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To conserve water, Australia builds first utility-scale solar plant

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First Solar, General Electric and Verve Energy will build Australia's first utility-scale solar farm to power a nearby desalination plant.

Solar module manufacturer First Solar, state-owned utility company Verve Energy and conglomerate General Electric announced on Wednesday that they have begun construction on Australia's first utility-scale solar power plant.

The project will be 10 times larger than any other operating solar plant in the country.

The 10-megawatt AC project, located about 31 miles from the country's western shore, aims to offset the energy requirements of the nearby Southern Seawater Desalination Plant, which will produce 50 gigaliters (more than 264 million gallons) of potable water each year.

Western Australia requires new desalination plants to use power generated from renewable sources. As such, the WA Water Corporation has signed a 15-year contract to purchase 100 percent of the solar farm's output.

The project is expected to displace 27,500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year -- roughly equivalent of removing 5,000 cars from the road.

First Solar's role is to supply more than 150,000 of its thin film photovoltaic modules, as well as the necessary engineering, procurement and construction. It will also provide support once the facility is operational.

The project is also GE Energy Financial Services' first renewable energy investment in Australia.

Ownership of the project -- officially the "Greenough River Solar Farm" -- will be split 50-50 between Verve Energy and GE's Energy Financial Services unit. The local government will provide $20 million in Australian dollars (about $21.4 million USD) and no debt will be incurred to fund the project.

The companies plan for the farm to be fully operational by the middle of next year.

Illustration: Verve Energy

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure