Rio Tinto making switch to renewable power at copper operation

The Kennecott mine. Image: Copyright © 2018 Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto will reduce its annual carbon footprint at the Kennecott copper operation in Utah, United States by up to 65 per cent with a switch from coal power to renewable energy.

The site will receive 1.5 million megawatt hours of renewable energy certificates from company Rocky Mountain Power.

Rio Tinto’s plans at the site are part of a larger mining industry trend in Australia and internationally towards renewable energy power purchase agreements (PPA).

A prominent recent example is Aggreko’s partnership with South African-based Gold Fields to deliver a hybrid solar and battery generator at the Granny Smith gold mine in Western Australia.

In April 2018, Image Resources and South32 both announced solar power projects.

Image contracted Sunrise Energy Group to construct a three to four megawatt-capacity solar farm at the Boonanarring mineral sands project in Western Australia, while South32 announced it would power key infrastructure at its Cannington operation in Queensland with renewables to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Sun Metals Corporation followed a few months later when it opened a $200 million solar farm as part of an expansion of its zinc refinery near Townsville, Queensland in August 2018.

Rio Tinto stated the switch would help to reduce the site’s annual carbon dioxide footprint by over a million tonnes a year. The decision was also emblematic of the company’s gradual distancing from coal, having completed the sale of its remaining Australian coal assets earlier this year.

Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques said the Kennecott move would allow the company to offer copper, gold and silver produced with a reduced carbon footprint.

“The materials we produce, from infinitely recyclable aluminium and copper used in electrification to borates used in energy-efficient building materials and our higher grade iron ore product, all play a part in this transition to a low carbon economy,” he said.

Rio Tinto has collaborated with the Utah Government and energy supplier Rocky Mountain Power on the Kennecott transition. Rocky Mountain Power will supply energy certificates sourced from Utah and the neighbouring state of Wyoming.

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