Community Powers Preservation

Preservation work on the White Cliffs Solar Thermal Power Station is nearing completion, thanks to the extensive efforts of the local community and White Cliffs Solar Thermal Power Station Friends Inc. White Cliffs holds the title of Australia’s first solar thermal power station, commencing operations in 1980. A 1997 conversion to a water-cooled photovoltaic system extended the life of the station until 2005.

The site received recognition from Engineers Australia’s Heritage Committee in 2006 as the World’s First Commercial Solar Power Station. Fourteen five-metre-diameter heliostats welcome visitors on their way into White Cliffs. A team of volunteers, led by retired satellite engineer Graeme Hanigan, established the association to preserve the site and improve its accessibility for visitors.

Acknowledging the site’s importance, the association received a Community Building Partnership grant to enlarge the visitor observation area and to erect a new security fence, allowing visitors to get a better view of the dish structure in a safe manner. New interpretive signage and audio-visual presentations, featuring two locals sharing their stories, as well as a film written and performed by White Cliffs Primary School students, have also been showcased at the site.

Nevertheless, Mr Hanigan said, “preservation work on the site has not been as fast as originally hoped due to a pandemic and major flooding, but finally our dedicated volunteers are making progress.” He noted that during the site’s operation, the dishes were “rated to withstand winds of 80 kph and would be placed in ‘storm stow’ when winds exceeded this.” However, this procedure ceased when the station stopped operations, and thus “the dishes have been buffeted and suffered minor damage as a result.”

Mr Hanigan went on to say that “reinstatement of ‘storm stow’ is a priority in the preservation process, with the next required task being to overhaul the elevation drives, some of which are currently inoperable.” The Central Darling Shire Council commended the association’s work in a press release, stating, “It is a credit to the residents of White Cliffs that the site is mostly intact, whereas some in other parts of the world have fallen into disrepair or even been scrapped.”

“Given the tourism and historical importance of the site, it is crucial that the interpretive display is readily available to the public,” the statement added. Mr Hanigan continues to call for volunteers to assist with ongoing maintenance, stating, “finding volunteers is always a challenge, especially in a small remote town, so offers of assistance are always welcome.”

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