Rio Tinto plans to invest $402 million (AUD 600 million) to build two new solar farms and battery energy storage systems in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, as part of its efforts to decarbonize its iron ore operations.
Resource-sector heavyweight Rio Tinto has unveiled the latest steps in its plan to power its Western Australian operations with renewable energy. The multinational miner said it will fund the construction of two 100 MW solar farms, as well as 200 MWh of on-grid battery storage in the Pilbara by 2026.
Work on the first of the standalone 100 MW solar farms, which will require the installation of about 225,000 solar panels, is expected to commence in 2023, with Rio Tinto anticipating the project will be finished and in the commissioning phase by 2025. The second of the solar farms is due to come online a year later.
Initial funding for the first of the PV projects and associated transmission infrastructure has already been ticked off, with final capital approval expected in the second quarter of 2023. The miner said it has also commenced talks with the Western Australian government and traditional owners about securing the relevant approvals and required land on the Pilbara coast for the projects.
The new solar and storage is in addition to the 34 MW of PV already installed at Rio Tinto’s recently commissioned Gudai-Darri iron ore mine. The addition forms part of the mining giant’s previously announced plan to develop a 1 GW solar and wind power operation in the Pilbara as part of a global commitment to invest approximately $7.5 billion to halve emissions by the end of the decade.
The company said this will include significant investment in transmission infrastructure to support full decarbonization of the Pilbara, including electrification of the miner’s mobile and rail equipment beyond 2030, which is estimated to require up to 3 GW of installed renewable energy assets.
“The Pilbara is extremely well-positioned to take advantage of renewable power with land, access to people, and abundant wind and solar resources,” said Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive Simon Trott. “We expect to invest around $3 billion to install renewable energy assets as well as transmission and storage upgrades in the Pilbara as part of our commitment to halve our emissions from the Pilbara by the end of this decade.”
The new projects combined are expected to abate around 300,000 tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to a 10% reduction in total Scope 1 and 2 emissions from Rio Tinto’s iron ore business in the Pilbara, based on 2021 levels.
Rio Tinto expects the projects to reduce its gas consumption in the Pilbara by about 30%.
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