Billionaire urges overhaul of collapsed Australia-Asia solar mega project
By Sonali Paul
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Iron ore magnate Andrew Forrest called on Thursday for an overhaul of a $20 billion-plus project to send solar power from Australia to Singapore, which collapsed after he and tech billionaire Mike 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 an emailed statement.
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.
Co-owner Cannon-Brookes, who in 2019 called the project "completely batshit insane" when he first invested in it, on Wednesday said he still fully backed the project's ambition and team.
Australia's energy minister, Chris Bowen, on Thursday, also expressed confidence the project would eventually go ahead with a new funding structure after having spoken to "very senior people" in Sun Cable.
"I remain very upbeat and excited about Sun Cable's future," Bowen told reporters.
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 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.
(1 = 1.4445 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Christopher Cushing)