Telstra to develop AU$100m renewable energy solar farm

Telstra has signed on to develop and construct a AU$100 million, 70-megawatt solar farm in northern Queensland as part of a push to reduce carbon emissions as well as its own energy consumption.

Telstra has thrown its support behind renewable energy with a project to develop a 70-megawatt solar farm in northern Queensland under a long-term power purchase agreement with RES Australia.

According to RES Australia, the project to build the energy farm in Emerald, Queensland is worth approximately AU$100 million, with the company having tailored the purchase agreement to Telstra's requirements.

"This 160-hectare new solar plant will be one of the largest renewable energy sources in northern Australia, and will create jobs and economic opportunities in regional Queensland," RES Australia COO Matt Rebbeck said.

As part of the agreement, Telstra has guaranteed that it will build a plant with enough energy to provide power to 35,000 homes in the region.

Construction will begin in the second half of this year, with the solar project expected to begin generating electricity in 2018.

The deal is part of working to ensure that Telstra actively manages its energy consumption while reducing emissions across Australia, Ben Burge, executive director of Telstra Energy, said.

The solar farm will also provide Telstra with a back-up source of power for its telecommunications network.

"The Emerald project is part of Telstra becoming a more active participant in the energy market to reduce costs while at the same time building resilience in our network and contributing to a more stable energy system," Burge said.

"We are looking at opportunities to utilise the back-up electricity generation and battery storage capacity we have in our network to proactively generate energy in times of peak demand to help reduce black out risks and offset high wholesale prices."

Telstra has secured long-term supply and price security from a renewable energy source for the project.

Telstra added that it is also part of the company's efforts to invest in regional Australia, and to provide jobs in construction and operation of the plant to local businesses and Indigenous communities.

The telecommunications provider had last year flagged its interest in the energy market, saying it would launch smart home packages for consumers focused on energy consumption to complement the launch of Telstra Energy.

"[Telstra Smart Home] is also part of Telstra's diversification into being a technology company, and it also aligns with the interests we have in businesses," Cynthia Whelan, group executive of International and New Businesses, said in June.

"There's also some exciting opportunities as we look forward in the energy space. We recently announced Telstra Energy, and some of the opportunities we're looking at is potentially dynamic energy management, and the work we're doing in Telstra Energy together with the work we're doing here in Telstra Home."

The Queensland government welcomed Telstra's announcement on Wednesday, with state Energy Minister Mark Bailey saying it would create 200 jobs in construction.

"It's commitments like these from major companies like Telstra that show the increasing importance of renewables in Queensland's, and indeed Australia's, energy mix," Bailey said.

"In the past 12 months alone, 16 large-scale renewable energy projects have been committed in Queensland. When these projects are all online, they will have more than doubled our large-scale renewable generation capacity."

A day earlier, however, Australian Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg had announced the federal government's "technology-neutral, non-ideological" approach by removing legislation prohibiting the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) from supporting investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

"CCS is a proven technology being deployed globally with 17 large-scale commercial CCS facilities already in operation storing around 30 million tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide," Frydenberg said on Tuesday.

"The CEFC's ability to invest in CCS technologies will complement other low emissions investment by the federal government including more than AU$3 billion worth of wind, solar, and storage projects."

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