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Australia's Super Solar Electric Plant

By James Donahue

The Australian Government is participating in the cost of building what promises to be the world's largest solar electric power plant as part of a new strategy to combat global warming.

The government has pledged $95 million to help pay for the $420 million facility now under construction at Mildura, in Victoria state. The photo voltaic plant, which will capture solar energy using mirrored panels, is expected to generate up to 154 megawatts of power after its completion in about 2013. The plant is expected to begin operations as early as 2008.

Australia is wisely utilizing an energy source that is abundant in that part of the world. That continent offers a vast desert area where there is abundant sunlight and wide-open spaces on which to place enough solar panels to generate power for many of the more than 20 million people living there.

The money for the solar plant is part of a $379 million package that also pledges money to help clean up emissions from an existing coal-burning power plant in Victoria that currently provides power for the cluster of cities located in the southeast corner of Australia.

While it appears obvious that the massive drought that has swept that continent this year has prompted lawmakers to take steps toward curbing global warming, we must laud the government for attempting a solar generating facility of this magnitude. If it proves effective for Australians, it should serve as a model for new power generating systems elsewhere in the world, including China, Brazil, India and the United States, where coal-fired power plants continue to spew carbon emissions into the world's brown polluted skies.

Remember that Australia and the United States are the two industrialized nations that refused to sign onto the Kyoto pact because they argued that forcing plants to cut emissions would unfairly hamper local economies that were heavily dependent on the use and exportation of coal.

Instead, the U.S. and Australia joined China, Japan, India and South Korea last year in founding the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Energy Development. This new organization says it wants to cooperate in finding new technologies to reduce emissions rather than join Kyoto.

To date, Australia appears to be the first country of this organization to be taking steps to utilize new technology for this purpose.

The Australian Conservation Foundation says this solar plant will only be a small step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it is a step. Foundation members believe the most effective method would be to make polluters pay through taxation and user fees for energy consumed.

And researchers at the Australian National University suggest that rather than build a single giant solar plant, the naturally sunny climate in that country would make it possible for every home to utilize solar panels to generate power. They say the technology exists now for homes to utilize sunlight to generate power to run the household by day, and sell excess power into a national grid by night.

University Professor Andrew Blakers said a two kilowatt photovoltaic panel on each roof would both import and export power to the grid, and be so effective that the residential sector would be completely removed as a source of greenhouse gas emissions.