BHP begins work on Northern Goldfields solar+storage system


Mining giant BHP announced on Wednesday work had begun on a combined 48.2 MW solar PV and battery energy storage system (BESS) which will help power the miner’s Mt Keith and Leinster nickel operations in Western Australia’s (WA) northern Goldfields region.

The $73 million Northern Goldfields Solar Project, which was announced last year, will comprise a 27.4 MW solar farm at Mt Keith, about 430 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie, and a 10.7 MW solar farm and 10.1 MW/5.4 MWh battery energy storage system (BESS) at nearby Leinster.

BHP said the project, which will replace power currently supplied by diesel and gas, will help it reduce scope 2 emissions at its Mt Keith and Leinster operations by about 12% resulting in an estimated reduction of 54,000 tonnes CO2-e per annum.

BHP Nickel West asset president Jessica Farrell said the miner is committed to delivering sustainable, low-carbon nickel to its customers, a product that is in high demand to power batteries and electric vehicles (EVs).

“I am delighted to see construction start at what will be one of the world’s largest off-grid mining solar and battery energy storage systems,” she said.

“The Northern Goldfields Solar Project is BHP’s first off-grid large-scale renewable energy project across our global operations and, significantly, will remove the equivalent of up to 23,000 combustion engine cars from the road every year, supporting our greenhouse gas reduction targets.”

Gary Frampton BHP Nickel West’s head of business development Gary Frampton, left, with TransAlta Australia project manager
Travis Mackenzie.

Image: BHP

BHP, which last year signed an agreement with Tesla to supply the United States-based EV manufacturer with nickel from its Nickel West plant, said on Wednesday it expects “to power up with solar energy by November this year”.

The Australian arm of Canadian independent power producer TransAlta Renewables will build, own and operate the Northern Goldfields Solar Project as part of a power purchase agreement (PPA) extension signed in October 2020.

The renewable energy asset will be integrated into TransAlta’s 169 MW Southern Cross Energy North remote network, which currently comprises two simple-cycle power stations, each with one gas turbine.

TransAlta Australia managing director Kelvin Koay said the construction phase of the solar and battery facility is an exciting step for the project.

“The Northern Goldfields Solar Project is TransAlta’s first renewable energy project in Australia and is an important element of our clean electricity growth plan,” he said.

It is expected the construction phase of the project will create more than 100 direct and indirect jobs in the Goldfields and Perth regions.

WA company Cundaline Resources has been appointed primary civil contractor on the project.

Image: Cundaline

As well as beginning work on the solar and storage project, TransAlta also announced it had entered into an agreement with BHP to identify potential sites for 40-50 MW of wind generation to add to the renewable mix. The proposed wind farm would connect to TransAlta’s northern grid and reduce scope 2 emissions at the Mt Keith and Leinster operations by an estimated further 30%.

WA Energy Minister Bill Johnston described the Northern Goldfields Solar Project as a “game-changing renewable energy project”.

“The companies are setting a great example of new social and environmental standards,” he said.

As well as its PPA with TransAlta, BHP has also signed a PPA with Risen Energy which will see the 100 MW Merredin Solar Farm in WA supply up to 50% of the miner’s electricity needs at its Nickel West Kwinana refinery over the coming 10 years.

Nickel West’s bundled PPA (which combines tradeable Large-scale Generation Certificates with purchase of power) commenced on February 1 and will displace around 364,000 tonnes of CO2 over the duration of the contract, which also has an option for extension beyond its scheduled 2031 end date.

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