A $1 billion plan to extend the National Electricity Market almost 1000km across northern Queensland to a region with a world class minerals industry has set in motion what is being described as “Australia’s largest industrial de-carbonisation initiative.”
The newly re-booted CopperString 2.0 project – which in April of this year was awarded “coordinated project status” by the Labor state government – has combined the buying power of group of major mining companies seeking one million MWh a year (or one terawatt hour) of renewable electricity over 10 years.
The group, including Australia’s biggest coal producer, Glencore, has engaged KPMG Corporate Finance to run the market sounding process, which is also being conducted on behalf of IncitecPivot, MMG (Dugald River), New Century Resources and Chinova Resources.
As RenewEconomy has reported, CopperString 2.0 is a long-held plan to build a new transmission line linking Townsville with the big mineral provinces around Cloncurry and Mt Isa, more than 1,000km to the west. Ironically, the original idea was knocked on the head by Glencore in favour of a gas plant for the Mt Isa mining operations.
The project, which is being driven by a company known as CUString Pty Ltd, and headed by John O’Brien, aims to use the new transmission line to unlock a tranche of major renewable energy projects, and a world class minerals industry including copper, lead, zinc and phosphate.
In a statement on Thursday, O’Brien described the project as “an opportunity made for this time,” and supported by some of the world’s best industrial businesses, offering clear de-carbonisation and economic benefits.
“CopperString 2.0 was created to drive sustainable economic growth from North Queensland’s minerals and energy resources, and I believe a lot of people underestimate the positive impact this common-user transmission infrastructure will have on our region, and Australia,” he said.
“There is no other electricity-sector investment in North-Queensland or even Queensland that will have such a dramatic and positive impact on an industry sector that provides huge numbers of jobs and export dollars, and we want government to make it their number one priority.
“What you see with this market sounding process, perhaps Australia’s largest industrial de-carbonisation initiative, is a glimpse of the opportunity that pragmatism and patient investment can deliver for Australia,” O’Brien added.
O’Brien said that CopperString 2.0 would combine flexible gas generation in Mount Isa, large amounts of new renewables procured from the NEM and the existing generation fleet in Queensland to create an ideal power supply to support large industrial investment.
“It’s that large industrial investment that is the most important objective for us. I’ve always believed the electricity-supply industry is a means to an end, not an end itself,” he said.
“We are building a transmission line to drive Queensland’s economy and prosperity with a dramatically lower emissions intensity that would otherwise be possible.”
The call for new large-scale renewable energy generation to power the CopperString project’s ambitions follows the bizarre move this week by Queensland-based federal MP Keith Pitt to call for the state to leave the NEM.
The conservative MP’s latest energy thought bubble – he is also a big fan of new coal and nuclear power for Australia – reflects the increasingly unhinged political debate around Australia’s energy future, with little clear policy on either renewable energy or carbon reduction at a federal level.
But O’Brien is optimistic that common sense and top technology will win the day.
“I am confident Australia will find a sensible balance in the energy and emissions debate, and this is evident in the broad political support CopperString 2.0 and our vision for the Townsville to Mount Isa economic zone during the recent federal election,” he said.