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Billionaire’s solar deal revives undersea power cable dream

Solar panels at the Gudai-Darri mine operated by the Rio Tinto Group in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, Australia, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Gudai-Darri, with an annual capacity of 43 million tons, is expected to increase iron ore production volumes and improve product mix from the Pilbara from the second half of this year, according to a company statement. (Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg)

By James Fernyhough

(Bloomberg) — Billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes will revive a stalled A$30 billion ($20 billion) plan to export solar power from Australia to Singapore after acquiring the assets of the failed Sun Cable project.

The deal gives Cannon-Brookes and Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners control of a vast renewable energy development in northern Australia, which went into voluntary administration in January following a dispute between the Atlassian Corp. co-founder and fellow billionaire Andrew Forrest, both key investors. The two disagreed over a plan to transport electricity to Asia through a 4,200-kilometer (2,600-mile) submarine cable.

Atlassian CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes at Opening of R&D Center in Bengaluru.
Atlassian CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes at Opening of R&D Center in Bengaluru.

“We’ve always believed in the possibilities Sun Cable presents in exporting our boundless sunshine, and what it could mean for Australia,” said Cannon-Brookes, who backs the export plan.

The project has been touted as among initiatives that could help Asia’s fossil-fuel dominated economies — particularly space constrained nations like Singapore with little room to install major renewables sites — to shift to lower-emissions electricity sources. Developers envisioned Sun Cable as part of a potential super-grid that could connect Japan to India.

Cannon-Brookes’s Grok Ventures and Quinbrook, which is developing solar assets in the US and UK, aim to progress plans for a first stage project that would to deliver 900 megawatts of clean electricity to Darwin and export 1.8 gigawatts to Singapore.

Their deal covers Sun Cable’s intellectual property, a solar farm site in the Northern Territory, and advanced permitting for a transmission line to Darwin. No construction work has yet begun. The buyers and administrator FTI Consulting Inc. didn’t disclose details of the acquisition price.

Forrest’s Squadron Energy had put forward a proposal earlier in the sale process, according to people familiar with the matter. Squadron did not submit a final bid and isn’t swayed on the merits of exporting power to Singapore, Forrest said in a statement Friday.

Sun Cable's proposed link from Australia to Singapore.
Sun Cable's proposed link from Australia to Singapore.

“We remain unconvinced of the commercial viability of the Australia-Asia Powerlink but if others believe it can be achieved, we wish them all the best,” said Forrest, founder of iron ore producer Fortescue Metals Group Ltd.

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.