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HomeIssue 5Is Rock getting solar power at price of fossil?

Is Rock getting solar power at price of fossil?

2563 Rock solar 3 OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA
The Ayers Rock Resort is getting 15% of its electricity from the sun, the equivalent consumption of about 150 Australian households.
That’s no big deal until this is taken into account: This solar power comes at the same price as that generated from fossil fuel.
But this is where it gets tricky: What is the cost of power to the resort?
Is the NT Government providing it at the subsidised rates it applies throughout the NT?
The Power Water Corporation (PWC) won’t say, referring us to the retailer Jacana Energy which says: “Please contact the Yulara Ayers Rock Resort to discuss their electricity supply arrangements directly.”
The resort company, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, has not responded to our requests for information.
Who owns the power station at the resort? we asked Jacana.
It replied: “This is a privately owned asset. Jacana Energy is not aware of the ownership arrangements for the asset.”
In fact the Yulara power station is owned by the NT Government’s Territory Generation (TG), according to its CEO, Tim Duignan.
He says TG sells the electricity to Jacana at cost recovery basis: The natural gas is provided by PWC, delivered to TG at the Brewer Estate in Alice Springs where it is compressed and taken to Yulara by road train, doing the almost 1000 km round-trip every day.
Mr Duignan says he doesn’t know what Jacana charges the resort (and a few other minor users).
Are the arrangements still in place, similar to when the NT Government’s torturous process got under way of selling the resort?
“Normalisation” was the buzzword more than 20 years ago when Chief Minister Shane Stone wanted Yulara to be like any other town: The Ayers Rock Resort Company, up for sale by the government, owned the freehold title to the 100-odd square kilometres of the town area, as well as all the major tourist accommodation facilities and several other businesses.
“However, the NT Government provided – clearly at a significant loss, although details are not available from the government – all utilities including power, water and sewerage, as well as a school, police and health services,” we reported on October 15, 1997.
So what does it mean when the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) says today: “Voyages is funding the entirety of its lease obligations to Epuron [the provider of the solar system there] through savings on existing energy expenditure, demonstrating that renewable energy can be commercially competitive with fossil fuels in remote, off-grid locations.”
Are these savings calculated at the NT Government subsidised tariff? Or are they savings based on the real costs?
This is how the solar installation, whose cost ARENA estimates at $6.89m, works at The Rock, in a scheme overseen by lead consultants CAT Projects, Aboriginal owned and Alice Springs based:–
Voyages uses “an availability leasing model, instead of a more traditional power purchase agreement.
“This more effectively shares long-term risks and opportunities of running solar PV systems in remote areas,” says ARENA.
Epuron Solar and its construction partner Complete Power Solutions National constructed the resort’s system.
Epuron, through subsidiary Yulara Solar, owns and maintains the system and leases it to Voyages for about 20 years, with Voyages having direct access to the energy it generates.
Voyages says Yulara Solar is also largely responsible for arranging the finance to fund the project, most of which is provided by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, an agency of the Commonwealth government.
Voyages and Yulara Solar have each contributed additional money to fund development and construction of the plant.
ARENA is providing $450,000 to Voyages, to analyse and share the learning and expertise gained from the project with the energy industry. This covers a substantial portion of the development costs for Tjintu, the name of the project, the word for sun in Pitjantjatjara.
2563 Rock solar 6 OKThe solar panels have an efficiency of about 20% which means that 20% of the available solar energy that falls on the panel is converted into electricity.
In order to avoid large-scale land clearing for the solar arrays, three of the five are on rooftops.
The arrays for the Ayers Rock Airport (#1 on the image), on the roof of its terminal building, have antireflective coatings and black frames to minimise glare that could endanger aircraft.
The Sails in the Desert (#2) solar panels are installed on the roof of the western wing of Voyages’ flagship hotel. Its roof previously was covered in solar hot water panels, which were part of an air conditioning system that converted heat into cold air. They were installed in the 1980s and decommissioned prior to 2000.
The Giles Street (#3) industrial area has a ground mounted solar array mostly used to power the industrial laundry.
The Desert Gardens (#4) array is the largest, situated between the Lasseter Highway and the Resort Town Square, on the other side of a sand dune next to Desert Gardens Hotel. It produces about 58% of the total system and covers about two hectares, near the resort’s central plant room.
The Service Station (#5) array on the eastern side of the Ring Road takes up about one-third of a hectare. It is the only array likely to generate excess power, which can be fed back into the town’s electricity grid, resulting in a credit to Voyages.
PHOTO at top: One of the five arrays at the Ayers Rock Resort. Three of them are on rooftops, to avoid land clearing.


  1. The potential for solar here has been largely unrecognised until recently with the Repower Alice movement.
    Nyngen in NSW has the largest solar array in the country but SA is not far behind, but we have more intense solar energy than any of them.
    As reported recently in The Advertiser, the Empire of the Sun project in SA has a display measuring 3.2 by 1.8 km, heading to 60,000 panels to power 90,000 + houses in the Eastern states, with hi tech batteries.
    We too could also have been a net exporter of solar power had we seen the signs earlier, and planned for it.
    Ultimately, the SA aim is to power 450,000 homes through batteries.
    A Singapore based facility near Tailem Bend has similar facility. Alkinos in WA powers a whole subdivision with solar and batteries.
    This was the initiative of a major land development company, with minimum government involvement, as appears to have happened at Yulara.
    Now I look at Kilgarif and sigh.
    Lismore has its solar panels on the sewerage ponds, and many of these schemes do not rely heavily on government intervention. There are so many precedents to follow, but so far hardly recognised.
    Again few people have recognised the need for enough power and infrastructure to re-fuel the thousands of EV vehicles heading this way – including battery powered trucks.
    The time to plan for this was three years ago. And be prepared for wi-fi electricity distribution rather that the copper conductors. It too is coming.

  2. @ Trevor Shiell: It’s my understanding that Nikola Tesla, who developed Alternating Current (AC) over Edison’s Direct Current (DC) in the late nineteenth century in New York, proposed an equivalent of wifi electricity by charging the existing planetary stationary wave system, but was hamstrung by the financier J. P. Morgan because it could not be metered.

  3. @ Russell Guy (Posted August 1, 2018 at 10:04 am): It seems that everything old is new again; yes, Nikola Tesla was well in advance of his times for many innovations (hydro-electric generation, fluorescent lights, alternating current, and wireless transmission of electricity, to name a few). His ideas were tightly controlled or frustrated by the tycoons of his era, in order to ensure they maximised returns on their investments and shares ahead of any public interest. No different to today.
    A case in point – electric cars existed in the earliest years of motorised transport but lost out to internal combustion engine technology which, of course, was vital for the rise to dominance of the petro-chemical corporations that so dominate our lives and environment today.
    History seems to be going full circle.

  4. @ Alex Nelson. Posted August 1, 2018 at 12:26 pm
    Yes, Alex: you say that everything old is new again and King Solomon said that there is nothing new under the sun. Tesla, a natural born philanthropist, a bit like Flynn of the Inland, was the victim of greed and in Edison’s case, envy.
    Brecht wrote about greed and envy as two of the seven deadly sins, so it’s no wonder, as you say, that things are no different to today.
    As a somewhat voracious reader of history, I am rarely surprised at how evident the seven deadly sins were when history was first recorded.
    King David, Solomon’s father, wrote of them in many of the psalms from a few thousand years before Christ.
    Your comment that “history seems to be going full circle” is an interesting one.
    Human beings are stuck in an ancient rut where the seven deadly sins populate and tall poppies grow.
    It’s only during times of grave crisis or natural disaster that we display our finer qualities of cooperation and mateship.
    I think of Aesop’s fable about the town mouse and the country mouse.
    Political ideologies have grappled with human affairs since time immemorial and my own opinion is that war is the result of our inability to get on with each other.
    “Nobody’s perfect” is more than a throwaway cliche: It’s a telling truth, but perhaps, one day, a crisis will come that will reflect our true state and history, as we know it, will end.
    Until then, we will most likely stumble along from crisis to crisis in a pax Romana taxpayer’s picnic, condemned to repeating it.
    Have a nice day.


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