Western Australia’s Emu Downs Solar Farm is expected to begin construction within weeks after signing a funding agreement with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

The project is one of 12 around Australia supported by ARENA through its large-scale solar competitive round.

The Emu Downs Solar Farm is being developed by APA Group and will produce enough energy to power 6,700 homes while creating an estimated 100 jobs during construction.

It’s also the first solar farm in WA to be co-located with wind turbines.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said ARENA’s support for Australia’s large-scale solar industry meant solar plants like Emu Downs would be cheaper to build and provide efficient electricity to Australians.

“Emu Downs Solar Farm would not have been viable just a few years ago,” Frischknecht said.

“ARENA has been instrumental in driving down the cost of building a solar farm in Australia. The ARENA funding ask for big solar projects has dropped significantly from half of total project costs to just 10% on average. In this latest funding round, every dollar of ARENA funding is leveraging $10 from other sources.”

Emu Downs Solar Farm has entered into a 12-year power purchase agreement to sell electricity and generation certificates to energy retailer Synergy.

The plant will share a transmission connection and facilities with APA’s 80MW Emu Downs Wind Farm.

“As solar generates energy during the day, wind farms tend to generate more power overnight in WA,” Frischknecht said. “Co-locating wind and solar delivers more continuous energy generation and makes good business sense.”

A recent ARENA-supported study found about 1GW of potential opportunities to add solar alongside existing wind farms, enough to power 700,000 homes.

Emu Downs Solar Farm is expected to be completed in January 2018.

Tick for 100MW Sun Brilliance solar plant

Also in Western Australia, Perth-based Sun Brilliance has been granted approval by the Mid-West Wheatbelt Joint Development Assessment Panel to build a $160 million 100MW solar farm in Cunderdin, east of Perth.

When completed, the single-axis tracking solar farm will be the largest solar power plant in the state.

“Rooftop solar has dominated the Western Australian market in the past five years, while the rest of the world has largely built utility-scale solar farms – our competitively-priced 100MW solar farm will change forever the way electricity generation in Western Australian is viewed,” said Professor Ray Wills, director of Sun Brilliance.

The company will sell into the spot wholesale energy market using a merchant model rather than a Power Purchase Agreement.

Construction will start once the company has finalised approval Western Power.

Finance for the $160 million project is yet to be finalised, with an anticipated split of 30% equity and 70% debt.

Sun Brilliance has not sought funding from ARENA, said executive director and CFO Kalwant Dhillon, “as the project stacks up commercially, especially given current favourable interest and LGC rates, improvements in engineering, solar panel and other hardware pricing, and the Australian dollar is also proving to be resilient”.

The Cunderdin plant is expected to be operational by late 2017.