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Australian Minister Confident ‘Sun Cable’ to Asia Will Proceed

Australia’s energy minister Chris Bowen says the $20-billion solar mega project is likely to go ahead with a new funding structure


Andrew Forrest of Fortescue Metals
Andrew Forrest, Australian billionaire and chair of Fortescue Future Industries, sought to change the Sun Cable plan, which he claims should be overhauled. File photo: Reuters.

 

Australia’s energy minister Chris Bowen has expressed confidence that the Sun Cable solar mega project will go ahead with a new funding structure.

Bowen, who told reporters he had spoken to “very senior people” in Sun Cable, said: “I remain very upbeat and excited about Sun Cable’s future.”

He said Sun Cable, which had hoped to begin construction in 2024, is crucial to Australia’s ambition to become a major renewable energy exporter.

The $20-billion-plus project has been rocked by a difference of opinion on how to proceed by its two wealthy backers – tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes and iron ore magnate Andrew Forrest, who have a combined net worth of about $30 billion.

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Forrest urges project overhaul

Forrest called on Thursday for an overhaul of the project to send solar power from Australia to Singapore and Indonesia, which collapsed after he and Cannon-Brookes split over funding plans.

Singapore-based Sun Cable, largely owned by Forrest’s private firm Squadron Energy and Cannon-Brookes’ private firm Grok, appointed voluntary administrators this week less than a year after raising A$210 million for the Australia-Asia PowerLink project.

In Squadron’s first public comments since the collapse was announced on Wednesday, the firm said the project “requires vision and precise execution”.

“Squadron Energy believes in the vision but believes the manner in which the project is delivered needs urgent change,” Squadron chairman John Hartman said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The project involves building a 20 gigawatt (GW) solar farm, the world’s biggest energy storage facility and the world’s longest undersea cable, 4,200 kilometres (2,610 miles) long, to deliver power to Singapore and Indonesia.

“Exceptional governance practices and world-class project delivery expertise, as well as pursuing bankable technologies, will be required to make the project a reality,” Hartman said.

He was not available for further comment.

PV Magazine Australia said: “Whether or not the two major players have had a ‘spat’ is not clear, but Cannon-Brooks’ optimism surrounding the company’s future suggests [voluntary] administration is primarily a strategy to get around the impasse.”

Co-owner Cannon-Brookes, who in 2019 called the project “completely batshit insane” when he first invested in it, said on Wednesday he still fully backed the project’s ambition and team.

The administrators of Sun Cable at FTI Consulting declined to comment. On Wednesday they said the next steps would likely involve seeking expressions of interest to recapitalise or to sell the business.

 

  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard

 

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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.

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