Monday, 20 September 2010

North to be wired with $685m in clean power

Courier Mail
Friday 10/9/2010 Page: 38

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has pledged up to $685 million in funding for renewable energy projects in north Queensland. Kennedy MP Bob Katter secured Labor and Coalition support for a transmission line between Townsville and Mount Isa that would link the northwest to the eastern grid. It would help bring online solar, wind and other climate-safe sources of electricity. The State Government has left up to major energy-using companies such as miners Xstrata and BHP Billiton a decision on whether to support a transmission line and its renewable power projects or opt for new gasfired power from state-owned CS Energy or APA Group.

Ms Gillard, in a letter to Mr Katter on Wednesday after his decision on Tuesday to back the Coalition, said her Government would provide up to $335 million to help build the $1 billion transmission link CopperString project of partners Leighton Holdings Contractors and CuString. That is conditional on the project completing feasibility studies, consideration by Infrastructure Australia and a decision by the major energy-using companies that the link is their preferred option. Ms Gillard said Labor "will ensure the link is the first project assessed" under a $1 billion Connecting Renewables initiative.

Labor will provide up to $185 million for the transmission line from 2012 to 2017, with payments subject to agreed milestones. And it will provide additional funding of up to $150 million over three years if the project takes longer than expected to achieve market load growth. The Government will also provide $2 million upfront to develop renewable energy projects along the line to pre-feasibility stage. Ms Gillard said Labor would provide up to $350 million to build a large-scale solar generation plant along the transmission line, from a new round of a program to help build large-scale solar plants.

Labor will open a new round of applications in 2012-13. She said the State Government would be invited to make an application to the program for up to $350 million to be used to build a large-scale solar plant along the clean energy link. Local councils want the renewable power plants because they will create jobs and help protect the region from the pain of rising gas and coal prices. Solar developers expect largescale solar power to achieve grid parity with fossil fuel power, possibly next year.