost competitive for more Australians."

Minister for Resources and Energy Gary Gray said this was a major milestone for AGL and the Government and would help boost investor confidence in large utility-scale solar.

"Reaching financial close and progressing to construction is a major achievement paving the way for future investment and meaning that, in a short time, an additional 50,000 homes across New South Wales will be powered by clean energy each year," Gray said.

AGL, together with solar developer First Solar, will construct a solar power plant near Nyngan (102MW) in central New South Wales and another near Broken Hill (53MW) which together will create over 450 local jobs during construction.

Butler said this strategic investment was part of the Labor government's broader efforts to stimulate investment in renewable energy in Australia. In addition to the $166.7 million the federal government is investing through ARENA, it is also providing $40.7 million under the Education Investment Fund to assist the University of Queensland and the University of New South Wales conduct related solar power research.

"Labor's $3 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency and $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation are designed to drive significant renewable energy investment and this is a great example of a flagship solar project for Australia," Butler said.

"Combined with the Renewable Energy Target of at least 20 per cent by 2020 and the establishment of the Emissions Trading Scheme, we are already seeing the results of Labor's reforms.

"Since 2007, Australia's wind capacity has trebled and Labor has supported the installation of more than 1 million solar panels, up from just over 7000 under the Howard government.

"Carbon pollution in the National Electricity Market is down by around seven per cent in the last year and renewable energy generation like wind and solar power is up by 25 per cent in the same period.

"And there are now around 24,000 people employed in the clean energy jobs of the future, more than double the estimated 10,000 employed five years ago."

Construction is scheduled to commence next year in January at Nyngan and in July at Broken Hill.

The NSW government will also invest $64.9 million in the project and recently approved the Development Applications for the Nyngan and Broken Hill solar plants.