Press conference, Wyalong Solar Farm


RAY SMITH, GENERAL MANAGER BLAND SHIRE COUNCIL: Good morning, everyone. It’s my pleasure to offer an acknowledgement of country this morning and in so doing to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we gather this morning, the Wiradjuri people, to thank them for their custodianship of this land over thousands of years and to pay our respects to their elders, past, present and emerging, and to extend that respect to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders that may be here this morning. Thank you.

MICHAEL McCORMACK, MEMBER FOR RIVERINA: Well, thank you, Ray Smith, PSM, the retiring general manager of Bland Shire, and we thank him for his 12 years of service, indeed his 51 years of service to local government. And the lady beside me, she had experience, too, in local government. It’s the first form of government. It’s one of the most important forms of government and it’s very apt that we farewell Ray today on this important announcement. And I’m joined, as I say, by Michelle Rowland, a long-time friend of mine. We came to the Parliament together in 2010. She is the Member for Greenway. Of course, I’m the local member here in the Riverina and I, too, acknowledge country and acknowledge the Wiradjuri people. Michelle Rowland is now the Communications Minister. It’s a huge role and a very responsible task and I wish her every success in that endeavour. She’s going to make an important announcement.

We’ve got an important sod-turn and we’re very delighted to have her here, because if there’s one thing that country people understand, it’s that they need good connectivity. Whether they’re farmers, small business people, no matter what, we need good connectivity for safety, for convenience, for doing business, and the Riverina is doing business with the rest of the world and that will continue. We look very much forward to that. It’s also great we’ve got Gavin Williams here, who’s the Chief Development Officer for NBN’s regional and remote section, and we wish Gavin well. He’s certainly no stranger to the Riverina and I’m very pleased that, as I say, Michelle is here. It’s one of her first ventures out of Sydney after COVID lockdowns and all the rest. We’ve been beset by so much in recent times, but I’m delighted to have her here for this very special event. Michelle.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thank you very much, Michael, and I, too, acknowledge country and extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who may be here today.

I am delighted to be here to make a very important announcement about the commencement of construction of a very significant part of the NBN’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that by December 2025, they have 100 per cent renewable electricity sources. And NBN, of course, is one of the largest consumers of electricity in Australia, and that’s why bringing together these issues of sustainability, of reliability, in the grid and also the cheaper form of power and electricity that is generated by renewables and, lastly, having this in the regions. The construction of this solar farm to provide up to 20 per cent of NBN Co’s national electricity needs is a great thing.

It will provide 150 jobs in its construction phase and, of course, this is not just about doing it for its own sake. This is about ensuring that more efficient, reliable and cheaper source of power can ultimately be passed on to consumers. It is wonderful to see a Government Business Enterprise like NBN Co leading the way in that regard. This will be an important step not only in fulfilling its commitment to having renewable electricity by December 2025, but also making sure of that reliability and of that ability to continue to deliver for all Australians. Connectivity, especially in our regions, is absolutely essential. The commitment of NBN in this regard, and this construction that we have commencing today, is one really important step forward in delivering on that commitment.

So, I would like to hand over to Gavin Williams to take you through some of the detail about the proposal, but again I congratulate NBN for this incredible step forward which will make a really great difference not only in its operations, but also be felt very positively here in the region of West Wyalong and beyond. Thank you.

GAVIN WILLIAMS, CHIEF DEVELOPMENT OFFICER: Thank you, Minister; thank you, Ray; and, Mr McCormack, thanks for your words. It’s always a pleasure to come to the Riverina and I think you’d be pleased that we made a conscious effort to inject some support into the Wagga economy last night. I also feel when I come to the Riverina, I feel the need to thank you for letting us in.

We are here on Wiradjuri land, and I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners.

It’s a proud day for NBN to be here with Minister Rowland for this sod-turn to mark both the commencement of construction of this marvellous solar farm facility, but also, really, the massive shift in NBN moving from ambition in our towards zero carbon future into action. Now, our ambition includes some lofty targets. We have a target to reduce the emissions from our supply chains and our customer footprint. We have a target to shift to 100 per cent hybrid or fully electric vehicle fleet by 2030; a target to reduce our electricity consumption by 25-gigawatt hours by December 2025; and, most pertinent today, an ambitious target to consume all of our electricity from renewables by December 2025, so 100 per cent renewables. All underpinned with integrity by our participation with a science‑based target initiative where we’ll base our emissions reduction targets on the latest climate science. Also joining the RE100 group, the first telecommunications company in Australia to do so and proudly also the first Government Business Enterprise business to do so.

On this journey, we see it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to support the growth in new renewable technologies. It’s the right thing to do to support jobs in this emerging sector, but it’s also good for business. It will be a source of efficient and reliable energy for NBN into the future to fulfil our purpose to lift the digital capability of Australia and, for example, it unlocks opportunities for us. Just in April, we released green bonds and we were able to raise $800 million in one of the country’s largest green bond issues for five years into the green energy market, and we will be using those funds to support our transition to a zero-carbon future.

But a lot of that is words, and what we’re here today to talk about is action. And the sod-turn marks the construction of this facility, a facility that I understand will be using about 50 per cent of the output, but the commitment in our partnership agreement, something that we’re also proud to have delivered, a commitment of 80-gigawatt hours for 10 years to underpin this construction. Now, to put that in perspective that represents about 55 per cent of NBN’s utilisation of electricity in our New South Wales business and about 19 per cent of our national consumption. So, that right there is a big chunk to deliver our electricity renewable commitment by 2025.

So, if I can finish where I started and just restate how proud I am to be here on behalf of NBN, with the Minister, to mark the occasion, the start of construction of this magnificent facility and, most importantly for NBN, that shift from ambition to action towards a zero-carbon future.

I’d now like to pass on to Ian Kirkham to say a few words, who heads the Mytilineos Group in Oceania.

IAN KIRKHAM, GENERAL MANAGER MYTILINEOS: Thank you, Gavin. Thank you, Minister; thank you, member; and thank you, Ray.

I’m proud here to represent the Australian business of Mytilineos’s Renewable and Storage Development Unit. Obviously, a very happy occasion today, a proud occasion – the sun’s shining for us – to mark the formal commencement of the construction of the Wyalong Solar Farm. It’s a great pleasure for us to mark this occasion with NBN and the Minister.

We’re a global group but have been operational now in Australia for just over four years. In that time, our investment in our solar projects in Australia, and particularly in regional Australia, is in excess of 500 million Australian dollars and we’re very excited about the path forward in the transition in Australia away from fossil fuel–powered energy generation and we have a full commitment to continue our presence strategically here in Australia as well, and very encouraging to see organisations such as NBN and I acknowledge the words of the Minister as well around the path forward here. So, our business here has many more plans, many more people to employ, many more projects to build just like this one, and we’re very happy to mark the occasion today.

I’d also like to acknowledge our team who have made a sterling effort in getting everything set up and getting ready to go. We have had a bit of weather lately, but it hasn’t perturbed them, and a very tenacious team, and I hope you can all join me in wishing the best of luck to everyone through construction. And in just a few months’ time, we will here behind us have a solar farm constructed. I also just want to acknowledge the great partnership that we have with NBN. It’s been an absolute pleasure so far working with you and we look forward to delivering your renewable energy under the power purchase agreement that we have together, very soon. A very good partnership and we look forward to developing that further. Thank you.