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Future looks bright – solar investment to reduce reliance on diesel

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Rio solar farm
The existing Weipa solar farm, located at the back of Nanum, is expected to triple in size to help reduce Rio Tinto’s reliance on diesel for power generation at both the mine and Weipa township. Photo: Cape York Weekly

Weipa’s solar farm will triple in size as Rio Tinto looks to reduce its reliance on diesel power generation in Cape York.

The mining giant has approved a new solar farm and battery storage in a move that will more than triple the local electricity network’s solar generation capacity and help provide cleaner power to Rio Tinto’s operations.

Energy company EDL has been contracted to build, own and operate a 4MW solar plant and 4MW/4MWh of battery storage at Weipa.

Work on the battery facilities will start this year, with construction of the whole project expected to be complete by late 2022.

The new solar farm and battery storage will complement the existing 1.6MW solar farm at Weipa, which was completed in 2015 and is also owned and operated by EDL.

The 4MWh battery system will be built next to the existing Weipa power station and will help provide a stable power network for Rio Tinto’s Weipa operations and the Weipa township.

“The new solar farm and battery storage at Weipa will help us lower our carbon footprint and diesel use in a reliable way,” Rio Tinto Weipa boss Michelle Elvy said.

“The original Weipa solar farm was the largest solar facility at an off-grid Australian mine site at the time it was built, and it played an important role in showing the viability of renewable energy systems in remote locations.”

Rio solar farm opening 2015
The opening of the Weipa solar farm in 2015 attracted plenty of attention as an Australian-first for an off-grid mine site. Photo: Cape York Weekly

Rio Tinto also supplies the power for Napranum and the local council has looked at alternative options.

A Rio Tinto spokesperson said the existing 22km interconnecting line between the Andoom Power Station and the Weipa Power Station is also being upgraded to be able to send power to each network to support greater power transfer and sharing of load.

“The new solar farm and battery storage system is part of Rio Tinto’s group-wide commitment to reduce emissions across our operations,” Ms Elvy said.

“There is clearly more work to be done, but projects like this are an important part of meeting our climate targets.”

EDL chief executive James Harman said: “We welcome the opportunity to continue supporting Rio Tinto to reduce carbon emissions.

“EDL will be leveraging expertise from our hybrid renewable energy systems around Australia to deliver clean and reliable energy for Rio Tinto’s operations and the local community.”

The combined solar capacity and battery will provide about 11 gigawatt hours of energy annually.

Combined with upgrades to the existing power network, the improvements will reduce Weipa’s diesel consumption by an estimated 7 million litres per year and lower annual carbon dioxide emissions by about 20,000 tonnes.

Cape York Weekly 21 September 2021

This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 21 September 2021.

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