Rio Tinto has enlisted a US company to build a $23 million solar plant for its Weipa bauxite mine.
In what is being called a world first in the mining industry, a 6.7 megawatt power station will be built in two stages, with Rio to buy the electricity generated.
First Solar has received an $11.8 million grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to construct the project.
The plant will have an initial capacity of 1.7 megawatts (MW) and after the project is commissioned, this can be expanded to 5 MW.
The first phase of the project will generate sufficient electricity to offset up to 20 per cent of the daytime electricity demand, while reducing the diesel consumption for every MWh of electricity produced.
It is predicted the project will offset around 600,000 litres of diesel use annually.
Jack Curtis, First Solar's Vice President of business development for Asia Pacific, said resource companies were in search of ways to reduce their dependence on diesel.
“Solar has come down dramatically in costs over the past few years and we believe that it has a lot of potential to replace expensive diesel fuel at a lot of remote sites including mine sites,” Curtis said.
He said the Weipa Solar Photovoltaic Project, which will ramp up maximum production in 15 years, had the potential to compete with traditional sources of fossil fuel.
“Diesel is one of the more expensive sources so that one of the more obvious candidates for solar to provide an economic alternative to that existing reliance on diesel fuel.”
Despite a recent decision in the budget to scrap ARENA, Curtis said money already promised would be granted.
Rio’s Weipa general manager, Gareth Manderson, said the hybrid diesel/PV solution will reduce carbon emissions by 1600 tonnes per year.
The Weipa bauxite mine shipped 23.1 million tonnes of metal grade bauxite in 2012.
The Weipa operations consist of two continuous mining operations at East Weipa and Andoom, two beneficiation plants, 19 kilometres of railway to transport mined bauxite to the port area, and two ship loaders.