Fortescue signs up to Alinta plans to use solar to power huge iron ore mines

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Alinta says solar power deal for Fortescue iron ore mines means proof that renewables can drive Australia’s economic powerhouses.

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Power utility Alinta Energy and resources giant Fortescue Metals have won federal government backing for their plans to help power the miner’s Pilbara iron ore operations solar and battery storage.

In an ASX announcement on Friday, Fortescue said the landmark project, in which the miner will be the energy off-taker, would meet 100 per cent of the daytime stationary energy needs of its Chichester iron ore hub in Western Australia.

The Chichester solar project, first revealed by RenewEconomy in August 2018, will see Alinta install a 60MW PV plant at the Hub, which includes Fortescue’s Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak mining operations.

A new 60km transmission line will link the Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak mining operations with Alinta Energy’s 145MW Newman gas-fired power station and its 35MW/11MWh battery facility. The new line is due for completion in mid-2021.

All told, the solar and storage are expected to displace around 100 million litres a year of diesel currently used in the Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak power stations.

The project will go ahead with $24.2 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), and $90 million from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF), subject to ratification from the W.A. government.

As Giles Parkinson noted here, the project is groundbreaking because it is “likely the biggest solar farm to be built into such a small and isolated grid, and landing in the middle of a major mining province, will likely change some key thinking about the shift to renewables.”

In comments in June, Alinta said the solar project would have wide benefits, including a reduction in the cost of energy to large-use customers, that would in turn increase opportunities for investment in, and expansion of, resource projects in the Pilbara region.

In comments issued on Friday, Alinta chief Jeff Dimery said there was a lot to be proud of in the project.

“Working together, we are on the cusp of demonstrating that renewables can drive Australia’s economic powerhouses forward – even for remote and complex industrial applications.”

Fortescue chief, Elizabeth Gaines said that for her company, it was about reliable and competitive energy generation, while also improving its carbon footprint.

“This landmark project is a first on this scale for the Pilbara and will reduce carbon emissions from stationary generation by around 40 per cent at Fortescue’s Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak mining operations, while driving long-term sustainable cost reductions to maintain Fortescue’s global cost leadership position,” she said.

Gaines said Fortescue would invest around $US250 million in energy transmission infrastructure for the project, which would complete the integration of the company’s Pilbara iron ore operations into an efficient energy network.

In its own statement on Friday, ARENA said the project would highlight the benefits of integrating renewable energy into mining processes to displace fossil fuel generation and cut resources sector emissions.

“Alinta’s project will demonstrate how renewable energy solutions can deliver critical energy requirements for major mining operations and help reduce emissions,” said ARENA chief Darren Miller.

“This will also show how interconnection of loads and different generation and storage – including solar, battery storage and gas – can provide secure and reliable electricity.

“The mining sector in Australia, which is vital to our economy, accounts for approximately 10 per cent of our energy use, so it is hoped these projects will encourage more mining operations to look to renewable energy and low emission solutions,” Miller added.

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