Interest in building a 100MW plus solar thermal plant in Western Australia’s Goldfields region has been revived, as more miners turn their interest to solar and other renewables as a means to deflect volatile diesel costs.
Two solar developers are considering plans for large scale solar thermal, such as solar towers plus storage, at the Mundari Industrial estate, around 23kms west of Kalgoorlie.
One of those is WA-based company Exergy Power, which discussed the proposal in 2013 but has rekindled interest as solar costs fall and as miners become increasingly interested in renewable energy alternatives. Earlier this week, copper miner Sandfire Resources announced a $40 million solar PV plus battery storage project at its off-grid DeGrussa mine north east of Perth.
The Kalgoorlie Miner reported this week that Exergy Power is looking at a $600 million, 115MW capacity solar thermal plant that would cover 700ha.
It quoted Exergy Energy CEO Brian Reddy saying that the Prospector Solar Thermal Generation Facility, which would employ 1500 people during a three-year construction period and up to 70 people once operational, had attracted the interest of four mining companies in the Goldfields.
“For previous projects, the timing wasn’t quite right,” Reddy told the Kalgoorlie Miner. “The offtake wasn’t there, the market wasn’t ready to have another renewable provider in the region. But the grid constraints are the principal diving factor now, which is really driving this project.”
The newspaper said the proposal has the support of the Goldfields Esperance Development Commission, Regional Development Australia Goldfields Esperance, the WA Government’s Department of Finance and the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
However, Exergy has not built any pilot or demonstration projects to date, and it is not clear exactly what technology the company proposes to use.
SolarReserve, another company to express interest in Mungari, has its own solar thermal power plant due to come online in the US in the next few months.
The company’s 110MW Crescent Dunes project (pictured above) is in the final stage of commission, and will provide base load power to Las Vegas between the hours of noon and midnight. It will be the largest molten salt concentrating power project in the world once commissioned.
The company also recently signed a contract to build a similar plant in South Africa, along with Saudi Arabian project developer ACWA Power. It is one of a number of companies talking to Alinta about a possible 50MW solar tower plus storage facility at Port Augusta, to replace one of the ageing coal fired generators.
The company’s director of development Australia Daniel Thompson, who has also been targeting the mining industry, and has expressed interest in the upcoming ACT auction on next generation solar, told the paper that the Mungari project makes a lot of sense, but was only one of a number of prospective sites in the area.
“Kalgoorlie is a very prospective area for us, with an excellent solar resource, a number of large industrial mining loads nearby, and it’s at the end of the power network which is at capacity,” Thompson told the paper. But he underlined to RenewEconomy that it was a long term prospect.
A separate 50MW solar PV plant at Mungari has been proposed previously, although the project rights have since been sold by Investec Bank to French-owned Neoen, along with a solar PV plant proposal near Geraldton.
Neoen last week teamed up with former Investec executives now at Megawatt Capital to win a tender from the ACT government to develop a 100MW wind farm at Hornsdale in South Australia.