Alinta Energy is planning to build a major solar farm to help power iron ore mines owned by Fortescue Metals in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
The plan is revealed in applications to the WA department of water and resources, kindly pointed out by a reader, where Alinta seeks permission to clear 160 hectares, and makes a planning application for a solar farm at that location.
“The clearing will be required so that Alinta Energy Transmission (Chichester) Pty Ltd (Alinta) can build, own and operate a solar field located adjacent to Fortescue Metals Group’s (FMG’s) Christmas Creek Substation in the Pilbara region of Western Australia (the Project),” the document says.
“The Project will supply FMG’s Christmas Creek mine site with power to support ongoing mining operations.”
It does not describe the size of the solar plant, but presuming it will be using tracking technology, solar industry insiders suggest it would accommodate a solar farm of around 60MW – which in turn is the capacity of the existing diesel generator.
The proposed shift to solar is not a surprise. Fortescue had flagged its interest in solar power last year, recognising that it could deliver a significant reduction in costs from the mostly diesel plants that supply its mines.
A few years ago, Fortescue Metals also tendered for a 3MW solar PV project to help power its Christmas Creek mining camp, although it is not clear whether that was ever built. The mine is served by a 58MW diesel plant.
The Alinta solar farm proposal will be of another scale to the 3MW proposal, and would not surprise if it was also accompanied by battery storage technology given its success in a new battery installed near its gas plant in the Pilbara.
Alinta is also looking to build a new transmission line linking some of the Fortescue Mines, which would increase the case for a large scale solar project.
Last month it made a development application for the 65km line which would link the Christmas Creek mine with the Cloudbreak mine, and Gina Rinehardt’s Roy Hill iron ore mine, which is served by its own link to the 180MW Newman gas-fired power station, where Alinta installed its battery.
In South Australia, Oz mInerals has flagged its interest in renewables for some of its yet to be developed projects, and has agreed to co-fund a transmission line with the developer of the Aurora solar tower and molten salt storage facility near Port Augusta. BHP has also been looking at renewable energy options for its long mooted Olympic Dam expansion.
As Adrienne Baker wrote here, Australia is becoming the global centre for renewables for mines.