Aust’s Two Richest Men Battle For An Unbuilt Solar Farm

Gordon Jackson remembers the hype around Sun Cable.
05 May 2023 23:40
Aust’s Two Richest Men Battle For An Unbuilt Solar Farm
Above: Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew Forrest had disagreements on the solar company’s direction. Right: Artist’s rendering of a solar farm.

Gordon Jackson re­members the hype around Sun Cable.

“The world’s biggest solar farm,” is the pitch he re­calls.

It was just a few years ago that Gordon, who owns a sub-contracting business in the outback town of Elli­ott, was helping the venture install a few dozen test PV panels at its proposed site, about 100 kilometres from his remote Northern Terri­tory community.

“It was pretty hot that day. About 47 degrees,” Gordon recalls.

“It’s sunny there, from sun-up to sundown.”

But it turned out this sen­sational project was about more than sun.

It also needed a cable. And it is this feature that has now divided its two biggest backers, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew For­rest.

Two of Australia’s richest men, who used to be part­ners on Sun Cable.

Now they are bidding against each other to con­trol the collapsed entity, in a closed-door process that’s just weeks away from cul­minating.pile.”

Sun Cable was formed in 2018 by several people, in­cluding its current chief executive David Griffin, based across Singapore and Australia.

It publicly unveiled its vi­sion in 2019.

At the heart of the plan was an ambition to trans­form Australia, one of the world’s biggest miners, into an exporter of renewable energy.

Sun Cable didn’t just want to build a solar farm that was visible from space.

It also wanted to send much of the renewable power generated to the gas-dependent island nation of Singapore.

To do this, Sun Cable need­ed to install a big battery network and run a 4,700km transmission line from the Northern Territory’s coast­line all the way under the sea to its final destination.

“When it was announced, Sun Cable was a daring idea,” Victoria University energy economist Bruce Mountain told ABC News.

And it needed a lot of mon­ey, starting at A$30 billion (FJ$44.4b).

With an estimated wealth almost matching this, Mike Cannon-Brookes was the first major backer to public­ly sign up through his pri­vate entity, Grok Ventures.

At the time, the co-found­er of software company Atlassian had just gained household fame for goad­ing Tesla’s Elon Musk into building Australia’s biggest battery.

“I’m backing [Sun Cable],” Cannon-Brooks told the AFR back in 2019.

“We’re going to make it work. I’m going to build a wire.”

The even more wealthy Andrew Forrest came on a few months later, also through his private entity, Squadron.

In the media, the largest shareholder of iron ore ex­porter FMG described his investment in Sun Cable as motivated by “not just … reducing emissions” but “nation-building”.

 Project excites government and locals

Both the Northern Terri­tory and then the federal government soon gave Sun Cable major project status.

In 2020, it revealed that its proposed solar farm site was at Newcastle Waters, one of eight cattle stations owned by Consolidated Pas­toral Company.

There were headlines about jobs, including 1,750 during construction and 350 ongoing roles across the project’s 70-year life span.

Elliott was the closest town to the proposed outback so­lar farm location.

Source: ABC News


Advertise with us

Get updates from the Fiji Sun, handpicked and delivered to your inbox.

By entering your email address you're giving us permission to send you news and offers. You can opt-out at any time.

Rewa Diwali Promo Banner
For All Fiji Sun Advertising
Fijisun E-edition