A cattle station halfway between Alice Springs and Darwin is set to house the world’s largest solar farm, with energy generated from the project to ultimately power Singapore.
Newcastle Waters, where casino mogul James Packer worked as a jackaroo for a year when his father, Kerry, owned the 10,000 sq km property, has been earmarked for the $20bn solar farm, according to the company responsible for the project, Sun Cable.
The 10 gigawatt solar farm, which will be visible from space if built, was granted major project status from the Morrison government in July and has attracted billionaire investors including Andrew Forrest and Mike Cannon-Brookes.
Sun Cable’s chief executive, David Griffin, told Guardian Australia the site would take up about 12,000 hectares, and that a referral for the project has been submitted to the Northern Territory’s Environmental Protection Authority – the first stage of a lengthy approvals process that is expected to allow construction to begin in late 2023, energy production by 2026 and export by 2027.
Speaking about the reasons for proposing the Newcastle Waters site, Griffin said its location was “a meeting point of a few key criteria”.
“It’s on the Adelaide to Darwin rail corridor, which is brilliant for our logistics given the enormous amount of material we’ll have to transport to the site,” he said. It was also within 30km of the Stuart highway, the main highway running through the sparsely populated Northern Territory.
“It’s a bit of a balancing act too, because it’s far south enough to get away from the main patch affected by the wet season, so it’s a steady solar resource throughout the year,” he said. “There’s plenty of sun and not many clouds.”
Griffin also said the site was not so far south that it made the costs of transmitting the electricity to Darwin too high, and that the existing land was “really ideal for construction of a solar farm as it’s extremely flat”.
Sun Cable has entered into an agreement with the current owners of Newcastle Waters, Consolidated Pastoral Company, to use the land. However, Griffin said he could not reveal the financial details of the deal.
Overhead transmission lines will send the electricity generated by Sun Cable to Darwin and feed into the state’s power grid, but Griffin said two-thirds of the power would be exported to Singapore by high-voltage direct current undersea cables.
There will be at least two cables, each with a diameter slightly smaller than a soccer ball, with Sun Cable able to provide about a fifth of Singapore’s electricity needs as the country looks to move away from its increasingly expensive gas-fired power system.
Griffin has also said the solar farm could supply power to remote communities in the Northern Territory that currently rely on expensive diesel generators for electricity.
Sun Cable expects the project will generate 1,500 direct jobs and 10,000 indirect jobs during construction, and about 350 permanent jobs once in operation.
Griffin said Sun Cable was working on a training and employment opportunities plan so part of the workforce could be sourced from nearby Indigenous communities, and that supplies would be produced by local businesses.
Exporting solar energy has been flagged as a way Australia can expand its energy production while significantly reducing global emissions. Australia is responsible for about 1.4% of greenhouse gas emissions, which increases by 5% if fossil fuel exports are counted.