Alinta switches on WA’s largest remote solar farm


Mining giant Fortescue Metals Group’s Chichester Hub iron ore operations are now being powered by solar energy following the completion of the 60 MW Chichester Hub Solar Farm in the north of Western Australia (WA).

Developed, owned and operated by Alinta Energy, the Chichester Hub Solar Farm has been operating at full capacity since late November and has already powered up to 100% of daytime operations at Fortescue’s Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak mining sites.

It is expected the solar farm, which comprises more than 160,000 solar panels spread across 120 hectares and is described by Alinta as the largest solar farm in WA on a remote network, will displace about 100 million litres of diesel every year. The mining operation’s remaining power requirements will be met through Alinta’s existing 145 MW gas-fired Newman power station and 35 MW/11 MWh battery energy storage system.

Alinta managing director Jeff Dimery described the solar farm, part of the Alinta Fortescue Solar Gas Hybrid project, as a “benchmark renewable project” and said the start of operations was a giant leap forward in the race to a low carbon energy future.

“We took an ambitious brief from Fortescue, who wanted to dramatically slash their emissions, and made it a reality in just three years,” he said.

“I can’t understate the engineering challenge of designing and building a renewable solution on this scale, in a harsh environment like the Pilbara, to meet the reliability standards of mines like these.”

The project also included the construction of approximately 60 kilometres of transmission line linking Fortescue’s Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak mining operations to the solar farm and Alinta’s existing Newman power station and battery energy storage system.

Fortescue chief executive officer Elizabeth Gaines said completion of the solar farm marks a major milestone in the delivery of Fortescue’s decarbonisation strategy, as the company works towards its ambitious target of being carbon neutral by 2030 for Scope 1 and 2 emissions.

“The project is a practical example of Fortescue delivering on its ambitious carbon neutrality target and demonstrates that renewables can power the energy needs of Australia’s mining and resources sector,” she said.

“As Fortescue transitions from a pure play iron ore producer to a green energy and resources company, this milestone is a critical part of our Pilbara Energy Connect project which together with the Chichester solar farm will see 25% of Fortescue’s stationary energy powered by solar.”

The project forms part of Fortescue’s plan to develop an integrated renewable energy power network in the Pilbara region.

The Alinta Fortescue Solar Gas Hybrid project received $24.2 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) while the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) supported the project with a loan of up to $90 million.

ARENA chief executive Darren Miller said the commencement of operations at the solar farm is a major boost towards a low carbon energy future.

“This is a monumental step forward to see solar and battery storage help to displace diesel on mining sites,” he said. “Optimising the transition to renewable electricity has been a key priority for ARENA and we are excited to see the Alinta Energy and Fortescue project now successfully using solar energy for the day-to-day operations of the mines.”

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