Pilbara Generation Project

Mining giant Fortescue Metals Group has unveiled details of a massive 5.4 GW solar PV, wind and battery energy storage project it plans to build to power its iron ore mining operations in Western Australia’s north-west.

The iron ore miner’s clean energy subsidiary, Fortescue Future Industries (FFI), has lodged environmental documents with the West Australian (WA) Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to build the multi-billion-dollar Uaroo Renewable Energy Hub in the state’s Pilbara region.

Plans for the renewable energy hub, to be built approximately 120 kilometres south of the coastal town of Onslow and 170km west of the Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) operated Eliwana mine site, have this week been released for public comment by the WA Environmental Protection Authority.

The proposal is to construct and operate a renewable energy hub comprising an enormous 3.33 GW solar farm and a 2.04 GW wind farm spread across approximately 10,000 hectares. The hub would also include a battery with a storage capacity of 9.1 GWh.

A 220 kV transmission line would connect the Uaroo Hub main substation to a substation at the Eliwana mining operations. The transmission line has not been included in the EPA submission.

FMG said the Uaroo Renewable Energy Hub will provide renewable energy to power its mining operations in the Pilbara and is a critical component of it achieving net zero emissions from its mining operations by 2030.

The solar panels would be installed between the wind turbines.Image: FMG

The miner said the renewable electricity would eventually eliminate its reliance on gas and diesel-fired generation and diesel-fuelled mobile plant such as haul trucks and trains which currently consume hundreds of millions of litres of fuel annually.

It is expected the Uaroo project would reduce the miner’s current annual carbon emissions of 2.2 million tonnes by at least 1.5 million tonnes by the end of this decade.

“The proposal is an essential step toward FMG’s larger goal of supporting the rapid uptake of zero-carbon fuels globally,” the company said in its submission to the EPA.

FMG said it had has previously considered alternative energy sources to power its Pilbara mining operations but said the Uaroo Renewable Energy Hub is a “compelling option” and hoped the project would inspire others to implement similar solutions, as they too target net-zero operations.

“Renewable energy is now, in many cases, the lowest-cost form of energy available, making its uptake a contributor to financial performance as well as climate health,” the company said.

“The proposal will demonstrate the viability of zero-carbon technologies in fuelling commercial-scale operations and will encourage other proponents to follow suit.”

Fortescue Metals Group’s Pilbara Energy Connect.Image: Fortescue Metals Group

FMG said the project had been scaled to provide a reliable power supply source to satisfy the miner’s operational needs with consideration given to the variability of wind speed and the restriction of solar power generation to daylight hours.

The renewable generation assets will be integrated with the company’s $700 million Pilbara Energy Connect program, which includes a $250 million transmission project that will install 275km of high voltage transmission lines connecting Fortescue’s mining operations in the region.

Two of those mine sites, the Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak mining operations, are already partially powered by solar energy following the completion of the 60 MW Chichester Hub Solar Farm.

FMG said construction of the Uaroo Renewable Energy Hub will commence following receipt of all necessary approvals. The renewable energy generation and electricity transmission infrastructure will be constructed and commissioned in stages with works anticipated to run for approximately seven years.

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