Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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HomeVolume 26Solar secret

Solar secret

By ERWIN CHLANDA

Alice Springs Future Grid, a local group funded by the NT and Federal governments to explore ways of generating 50% electricity from the sun by 2030, will not answer some basic questions about the project.

Its head, Lyndon Frearson, will not disclose how many people are employed, what they are doing and where part of the funding is coming from.

Future Grid will spend at least $8m coming from the taxpayers, with a total budget of $12.5m.

That is 10 times the amount compared to a similar project in the tiny Victorian town of Yackandandah where the job is mostly done by some 12 volunteers and the change-over to solar power is up and running.

Yackandandah has more than 200 participating private rooftop power producers, four times the number of the Alice Springs “virtual power plant” recently introduced with fanfare by Future Grid.

And Yack, as locals call it, is integrated into the national power grid and has to cope with the complexities of electricity retail services.

Alice Springs doesn’t. We’re not in the national grid. The NT Government owned PowerWater is the only seller of electricity – surely, it doesn’t get much easier.

The town with more sunshine than almost any place in the world gets its power mostly from 10 brand-new piston engines and generators at Brewer Estate, 28 km south of Alice Springs, bought at a cost of $100m by the Giles government, and burning gas from Palm Valley.

A pathetic 15% of local power is from renewables.

We were looking forward to continue our extensive coverage of solar power over the years with a detailed analysis of Future Grid.

We asked – via its media manager – on October 20 questions we described as preliminary to an extensive interview: Detailing the income, where from … and expenditure.

The interview never took place.

Information in the public arena shows the income is apparently $5m from the Feds and $3m from the NT, the latter via the Intyal­heme Cen­tre for Future Energy, attached to Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA).

The sources and nature of the remaining $4.5m from other donors is sketchy at best. We’re told is that some of that is in kind.

Our more intriguing questions were about expenditure: “In addition to [a report from the Aus­tralian Renew­able Ener­gy Agency, ARE­NA] what is the role of the 50 household participants?

“How many staff does the project have and what do they do?

“Are there similar projects in Australia such as Yackandandah and overseas” and is Alice re-inventing the wheel?

This is what we got back from Future Grid: “We are not able to provide you the information that you have requested in a manner that could be reasonably compared to [Yackandandah’s] TRY project.”

Of course that is precisely what we are doing and will continue to be doing.

“It is worth noting that both of the projects have received support from ARENA indicating that ARENA considers that there is merit in the learnings and objectives of each project in their own right.”

Wrong: Yackandandah received no money from ARENA. Alice’s Future Grid got $2.5m from ARENA.

More from a Future Grid statement: “We do appreciate your interest in the project and Lyndon is happy to provide a briefing to you on the Alice Springs Future Grid project as whole, the objectives and the broad scope that the project entails.”

Will he answer my questions?

No, was the answer: “As I mentioned … the style of questioning is suggesting the two projects are similar, which they are not.

“Consequently, we are not able to provide you the information that you have requested in a manner that could be reasonably compared to the TRY project.”

Future Grid gave no details about the alleged way the two projects are different.

According to a local dealer, the $12.5m used by Future Grid would buy, after Federal and NT grants, solar plants for about 1560 average size homes, or 900 if batteries are included.

That would give them solar power fo 25 years.

We have asked NT Minister Chansey Paech to provide us the answers Mr Frearson is denying us. Mr Paech is responsible for DKA which in turn is responsible for Future Grid.

PHOTO: Some of the TRY committee (Totally Renewable Yackandandah) and their families celebrate their win in the Premier’s Sustainability Awards. From their website.

1 COMMENT

  1. A new gas pipeline connects the Brewer Estate generators to the Dingo Gas Well not far south of there which supplies gas to the power station 24/7.

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