Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Rio Tinto charges up for Pilbara solar farm

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Pilbara aerial shot
The Pilbara from the air. Photo: Ben Carless, Unsplash

ASX-listed NRW Holdings Ltd has been appointed to deliver mining giant Rio Tinto’s first fully-owned solar farm, as the mining group moves on its promise to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The 34-MW solar photovoltaic project, is to be built at Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Australian diversified contract services provider, NRW, has been contracted for the design, procurement, construction and commissioning of all equipment at the site in a project worth $60 million.

“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,” said Jules Pemberton, managing director and CEO of NRW.

The works will include the construction of a 33-KV substation that will be integrated into the iron ore infrastructure.

The solar farm is expected to cover all of the $2.6 billion Gudai-Darri mine’s electricity demand during daytime peaks and around 65% of its average annual demands.

Over the June quarter, Rio Tinto recorded a 12% annual loss in its iron ore shipments from the Pilbara region, with 76.3 million tonnes reported. Total production was also fown 5% for the first half of 2021.

The fractured relationship between the mining giant and the Traditional Owners of the land has played a major role in these losses.

Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC), who represent the interest of the Eastern Guruma people, have severed their relationship with the miners, vowing to refuse to meet with the company for at least three months.

This comes after it was uncovered that Rio Tinto was involved in disposing of cultural materials from sacred sites of the Eastern Guruma, which were found to be thrown in a rubbish dump in the 1990s.

This discovery followed last year’s destruction of 46,000 year old caves in Juukan Gorge, after which Rio Tinto vowed to make major amendments to its procedures.

Approximately 60km away from the Gudai-Darri mine, Rio Tinto is undertaking the establishment of a 40MW/12MWh battery energy storage system at its Tom Price operations, that could enable all major Australian grids to eventually include 100% renewables.

A recent study by RMIT University found that Australia was underutilising the full potential of its airports as solar farms, which alone could generate enough energy to power a regional city.

Construction on the Gudai-Darri project is scheduled to commence in the next month, with commissioning anticipated for early 2022.

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