By HARRY CLARKE
FOUR years after Chinchilla wool producers Rod and Margaret Back were approached by representatives of a Spanish energy company then barely heard of in Queensland, their property 15km west of town has become a sprawling solar farm set to power 80,000 Australian homes annually.
The 200MW Blue Grass Solar Farm, owned by the Madrid-headquartered power generator X-ELIO, was officially opened this week during a visit from Spain by several X-ELIO delegates including CEO Lluís Noguera.
The $200 million project, which kept the “Blue Grass” name of the Back family’s former property, employed 400 people during construction and comprises 375,000 bifacial solar panels.
“I’m honoured to be here because this is what we work for every day – to be in a situation like this and to present a project like this – one of the largest ones that we’ve done around the world,” Noguera said.
“Everywhere we see that we have good conditions, the regional support, the government support, we want to be there and we want to participate in this very important transition as we move away from dirty fuels to clean energy.
“Today when you look at Queensland, most of the electricity still comes from coal. We are going to change that. This is our first project in Australia but it is one of many.”
The Blue Grass project’s construction and grid connection was overseen by EPC contractor Gransolar Group (GRS), Ingeteam and Powerlink.
It received financial backing from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), ING, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), and has established long-term support from first-tier off takers Salesforce, Stanwell Corporation and ZEN Energy.
Belinda Fan, X-ELIO’s country manager in Australia, said: “The Western Downs region is known as a renewable energy powerhouse in Australia.”
“It provides absolutely optimal climate, landscape and location for renewable energy and we’re absolutely privileged to be able to operate in this region,” she said.
“This all started a bit over four years ago. Rod and Margaret Back had a discussion with some of our guys right here on this land and we said ‘envision what it might look like on this flat, beautiful, sun-drenched piece of land, to build a utility scale solar farm’.
“It all started from that conversation, so we thank Mr and Mrs Back for that initial conversation that led us to where we are.”
The official ribbon cutting ceremony was attended by the Backs, who’d sold their 1,300 acre property to X-ELIO and said they were pleased to see the successful construction of the solar farm.
“Margaret and I were honoured to be invited here today and would like to congratulate X-ELIO for what they’ve achieved,” Rod Back said.
“To see Blue Grass go from a wool producing property to a solar farm is impressive, and we think this is a good use of the land. The sheep and wool that we had for 40 years was becoming unviable, largely because of wild dogs.
“We were approached by X-ELIO and the timing was right. It’s good to see the solar farm opened and all the employment it created during construction.”
Also in attendance were the four recipients of X-ELIO’s $200,000 community grants fund – the Western Downs SES, Illoura, Chinchilla State School’s music program, and a steering committee from Brigalow which is planning to install a safety fence around their local park.