February 25, 2008 (The Age) – A project to build a solar power plant in Victoria with $79.5 million promised by the former Howard government has been launched by new Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. Despite the former Howard government committing the money to the project she was launching, Ms Wong attacked her predecessors, saying they had done “virtually nothing” toward reducing greenhouse emissions.
The $420 million solar plant will be built at a yet to be determined site in the Swan Hill and Mildura region in Victoria’s north, and should generate enough power for 45,000 homes every year, without creating any greenhouse emissions.
Led by Melbourne based company Solar Systems, its construction will begin in 2009.
The project’s green light came when Victorian electricity retailer TRUenergy kicked in $290 million, to combine with the federal funds and $50 million from the state government promised in 2006.
Using solar cells originally developed to power satellites, the plant will begin generating power in 2010 and be fully completed by 2013, creating 950 construction and 44 long-term jobs.
Speaking at the launch, Ms Wong sidestepped the Howard government’s support for the project, saying that it had been “full of sceptics”.
“The Howard government, over 11 years, was filled with people who denied that climate change was real,” Ms Wong said.
“We, as a government, don’t deny that climate change is real.”
TRUenergy also announced it had invested $40 million more to gain a 20 per cent stake in the Solar Systems company.
TRUenergy managing director Richard McIndoe said the decision to invest in the “lucrative solar technology industry” was not influenced by the change of government.
“We initiated our discussions with Solar Systems over 12 months ago, so regardless of what the impact of the federal election was we were going to continue with the investment in this technology and in this company,” Mr McIndoe said.
He said TRUenergy saw great potential to make money from the power plant technology both in Australia and in countries such as India, China and Thailand.
But he hoped the Rudd government’s new renewable energy targets would speed up the process and said its planned emissions trading scheme was “absolutely crucial” for reducing greenhouse emissions.
“I think, certainly, the Rudd government has indicated higher targets and faster targets in terms of renewable energy,” Mr McIndoe said.
“And we hope and anticipate that the technology that we’re using here at Solar Systems is going to have a greater application and a faster application under the new policies here.”
Also at the launch at the company’s Abbotsford manufacturing plant in Melbourne, Premier John Brumby called the project a “win-win-win” for the environment, innovation and the economy.
He said the solar power plant would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 396,000 tonnes a year.