The re-commissioning of a tungsten mine on King Island, which could lead to the creation of 90 new jobs for the struggling Bass Strait community, may hinge on whether it can get access to cheap wind energy, the company behind the mine says.
King Island’s Sheelite mine, an open cut tungsten quarry that was closed down in 1992 when the price of tungsten crashed, has been given an 80 per cent chance resuming operations, provided it can overcome power costs expected amount to a quarter of total production costs.
ABC Online reports that drilling started this week at the mine to establish how much tungsten is left, and King Island Sheelite Limited plans to decide by early next year whether or not to pursue the project, which has full environmental approval.
“One of the most important factors in consideration of reopening the mine is the cost of power, because at this stage the island doesn’t have sufficient power for us to tap into,” said the chairman of King Island Sheelite, Johan Jacobs.
“We would have to generate our own power,” Jacobs told ABC Online. “That would have to be done by diesel generating sets and that’s a very, very expensive form of power. So approximately 25 per cent of our working costs would be absorbed by power consumption.”
But Hydro Tasmania’s proposed 200-turbine wind farm, said Jacobs, could help reduce power costs and would make it easier to do business on the island.
“There’s talk that if the wind farm does go ahead that the harbour will be increased in size and that would allow larger vessels to come in and obviously subsequently reduce the freight costs,” he said. “And if the wind farm does go ahead, we would hope that we would be able to access some low-cost power from that source.”
Hydro Tasmania is set to proceed with a feasibility study on the $2 billion wind farm, despite facing the threat of legal action to stop the sometimes controversial project from going ahead. Last month, lawyers representing the No TasWind Farm Group issued a writ in the Federal Court, seeking an injunction on any works connected with the proposed wind farm – which would be the largest in the southern hemisphere – including the planned feasibility study.
As we wrote back then, the group claims Hydro Tasmania failed to obtain a social licence for the project, after a ballot of islanders in late June returned a 58.7 per cent ‘yes’ vote – just shy of the company’s mooted 60 per cent target. The writ also alleges HydroTas has breached its contract with the community by reneging on a pledge to halt the controversial project if less than 60 per cent of islanders voted in favour of it proceeding.
But Hydro Tasmania’s renewable energy plans for King Island have gained lots of support, too. Earlier in the year, the company had a major breakthrough with its King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project, achieving extended periods of 100 per cent renewable energy for the island’s grid, from a combination of wind, solar and storage.
As we wrote in July, the $46 million, federal government-backed project used some 2.45MW of wind, a lot less solar power, storage devices and an automated control system, to explore how Australia’s main grids might, in future, wean themselves off fossil fuels.
The initial plan had been to cut the Island’s use of diesel by more than 65 per cent over a one year period, allowing generators to be switched off when not required. The project quickly achieved zero diesel operation for periods of up to 1.5 hours overnight when customer demand is lowest, and in daylight hours under high wind conditions.