Broken Hill, a small mining town over 1000km from Sydney, became internationally renowned when it birthed the largest silver mine in the world, leading to the creation of BHP Billiton and $75 Billion. However, as we come to learn that metal ore is a finite resource and Australia’s mining boom continues to slow, Broken Hill is looking for a fresh start, and it may have just found one.
Broken Hill Under a New Light
In a time of political uncertainty and an investor freeze, Broken Hill has just seen the completion of a 140 Hectare utility scale solar plant. The plant will be large enough to create and contribute enough electricity to the grid to power over 17,000 homes. In combination with it’s sister plant, it is supposedly the largest in the Southern hemisphere.
The plant is by no means a small or even medium sized project, with over 670,000 panels installed, this plant has taken a number of years to complete. Broken Hill however is the perfect home for a large scale solar farm, receiving one of the highest levels of radiation in NSW. Many can declare the impressive weather the town endures, however the locals who have grown used to the red dirt and harsh heat, can now truly enjoy their day in the sun.
The Broken Hill farm, which became operational this January came at a time when many of the town's inhabitants were struggling to find reliable and long term work due to nation wide slump in mining efforts. The project employed up to 150 people during construction, however, now that the site is fully operational, only a handful of employees remain, Bloomberg stating that at times, “Kangaroos...outnumber the two or three people needed to run the plant.”
Leading the Way to A Renewable Economy
In a lot of ways, what is happening in Broken Hill, one of the most famous mining towns in Australia — a country in itself famous for mining, and reliant on our underground wealth — is a testament to the changing economy in this country.
For years we have looked to our mining exploits as a primary source of employment, GDP and export, but now we are having to look elsewhere. Surely, you have noticed the ‘ideas boom’ advertisements the government is trying to push. The fact is resources are finite, and the Australian economy needs a life vest.
It’s true, large scale solar or even rooftop solar won’t sustain Australia forever. Just look at how few employees it takes to run a utility scale solar plant once it becomes operational. However, it could bridge the gap between a nation that relies so heavily on the slowing mining industry, to one with a more diversified economy.
The opportunity is already presenting itself, it just takes a government willing to step into the unknown and provide proper support to the private sector to capture it. Investors are lining up to be part of the renewable energy economy, and most are vying for Australia’s wealth of both capital and sunshine. As a country with a strong history in solar R&D, it’s a move worth capitalising on.
While many tout that the Turnbull Government is turning things around, much of the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. For example, the Broken Hill power plant was made possible with the help of $166.7 million provided by ARENA, the fund which Turnball cut shortly after becoming the Prime Minister.
Time will tell if the new coalition government has what it takes to coax the renewable economy back into action after years of investment drought.