CIMIC Group’s UGL and CPB Contractors have signed early-stage contracts to build Copperstring 2.0, the proposed $1.5 billion high voltage transmission network that would plug Mount Isa’s isolated grid into the National Electricity Market.
The 1,100 km of transmission lines will be one of the biggest extensions to the NEM in decades, linking that sparsely populated sun- and wind-rich region of north-western Queensland to eastern Australia’s main network near Townsville.
That could open new potential for renewable capacity to enter the grid. Already Vast Solar is planning an ambitious $600 million hybrid solar plant, that mixes solar thermal, PV, battery and gas, in the area – which will go ahead whether or not Copperstring 2.0 is built, and is not dependent on it.
Copperstring 2.0 would also limit Mount Isa’s dependency on gas-fired power, and supposedly reduce power bills for big local industry, in particular copper and zinc mines operated by Glencore. This is particularly urgent as the gas-fired Mica Creek Power Station, which serves the area, shut down in January.
The deal, signed with CuString Pty Ltd, the Townsville-based private company that is leading the project, is an early contractor involvement (ECI) deal worth $7 million. That means it only involves preliminary works and does not guarantee the contractors will actually build the lines. However, the deal names them as preferred contractors if construction goes ahead. CIMIC said the construction deal was worth around $1.7 billion over three years.
CIMIC said the initial deal would involve “scoping, designing, site investigations, pricing”, with plans to begin actual construction in 2021.
Along with the 1,100km of high voltage transmission, the work would also require four new substations and two substation extensions.
In its project brochure, CuString says 2,000 megawatts of wind and solar projects have already commenced connection processes to access the Copperstring transmission network when it is complete.
But the potential is more than 10 times that. It quotes the Australian Energy Market Operator as saying as much as 26GW worth of renewable capacity could be fed into the grid as a result of the project in the North QLD Clean Energy Hub REZ – one of the Queensland government’s long list of proposed renewable energy zones.
CuString says this capacity could be used to manufacture green hydrogen, and could help turn the Port of Townsville into a green hydrogen export hub. KPMG has estimated hydrogen made the North QLD Clean Energy Hub renewable energy zone and shipped out of Townsville could be worth $4.4 billion, based on an export volume of 1.57 million tonnes per annum.
CIMIC chief executive Juan Santamaria said: “UGL and CPB Contractors have proven experience in the delivery of critical infrastructure. We are pleased to support the delivery of this vital transmission line and will look to maximise the economic benefits and employment opportunities that this project can bring to regional communities in North and North West Queensland.”
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.