The $5.1b ‘sun power’ blitz to cre­ate 4300 jobs in area

Dalby Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Matthew New­ton Matthew.New­ton@thechron­i­

THE Dar­ling Downs is on the cusp of the next build­ing boom – and it will be pow­ered by the sun.

Across the Toowoomba and Western Downs lo­cal gov­ern­ment re­gions, there are 14 ap­proved so­lar plants, worth an es­ti­mated

$5.1 bil­lion.

While some projects are still await­ing a fi­nal in­vest­ment de­ci­sion, the 14 ap­proved so­lar farms have the po­ten­tial to cre­ate a com­bined 4300 con­struc­tion jobs over the next eight years, gen­er­at­ing a whop­ping 4505MW of power in to­tal.

That’s enough elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated from the sun to power 1.7 mil­lion homes.

While there have been two so­lar plant ap­provals in the Toowoomba re­gion since Jan­uary 2016, the Western Downs has pow­ered ahead, ap­prov­ing 10 fa­cil­i­ties in the same pe­riod.

To date, two of the 14 so­lar farms have be­gun con­struc­tion – APA Group’s Dar­ling Downs So­lar Farm near Ko­gan, and Cana­dian So­lar’s Oakey So­lar Farm Stage 1.

Of the es­ti­mated

$3.74 bil­lion worth of so­lar projects in the pipe­line across the Western Downs, Western Downs Re­gional Coun­cil mayor Paul McVeigh said about half that fig­ure would be spent lo­cally.

“That lo­cal spend will be split be­tween peo­ple labour­ing, road con­struc­tions, elec­tri­cians. That’s very good news,” he said.

While there are only two projects cur­rently un­der way, Cr McVeigh said con­struc­tion jobs would likely cre­ate a rolling ef­fect on em­ploy­ment over the next five years as other pro­po­nents be­gan works, and he said now was the time to get skilled-up.

But with the Western Downs sit­ting on an un­em­ploy­ment rate of 4.1% – sig­nif­i­cantly lower than the state aver­age of 6.4% – Cr McVeigh said the re­spon­si­bil­ity of fill­ing those thou­sands of con­struc­tion jobs over the com­ing years would also fall to re­gions sur­round­ing the Western Downs – in­clud­ing Toowoomba.

“We’re en­cour­ag­ing busi­nesses to gear up for what’s com­ing at us,” Cr McVeigh said.

“One of the chal­lenges is we’ve got such a low un­em­ploy­ment rate and we’ve got all th­ese jobs com­ing at us.

“It’s not a bad sit­u­a­tion to have.

“We’ll have to be im­port­ing labour into this re­gion I think.”

It’s a dra­matic turn­around for the Western Downs, which was feel­ing the pinch from the coal seam gas in­dus­try’s post-con­struc­tion bust just two short years ago.

Iron­i­cally, it’s the elec­tric­ity in­fra­struc­ture that was put in place dur­ing the gas boom that has al­lowed the re­gion to so ef­fi­ciently pivot from one en­ergy in­dus­try to an­other.

Com­bine the in­fra­struc­ture – high-volt­age wires, power sta­tions, sub­sta­tions – with an abun­dance of sun­shine, flat ter­rain, the fall­ing cost of so­lar tech­nol­ogy, and WDRC’s fast-track­ing of so­lar project ap­provals, and you’ve got the per­fect mix to en­cour­age re­new­able en­ergy in­vest­ment.

Throw in the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s Re­new­able En­ergy Target, which in­cen­tivises re­new­able en­ergy de­vel­op­ment through the cre­ation of car­bon cred­its and which ends in 2020, and it’s easy to see why in­vestors have cho­sen the Western Downs to build their so­lar projects.

The scale of pro­posed en­ergy de­vel­op­ment across the Western Downs and Toowoomba lo­cal gov­ern­ment re­gions is im­mense – and it’s raised con­cerns among some that the en­ergy grid will be un­able to cope with the on­com­ing wave of in­vest­ment.

But a spokesper­son for the Depart­ment of En­ergy and Wa­ter Sup­ply said it was “un­likely” that any large-scale re­new­able projects would not pro­ceed in Queens­land due to net­work ca­pac­ity con­straints.

The spokesper­son noted that net­work busi­nesses such as Pow­er­link, Er­gon and En­ergex con­sider con­nec­tion ap­pli­ca­tions as part of the ap­proval pro­cesses for all gen­er­a­tion projects, “and con­sider the im­pact on net­work in­fra­struc­ture as part of this process”.

“To fur­ther as­sist in the adop­tion of re­new­able en­ergy into the net­work the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment has also es­tab­lished the Queens­land En­ergy Se­cu­rity Task­force,” the spokesper­son said.

“The task­force’s role is to pro­vide ad­vice to the gov­ern­ment on short-term and long-term strate­gies to main­tain en­ergy sys­tem se­cu­rity, af­ford­abil­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity for house­holds and busi­nesses while en­cour­ag­ing the tran­si­tion to a higher level of re­new­able en­ergy.”

FU­TURE IN THE SKY: Jens Schulz from RCR Tom­lin­son, one of the two so­lar farms al­ready un­der con­struc­tion.

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