Construction of the world’s tallest engineered structure at Buronga, New South Wales is increasingly likely to begin next year following a crucial Federal Government vote of confidence in the one kilometre tall Solar Tower project.

The recent accordance of Major Project Facilitation (MPF) status to the $800 million venture, announced by Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, means it will receive government support including help through any necessary approval processes.

The tower will have a base the size of the Melbourne cricket ground, spanning a diameter of 130 metres, while the tower itself will be about 300 metres taller than the current highest structures in the world. Surrounding the tower will be a skirt of solar collector panels with a radius of 3.5 kilometres. These panels will gather hot air to funnel through 32 wind turbines in the tower, creating 200 megawatts of clean, green renewable electricity. This output will make the Solar Tower one of the largest single generators of renewable energy in the world other than hydroelectric schemes.

It will be the first commercial tower of its kind, 50 per cent higher than any other structure,” according to Roger Davey who is CEO of EnviroMission, the company that owns the Australian rights to the German technology.

Davey is working on putting together a group of companies to build the project but was unable to comment further on which companies are being considered. Meanwhile, EnviroMission has signed memorandums of agreement with a number of materials suppliers. These include agreements with Onesteel for design and supply of the tower’s supporting steelwork, glass manufacturer Pilkington and Queensland based energy retailer Ergon Energy.

Davey estimates that 2,700 jobs would be created during the construction phase, with a large number of those in the engineering sector. The company will try to source most of the labour locally, he said. Wentworth Shire council has expressed its full support for the project, recognising the great boost it would give the region. “Fingers crossed construction will begin in 2003 and completed by 2006,” Davey said.

MPF status has been granted to the project for the renewable energy leadership and greenhouse gas abatement contribution expected from it. Solar Tower will be Australia’s largest, non-hydro, embedded renewable energy generation facility, creating enough clean power for 200,000 households. Although the NSW government has yet to grant the project State Significant Development status, planning authorities in NSW have begun work on an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the tower.

The technology has been tested and proven on a pilot plant constructed in Manzanares Spain, which involved collaboration between the Spanish Government and the German designers, Schlaich Bergermann and Partner. The plant operated for seven years between 1982 and 1989, and consistently generated 50kW output of green energy.