Australia fast tracks approval process for $16 billion solar power export project

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s plan to fast track the approval process for a A$22 billion ($16 billion) project to export solar power to Singapore could help it secure financing earlier than planned, the project’s boss said on Thursday.

The ambitious Australia-ASEAN Power Link project, run by Singapore-based Sun Cable, plans to supply solar power to Singapore and eventually Indonesia via the world’s longest subsea high voltage cable.

It would consist of a 4,500-km (2,800-mile) cable linked to a 10 gigawatt solar farm as well as an energy storage facility of up to 30 GWh in the Northern Territory. Both the solar farm and the battery facility would be the biggest of their kind.

Sun Cable Chief Executive David Griffin said the government’s decision on Wednesday to grant major project status would make the approvals process much easier and may help the company beat its late-2023 target for securing financing.

“We’re trying very hard to bring forward at least elements of the project,” Griffin told Reuters.

The company aims to build a factory in Darwin next year to manufacture Maverick solar modules, which it will eventually use at the proposed giant solar farm, he said.

Maverick modules are designed by private Australian firm 5B, which on Thursday completed a A$12 million capital raising, backed by U.S. power company AES Corp AES.N.

Sun Cable also wants to build the first stage of the battery facility it plans in Darwin, Griffin said without specifying a timeframe.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the project was strategically important for Australia, the world’s top coal and liquefied natural gas exporter, as it seeks to remain a major energy exporter and for its potential to create hundreds of jobs.

The project last year lined up early funding from two Australian billionaires, including Atlassian TEAM.O co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, who has called it "insane" but said the engineering "all checks out".

Asked whether the project was starting to look viable, Griffin said: “We’ve made massive progress over the last 12 months, but we do still have a long way to go.”

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Peter Graff and Edwina Gibbs