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Utility-scale solar proves bankable

Australian clean energy company Epuron has bought one of the country’s largest solar power plants, the firm announced on Wednesday.

In a joint statement with the plant’s developer and former owner, the California-headquartered SunPower Corporation, Epuron executive director Andrew Durran said its purchase of the one megawatt solar project called Uterne made it one of the largest solar project owners in Australia.

“The acquisition of Uterne further demonstrates Epuron’s commitment to a growing solar portfolio in the Northern Territory,” he added.

Located near Alice Springs, the power plant will sell electricity to local utility Power and Water Corporation at a set price for a 20-year time period under an arrangement known as a power purchase agreement (PPA). The agreement, which began in July 2011 when the plant opened, was Australia’s first PPA between a utility and a solar energy provider.

The Australian Government funded half of the AUD6.6 million power plant under its $94 million Solar Cities programme, which was set up to trial solar technologies and energy management in seven cities.

Uterne uses a technology called solar tracking, which tilts the plant’s more than 3,000 solar panels throughout the day to harvest maximum sunlight. SunPower had earlier predicted that the moving panels would generate 30 per cent more energy than conventional panels, but said that performance at the plant had more than met these expectations.

“This solar power plant has exceeded reliability and energy production expectations since it was commissioned in June 2011,” said regional SunPower president Howard Wenger.

A SunPower representative told Eco-Business separately that Uterne had surpassed projected energy production by nearly 10 per cent – a factor that made the plant easier to sell and maximized the financial return to the developer.

SunPower’s business model is to design, build and operate plants, which they then sell once the performance is proven.

Mr Wenger noted that Epuron’s acquisition of Uterne - financed by Australian Commonwealth Bank - underscores the bankability of SunPower’s technology, which he said would “reliably generate power and return on investment for the life of the system.”

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