A proposal to build a major new solar power station in the Pilbara region of Western Australia has been largely ignored by the mainstream press.

The project follows years of governments telling us that major renewable power stations were simply not affordable.

Australia’s biggest engineering company WorleyParsons is driving the $1 billion proposal. The proposed 250 megawatt station could provide power for 100,000 homes.

The scheme is likely to go ahead somewhere in Australia even if the Pilbara site is rejected. Other potential locations are western Queensland, western NSW and South Australia. The low cloud cover and high level of solar radiation found throughout much of Australia is perfect for solar power stations.

WorleyParsons suggest that there could be as many as 34 solar power stations in Australia by 2020. Always keen on a business opportunity (you may remember WorleyParsons from their involvement in “reconstruction” efforts in Iraq), they are at the forefront of this latest push, having developed the technology needed in their American ventures over the last 20 years.

WorleyParsons has involved some of its big name clients in the project thus far, including Woodside, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals, Wesfarmers, Water Corporation, Delta Electricity, Verve and Western Power.

There is a second $1.5 billion proposal for a solar power project in the Pilbara from Indian fertiliser tycoon Pankaj Oswal. That plant should be up and running by 2013.

It is clear that private consortiums involving some of the biggest name companies in Australia think it is feasible (and profitable) to build a large, high-capacity solar power industry in Australia over the next decade. The question that we have to ask is: if the technology exists, why are governments not investing in it?

At between $1 billion and $1.5 billion a station, these proposals are relatively affordable as large-scale infrastructure projects go. It is not the technology or the cost that is holding back government investment: it is political will to tackle the way that the Australian economy is organised.

We need to demand that it is not big, profit-hungry corporations that are leading the way in installing renewable energy but governments. The proposed solar power stations in the Pilbara show that large-scale use of renewable energy is perfectly possible. The environment movement needs to demand that the government acts to bring this about.

By Ernest Price

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