Details of a 280MW solar farm have been unveiled in South Australia as the first part of Sanjeev Gupta’s global GFG Alliance US$1 billion, one‐gigawatt dispatchable renewable energy program.

The Cultana Solar Project in South Australia’s Upper Spencer Gulf 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 British billionaire’s company Liberty House purchased the struggling Whyalla Steelworks from Arrium. GFG Alliance then purchased a 50.1 percent 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 and 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 says.

“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 says.

“We have a strong conviction that traditional carbon‐intensive generation sources do not have a long‐term future as the predominant source of power in Australia and globally. We believe the world is undergoing a momentous transition to renewable power as the cost of renewables drops dramatically and quickly.

“It is, however, important that we acknowledge and also support the critical role that coal and other traditional fossil‐fuel‐based power must play in this transition.”

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. Development approval is expected towards the end of the year, allow construction to commence in the first quarter of 2019.

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,” Breuer says.

“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.

Last year, Tesla partnered with French renewable energy company Neoen to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery (100MW/129MWh) at Neoen’s Hornsdale Wind Farm in the state’s Mid-North.

South Australia leads the nation in the uptake of wind energy and rooftop solar with renewable sources accounting for more than 40 percent of the electricity generated in the state.

However, the closure of two coal-fired power stations in recent years has forced prices up and increased South Australia’s reliance on energy supplies from the eastern Australian states, particularly in times of peak demand.

This article was reprinted with permission from The Lead.