Power station: Doing the numbers on renewables


p2310-wind-powerLETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – With the $75m upgrade of Owen Springs the official construction cost is nearly $200m for this gas fired power station and there are some rumours that the actual cost is over $300 million.  This equals about $6/Watt of installed power. Remember this number.
Owen Springs is an essential part of power security for Alice Springs, but these numbers make you wonder.  In this day and age are we committing too much money to old technology?  Are we locking in to fossil fuels when sky-rocketing global gas prices will make this approach unaffordable, or at best a huge drain for the government to subsidise?
After all, in South Australia, gas fired power stations are already reducing output because it’s more profitable to sell their gas on the open market rather than use it to generate electricity!  With fossil fuels it seems most likely that the cost will just keep going up, despite the short term fall we’re enjoying at the moment.
What can we get for $200m?  Based on the current costs that is about enough to take half of the homes in Alice Springs off the grid and give them solar panels and a battery storage system.  Imagine that!  Half of Alice Springs on fully renewable, sustainable power.
New developments in solar power, called concentrated solar thermal (CST), allow electricity to be generated when the sun is not shining.  Spain has over 2000 MW (about 40 times Alice Springs peak electricity demand) of CST installed at a price of about $4-6/Watt.  About the same as Owen Springs, except of course the power is free once you’ve built the plant.  In other words a CST plant to provide energy for all of Alice Springs would cost about the same as Owen Springs cost.
The Cullerin Range wind farm in NSW (pictured) is 30 MW (about the same size as Owen Springs) and cost around $90m to build.  But the cost of power generation excluding construction cost is then about 1 cent per KWhr, which is a lot less than gas or coal fired power stations.  And whilst Alice Springs isn’t windy enough for this technology, Tennant Creek is and is close enough.
It is clear that we have a whole range of alternatives available to us now, which are not guaranteed to lock us into ever increasing power costs. And we haven’t even started talking about the exciting possibilities opening up quickly by Elon Musk’s (Mr Tesla) battery storage systems for home.  That could be a complete game changer.   Not to mention the work and jobs such exciting projects would bring to Central Australia.
So my questions to Labour, CLP, The Greens and all of us are:  What is our plan?  Where is our vision?  Are we planning for the future based on our current, outdated mindset?  Or are we securing the future we want for Alice Springs, with foresight and vision?  Come on Alice.  Let’s lead the way on our energy future.
Paul Darvodelsky
Alice Springs


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