South Australia’s 280MW Cultana Solar Farm could see works begin as early as July 2020, with the tendering process already underway.

SIMEC Energy Australia is delivering the project through an Engineer, Procure and Construction (EPC) partnership with Shanghai Electric.

SIMEC CEO, Marc Barrington, said final regulatory approvals and a transmission connection agreement were expected in the coming months, with financial close on track for the July Quarter of 2020.

Mr Barrington said the planned 13-15 month construction period could then commence straight away with potential completion by the end of 2021.

“All of our financing is sorted and our contracting structure is all sorted, really it’s just awaiting the outcome of the regulatory processes,” Mr Barrington said.

“We’re already going to tender at the moment for a whole bunch of works – everything from perimeter fencing through to security service providers, and we’ve undertaken many phases of early works so we can go very quickly once we get those final regulatory approvals.”

The solar farm site is on 1100 hectares to the north of the Whyalla Steelworks and is set to house 780,000 solar panels capable of generating 600GWh of energy generation per year, enough to power 96,000 homes.

The project will also use a new technique during construction where the ground is rolled flat to allow the panels to be installed, rather than graded, to remove all vegetation.

By only rolling the ground where the panels are to be installed, the loss of vegetation is minimised and the low-growing plants in the rolled areas are able to recover quickly.

Mr Barrington said the project would also be the first of its kind in Australia to use an automated robotic vehicle to clean the panels with compressed air and brushes, helping to limit the use of water on the site.

Industrialist Sanjeev Gupta began investing in South Australia in 2017 when he purchased the Whyalla Steelworks from Arrium, and announced the Cultana Solar Farm as part of his one‐gigawatt dispatchable renewable energy program in August 2018.

Mr Gupta has also announced a $600 million plan to expand and modernise the Whyalla Steelworks.

Other proposed GFG Alliance energy projects in South Australia’s Spencer Gulf region include the 100MW Playford Utility Battery at Port Augusta and the Middleback Range Pumped Hydro Project on Eyre Peninsula.

Mr Barrington said the Playford battery project was awaiting the outcome of a grant application with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) while pumped hydro storage as well as other solar and wind locations around Australia were also being considered.

“It is all part of Sanjeev’s plan of bringing green steel to a reality, and also to bring better-costed power to Australian manufacturing,” Mr Barrington said.

“We don’t have a behind the meter connection, we will connect straight into the grid but the steel mill will have contracts in place that will effectively utilise the financial hedge that comes out of the solar farm, so it’s certainly going to be put to good use.”

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