Tennis funded, solar power left hanging


The community campaign Save Solar Systems tried to construct a solar power station from cardboard boxes and tin foil on the steps of state Parliament on January 23 to protest against the lack of government support for the planned Mildura solar power station.

The company building the plant — Solar Systems — went into voluntary administration in September, unable to secure enough funds to keep going despite having leading edge technology in the solar photovoltaic (PV) field.

Save Solar Systems spokesperson Chris Breen said: "The Mildura solar power plant would provide jobs and real climate action, for not much more than the $363 million being directly given to upgrade the Tennis Centre. What matters more, a game of tennis or the planet it is played on? If Brumby can find money for a tennis upgrade why not the Mildura solar power plant?"

A statement from Save Solar Systems said: "Kevin Rudd posed on climate change in Copenhagen, but at home Australia's leading solar PV company Solar Systems has collapsed and he has also had nothing to say or offer."

The government's promised $50 million funding has not been made available yet to save the project.

The company's administration period has been extended to mid-February. The January 22 Age reported that "one of a handful of parties negotiating for the purchase of Solar Systems" is a little known US based company, Matinee Energy.

Even if Solar Systems is bought, it may only mean its technology and research is transferred to the new company, while its employees and the Mildura solar plant could be left in the lurch.

The project would have created 1000 renewable energy jobs in construction and powered 45,000 homes. Solar Systems employed 150 workers, but already 100 have been made redundant.

Elsewhere in the renewable energy industry, wind farm construction is still stalled. Industry investors blame the low price of Renewable Energy Certificates, which has gone from $50 down to about $30 due to the proliferation of home solar hot water heaters taking up certificates.

Portland based company Keppel Prince Engineering, which erects wind turbines, is looking at retrenching up to 150 workers. Government renewable energy policy is widely blamed for the current logjam in wind farm construction.

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