Telstra backs 70MW Queensland solar farm

Telco also looking at ways to leverage the back-up electricity generation of its exchanges

Telstra is backing a $100 million Queensland solar farm, with the telco entering a long-term power purchase agreement with the operator of the yet-to-be-built facility, RES Australia.

The 160-hectare solar farm, near Emerald in Queensland’s north, will generate 70 megawatts of power — enough to power 35,000 homes, Telstra said.

RES Australia said that Telstra’s involvement helped make the project viable. “It is great to have been able to apply our global experience in long-term power purchase agreements to tailor the deal around Telstra’s requirements and enable new renewable generation to be brought online,” said RES Australia’s COO, Matt Rebbeck.

The executive director of Telstra Energy, Ben Burge, said the agreement would help Telstra actively manage its energy consumption and costs and would also cut emissions and boost investment in regional Australia.

“The Emerald project is part of Telstra becoming a more active participant in the energy market to reduce costs while at the same time building resilience in our network and contributing to a more stable energy system,” Burge said.

Telstra won’t use the energy from the solar farm directly. Instead the arrangement will be akin to the power purchase agreements (PPAs) that Google has struck with renewable energy producers in the US. Google

In 2010, Google applied to the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the right to sell and buy power on wholesale electricity markets. Later that year it inked its first PPA with a wind farm. The company purchases renewable energy from producers on the same grid that power its data centres.

“From a physical perspective, this is just as good as consuming the renewable energy directly,” the company’s  PPA project description states.

“That’s because electricity on a grid is fungible; electrons generated in one spot can’t be directed to any specific user on the grid, any more than a cup of water poured into a river could be directed to a particular stream. So it doesn’t make much of a difference where the renewable energy that we buy is located, as long as it’s on the same grid as our data center.”

Microsoft and Amazon have also struck significant PPAs.

(Telstra is also installing solar systems at some its exchanges, including Deer Park, Lyndhurst, Petrie, and Mount Gravatt.)

Burge said that the agreement with the solar farm is part of Telstra “becoming a more active participant in the energy market to reduce costs while at the same time building resilience in our network and contributing to a more stable energy system”

“For example, we are looking at opportunities to utilise the back-up electricity generation and battery storage capacity we have in our network to proactively generate energy in times of peak demand to help reduce black out risks and offset high wholesale prices,” the Telstra Energy chief said.

Telstra announced in February 2016 that Burge would join the company to head up a team focused on energy. Burge was previously the chief executive at electricity provider Powershop Australia.

In an article published today on the telco’s Exchange blog, Telstra Energy’s general manager strategy and commercial, James Gerraty, said that the company was looking to enhance its “ability to dynamically manage our energy generation capability throughout our network around Australia”

Construction on the Emerald solar farm is expected to begin in the second half of this year, with generation beginning in 2018.

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