Australia’s biggest horticulture company, Costa Group, has revealed plans to roll out its own solar power and battery storage capacity, starting at its flagship mushroom and hi-tech glasshouse facility in South Australia.
The solar plans were announced last week, as part of $60 million expansion of the company that won a $1.8 million contribution from the SA Weatherill government. But they have been on the agenda of the fruit and vegetable grower for some time.
In the company’s 1H FY2017 results presentation to investors in February, power was named as one of the five major risk categories being managed by Costa Group, and a “review of solar power options” flagged as being underway across a number of sites, with focus on SA.
In comments last week, Costa chief Harry Debney said the board was currently weighing approval to spend up to $4 million on a solar plant to power the Monarto expansion, and would consider similar investments at its citrus operations in SA’s Riverland and at its glasshouses at Guyra in northern NSW.
The first step, however, would be to build a solar farm at its Monarto mushroom farm in Adelaide. A likely second stage would extend that PV project as part of the $60 million expansion of the mushroom facility, due for completion late next year.
Costa is reportedly also talking to the battery storage team at US giant Tesla about using its Powerpack technology to support the power needs of the mushroom plant expansion, minimising grid power usage while maximising energy security.
In terms of energy security, Costa has already spent $2 million installing back-up generators at its Mernda mushroom facility outside Melbourne to reduce the risk of blackouts, which could destroy up to seven weeks’ worth of crops. It also has a similar facility now at Monarto.
“We’ve just spent over $2 million putting in five standby generators because we’re more concerned about ongoing generational capacity interruption in Victoria than we are in South Australia,” Debney said.
And on grid power costs, he says the economics of solar already makes sense, while battery storage should do so – for his company’s needs, at least – in just a couple of years
“We want to put a toe in the water (on battery storage) because we see electricity costs only going one way,’’ Debney told The Australian.
“We think it’s inevitable that we should go to alternative energy sources, but I’ve got to say the increasing cost and uncertainty about electricity generation does drive us more closely towards that,” he said in a separate interview.
The move to solar by Costa Group follows in the footsteps of other big corporates in Australia, including Korean zinc refiner Sun Metals, whose self-funded construction of a 116MW solar plant near its north Queensland refinery are expected to provide one-third of the facility’s electricity needs and underpin the company’s plans for expansion in the region.
“The SMC Solar Farm investment of $199 million is the first step in Korea Zinc ensuring the long term viability of the existing refinery and also underpinning the potential for its expansion using world class new technology, with an investment decision due in late 2017,” Sun Metals CEO Yun Choi said in comments in May.