THE TRANSCONTINENTAL reports: An organisation that wants to convert Port Augusta’s power stations to solar thermal plants visited the city again last week to further promote its bold vision for future power generation.
Beyond Zero Emissions first proposed the idea to Port Augusta City Council in December last year but have since ramped up their campaign with conjecture that the city’s Playford B power station could close under a carbon tax scheme.
With brown coal supplies likely to run out by 2030, the power stations owners Alinta Energy, has been exploring the option of converting the plants to gas.
However, Beyond Zero Emissions’ strategic director Mark Ogge said gas would be too costly and there was environmental concerns linked with its extraction.
“As Australia starts exporting more and more gas, prices will be linked with global prices and the risk is that if we link our electricity generation to gas prices we’ll start getting the same volatility and uncertainty at the light switch than we’re already getting at the petrol pump.
“Gas reserves are also diminishing and a lot of it is now coal seam gas, which has a lot of issues surrounding it, especially in Queensland where it is being extracted from prime agricultural land.”
Mr Ogge said the plan to convert the power stations to solar thermal was achievable as it would require similar equipment to the existing coal plants.
“Solar thermal plants are similar to coal plants in that they use turbines and generators but instead of burning coal to produce heat and make steam it uses mirrors to focus the sun’s energy on to a receiver that has a liquid in it.
“This heats the liquid and makes steam which drives the turbine and produces electricity.”
The existing power stations currently produce 40 per cent of the state’s electricity demands, an amount that Mr Ogge said a solar thermal plant could exceed.
He said another plus was that the existing workforce could be retained.
“We have estimated it would create 1,300 jobs during construction and 250 permanent ongoing and maintenance jobs.
“If the plant was replaced with gas it could go down to 25 permanent jobs.”
While no solar thermal power plants have yet been built in Australia, Mr Ogge said the technology was booming in Spain and America.
“It’s a great opportunity to make Port Augusta an iconic global solar hub,” he said.
Port Augusta City Council’s city manager Greg Perkin said the plan was refreshing and the benefits would be enormous.
“Not only can our region provide the revenue for the state through mineral royalties but it can also power the state with renewable energy,” he said.
“If Port Augusta is the first city to construct solar thermal power stations it may also house the factories that can fabricate the components for similar ventures across the country.
“If Port Augusta wants to pioneer this approach the whole community needs to support the concept and make it well known to decision makers that communities are capable of understanding and promoting better ways of powering our future.”
The Port Augusta community has an opportunity to learn more about Beyond Zero Emissions’ solar thermal proposal at a presentation at the Cooinda Club on Saturday, October 29 beginning at 3.30pm.