Rio Tinto powers ahead on solar farm to supply Pilbara iron ore mine

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Rio Tinto’s first fully-owned solar farm is to begin construction within a few week after the engineering, procurement and construction partner for the project was announced this week.

ASX-listed company NRW Holdings revealed on Friday that it had won the roughly $60 million contract for the delivery the 34MW Gudai Darri (Koodaideri) solar farm, with construction and commissioning scheduled for completion in early 2022.

Rio Tinto announced early last year that it would build a large-scale solar farm at its $2.6 billion Gudai Darri iron-ore mine in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, to supply all of its daytime electricity needs and two-thirds of its annual requirements.

The miner is also building a landmark  40MW/12MWh battery energy storage system at its Tom Price operations around 60kms away, in a development that its technology provider says could help pave the way for 100 per cent renewables in Australia’s major grids.

NRW said the scope of works for the solar farm included design, procurement, construction, testing and commissioning of all equipment including a 33KV substation, to be integrated into the overall Rio Tinto Iron Ore infrastructure.

The project would also include the capability for remote control and monitoring via the Rio Tinto Iron Ore Remote Operation Centre; with the solar farm to be connected to Rio’s grid at the Gudai Darri Central Substation via a 6km overhead power-line.

NRW CEO and managing director, Jules Pemberton, said the solar project built on the company’s
standing experience of delivering projects for Rio Tinto in the Pilbara, which were increasingly incorporating renewables.

“Renewable Energy represents an increasing opportunity for the group in particular captive projects like this where the energy output is integrated to the client’s network,” Pemberton said.

As RenewEcononomy has reported, Rio Tinto flagged its interest in renewables and storage in 2019, when canvassing options for the expansion of its Australian iron ore operations.

Its biggest rival, BHP, will source 100 per cent renewable energy for its Chile copper mines, and it is still going through tender submissions for its Australian operations, which include iron ore in the Pilbara and the giant Olympic Dam project in South Australia.

Andrew “Twiggy Forrest’s Fortescue Mines has announced plans to build an extra 150MW of solar, and a big battery, as it links up all its iron ore resources in the Pilbara into a single network for the first time.

This is additional to the 60MW solar farm built by energy provider Alinta near the Chichester mine owned by Fortescue, as well as the 30MW/12MWh big battery at its Newman gas generator which has dramatically lowered costs and lifted reliability for mines including Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill mines, which is also looking at solar and other renewable options.

Elsewhere in the world, Rio Tinto just this week signed a power purchase agreement to underwrite the construction of new solar, wind and storage projects to supply its ilmenite mine in Fort Dauphin, southern Madagascar.

That project is to be built, owned and operated by independent power producer CrossBoundary Energy (CBE). It will comprise an 8MW solar facility, the 12MW Port Ehoala Park wind farm and an up to 8.25MW lithium-ion battery energy storage system.

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