Fortescue sets sights on the sun to power Pilbara operations

The Cloudbreak site. Image: Fortescue Metals Group.

Fortescue Metals Group plans to use solar power for up to 100 per cent of its daytime energy requirements at the Chichester Hub iron ore operations in the Pilbara, Western Australia.

Alinta Energy has signed an agreement with Fortescue for the Chichester Solar Gas Hybrid renewables project, which will supply energy to the Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak mines at the hub.

The project will involve the construction of a 60 megawatt solar photovoltaic generation facility at the Chichester Hub.

A 60-kilometre transmission line linking the Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak sites with Alinta’s Newman gas-fired power station and a 35 megawatt battery facility will also be constructed by mid 2021.

Fortescue expects that up to 100 per cent of daytime stationary energy requirements at the Chichester Hub will be provided by solar generation once the project is completed. The remaining power requirements will be met through the integrated battery storage and gas power station facilities.

Fortescue could displace around 100 million litres of diesel that is annually used at the Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak power stations through the project.

As a significant consumer of energy, Fortescue chief executive Elizabeth Gaines said the company continued to identify opportunities that had the potential to lower costs and improve 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,” Gaines said.

“The agreement with Alinta Energy marks a significant milestone in Fortescue’s strategy and represents a further step in the creation of Fortescue’s Pilbara Energy Connect project.

“In addition, Fortescue will invest an estimated $US250 million ($366 million) in energy transmission infrastructure, which will complete the integration of Fortescue’s iron ore operations in the Pilbara into an efficient energy network.”

Alinta will receive $24.2 million in federal funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and $90 million from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

Jeff Dimery, managing director and CEO of Alinta, said there was a lot to be proud of in this 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,” Dimery said.

The Pilbara Energy Connect project adds to Fortescue’s previous energy initiatives, including construction of the Fortescue River Gas Pipeline, conversion of the Solomon Power Station from diesel to gas generation, and a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) agreement to develop and commercialise hydrogen technologies.

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