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GRAPE skins will help drive a $174 million biomass power plant near Mildura on the Murray River in northern Victoria.

The proposed renewable energy plant has moved a step closer to reality with rezoning approval from State Planning Minister Matthew Guy.

Guy rezoned land at Carwarp for the 35-megawatt power station and approved an 18km electricity transmission line and substation to connect to the existing grid.

“Transforming plant waste into a new source of power has numerous benefits for the region and our environment,” he said.

“Residents are likely to see lower power bills, farmers will have a new income stream and the local economy will be bolstered by new industry and jobs.

“With an increasing focus on renewable energy, long term planning for the region has identified this opportunity to expand on traditional regional industries to drive jobs and economic growth.

“As envisaged in the Loddon Mallee North Regional Growth Plan, the region is quickly becoming a centre for investment in sustainable energy production, such as solar and biofuels. This next stage will confirm the region’s reputation as a clean energy centre.”

The power station will be built next to Olam’s existing almond processing plant and as well as grape skins from the many wineries in the region will also process almond hulls and shells into electricity.

Located close to the existing solar systems solar power plant at Carwarp, the Balfour Beatty Investments power plant will receive a $3 million Regional Growth Fund grant from the Napthine Government and will be operating within three years.

Local Mildura MLA Peter Crisp welcomed the next step in what he says could be one of the largest private capital investments in the region.

“This project will create 26 full time jobs, use around 200,000 tonnes of plant waste a year and generate enough electricity to power around 20,000 homes,” Crisp said.

The 52ha Carwarp site was rezoned from Farming Zone to Special Use Zone, tailored specifically for a bioenergy power plant.