A SHORTFALL in political vision has stymied a local push for six solar plants at Port Augusta, according to the town's mayor Joy Baluch.
She claims the State Government is more interested in replacing two ageing coal-fired power stations with gas stations rather than Concentrated Solar Thermal plants that could save 5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.
The baseload solar project would occupy land leased by farmers, with each plant comprising a receival tower, storage/generation infrastructure and surrounding mirror fields of about 2 kilometres in diameter.
"The politicians are only focusing on the comparison of the cost of replacing the power stations with gas, as compared with solar thermal," Ms Baluch said.
"They're avoiding the whole question and they're not factoring-in the cost to human life."
Port Augusta City Council was advocating the replacement of the Northern Power Station and the Playford B stations with solar thermal – "not gas".
"But we haven't got a politician with vision in the country," she said.
The six CST towers would have a combined capacity of 760 megawatts and deliver 2810-gigawatt hours a year.
When run in conjunction with a 95-turbine 700mw windfarm, the project would exceed the capacity of both the 240mw Playford B power station and the 520mw Northern Power Station.
Port Augusta sheep farmer Bruce Nutt, Pandurra Station, has put his hand up to host part of the 16-square kilometre Repower Port Augusta project on his land.
"I like the renewable side of it, and that it is sustainable, but the problem is, it is very expensive," he said.
He recently travelled to Britain, where he was surprised by the level of government support for renewable energy.
"Farmers have a 50-kilowatt turbine in their backyard, which is encouraged by the government," he said.
"They have it all costed-out and it is a viable part of farming business.
"But it's a different world over there – the government supports their farming and country people and appreciate them being there."
If the Port Augusta proposal goes ahead it will be the first of its kind in Australia, but State Mineral Resources & Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis would not give any public support for the project.
Instead, he gave a non-specific statement preferring the replacement of the "Playford B coal-fired power station at Port Augusta with a lower-emissions generator".
"It is important to note, however, that the decision to convert a Port Augusta power station to a solar thermal powered plant is a matter for its owner, Alinta," Mr Koutsantonis said.
A spokesperson for Alinta Energy said the Playford B power station was out of operation until market conditions improved, but the Northern Power Station was expected to be operational for another 10 to 15 years.
The company is pursuing government funding to run a pilot site alongside the Playford B Station site but it is not intended to replace the coal station.
A CST plant on a large scale, however, which produces about 110mw a tower, would need a much larger site.
Nuffield Australia Scholar and poultry farmer Rob Nichols, Tasmania, said Australian farmers were increasingly recognising the financial opportunities from on-farm primary renewable energy projects.
*Full report in Stock Journal, October 11 issue, 2012.