Australia's biggest solar project lines up customer, backer

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s biggest solar project is on track to start construction by April after lining up major power retailer EnergyAustralia as a customer and an infrastructure fund as a partner, its developer, ESCO Pacific, said on Monday.

The project is the latest in a string of solar farms due to be built over the next few years to help meet the Australian government’s target to generate 23.5 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

Privately-owned ESCO Pacific said it aims to complete the 142 megawatt Ross River solar farm on a former mango plantation in tropical Queensland state in early 2018 at a cost of around A$225 million ($172 million).

EnergyAustralia has agreed to buy 80 percent of Ross River’s output for 13 years, as part of a A$1.5 billion program to source around 500 MW of electricity from wind and solar, which would help offset carbon emissions from its coal-fired plants.

Owned by Hong Kong’s CLP Holdings Ltd, EnergyAustralia is Australia’s second-biggest carbon emitter.

Infrastructure investor Palisade Partners has agreed to take a 50 percent stake in the Ross River solar farm, adding to investments it has in wind farms.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin