Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mildura solar power plant rescued – “potentially”

Leading solar energy company Solar Systems was sold on March 16 to Silex – a small Australian company specialising in uranium enrichment and manufacturing of solar panels.

Silex said in a media release on March 16 that it will spend the next 12 to 18 months on technology development and commercialization, business development and marketing, “with the aim of commencing commercial project activities in 2011.”

Solar Systems was a world leader in the development of concentrated solar photovoltaic technology. The company was to build Australia’s first large scale solar power plant in Mildura, with a capacity of 154 megawatts (MW).

Yallourn power station
At the height of the global financial crisis, Solar Systems was struggling to find finance. Key investor TRUenergy (which also owns Victoria’s Yallourn brown coal power station and mine) did a write-down on its investment, and the state and Federal governments refused to bring forward assistance they had promised for later on. Solar Systems quickly went into receivership.

Silex state that “the commercialisation program could include the construction of one of the largest and most efficient solar power stations in the world in Mildura, Victoria. Stage one would involve a 2MW pilot solar facility commencing in 2011, potentially a precursor to the second stage: a ~100MW solar power station.”

Campaign group Save Solar Systems has organised numerous protests targeting the government for not rescuing the Mildura project. The Victorian Government have now brought forward a payment of $3.5 million to Silex, despite “denying a similar request from Solar Systems in March 2009” the group said in a March 19 press release.

“Why were no guarantees for Solar Systems workers, or the future of the Mildura solar power plant included as a condition for the government support Silex has obtained?" campaign spokesperson Chris Breen asked. The press release highlights that Silex only say construction “may start in 2011, conveniently after state and federal elections.”

After the creditors’ meeting and sale to Silex, 26 of the remaining 40 employees (out of an original 150) were made redundant. Yet Silex has announced that the team will be doubled to 30 staff by the end of the year. “Why has the company sacked 26 experienced staff, if the intention is to rehire a similar number within nine months? How will Silex build a solar power station, or even continue Solar Systems' existing research and development program, with only 14 remaining workers and many of the staff with specialist knowledge and experience now unemployed?” asked Breen.

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