If concentrating solar thermal (CST) power stations were built by popularity contest, there is a chance that Australia may have as many CST projects as there are in the US or Spain.
Sadly, they require something more. In Spain and the US this has come in the form of ambitious renewable energy targets (33 per cent in California), supportive utilities and federal government incentives in the form of tax deductions, feed-in tariffs and loan guarantees.
In Australia, the lack of coherent public policy has left the technology at the starting gate. But it still gets the popular vote, even if governments are incapable of providing the appropriate financial incentive.
New polling released by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, for instance, shows overwhelming support in the South Australian seat of Boothby for building Australia’s first solar thermal plant in Port Augusta.
The poll, conducted by ReachTEL on April 15 and commissioned by the AYCC on behalf of the Repower Port Augusta Alliance, found that 70.8 per cent of the 1237 residents surveyed supported the concept.
The pro-solar campaigners are trying to turn the issue into an electoral one, and have embarked on a large door-knocking effort in the local electorate of Boothby ahead of a political panel discussion that will take place in the electorate on May 23. The survey found that 55 per cent of those polled said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supports building solar thermal in Port Augusta, while only 6.3 per cent would be less likely.
“It’s clear that South Australians want to see the federal government step up and invest in solar thermal in Port Augusta,” Repower Port Augusta campaigner Daniel Spencer said.
“South Australians are ready to start building a renewable energy economy and want to see our politicians get behind replacing two of Australia’s most polluting power stations with solar thermal,” Spencer said.
“The funds are there, the workforce is there, the community wants it – now it’s time for the government to get on with making it happen”.
As it turns out, Alinta Energy, the owner of the two coal-fired power stations, is putting in an application to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency for funds to conduct a detailed feasibility study – and to help it decide if its better going for a stand-alone CST plant with storage, or a hybrid facility.
An earlier study found that CST was viable, but it needed support to bridge the gap between “first of its kind” operating costs – estimated at more than $200/MWh – compared with what it could possibly earn on market (around $100/MWh).
The most cost-effective mechanism could be a set tariff (or contract for difference, as used in the ACT) which would effectively de-risk the financing of the project and bring down the capital costs. Alinta’s initial study suggested it would need grants to meet 2/3 of the equity cost to obtain its desired return on equity.