Plan to turn spent gold mine into pumped hydro facility fast tracked by Queensland government


The Mt Rawdon Pumped Hydro Project, as it’s called, is being developed by gold miner Evolution Mining, alongside financial consultancy ICA Partners. 

The plan is to use the enormous pit dug from decades of mining at Evolution Mining’s Mt Rawdon gold mine, which sits about 75 kilometres southwest of Bundaberg, as the lower reservoir in the pumped hydro facility. The low-grade gold mining operation there is slated for closure in 2027 – meaning the project would breathe new financial life into a spent asset, as well as holding interesting rehabilitation prospects for the site.

The Mt Rawdon project is aiming for a pretty decent capacity – capable of providing 2 GW of energy for 10 hours, or, in other words, it will provide 20 GWh of storage. 

The full feasibility study for the project is already underway and is slated for completion by mid-2023.

In the meantime, Queensland’s Coordinator-General has declared it a Coordinated Project, a classing that will help streamline and fast track its negotiations with the state government. 

A satellite image of the Mt Rawdon site, with the gold mining pit sitting on the right.

Image: Google Images

For the project to be fully realised, a second upper reservoir would also need to be built – though this is something the company’s Executive Chair, Jake Klein, says the site loans itself to. Indeed, looking at Google maps, there is already another sandy looking hole just off to the left of the mining pit. 

The location appears to have other perks alongside the pre-dug open pit, including steep surrounding hills and just 22 kilometres separating it from major transmission lines.

Like all pumped hydro projects, the plan is expected to run into the multibillions – though Klein signalled to The Australian last year that the Queensland government may be interested in acquiring the project, if the feasibility study holds enough promise.

Last month, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk launched the state’s $62 billion Energy and Jobs Plan, which places publicly-owned pumped hydro schemes at its centre. 

As part of the scheme, the Premier announced two major pumped hydro projects, the enormous 5 GW / 120 GWh Pioneer-Burdekin project and the 2 GW Borumba Pumped Hydro project near Brisbane, which has been on the cards for some time.

It appears the state government is still interested in hedging its bets though – or perhaps even developing additional storage sites – especially in light of how difficult it is to find locations for pumped hydro facilities of such scale.

The schedule Evolution Mining is looking at for the Mt Rawdon pumped hydro project.

Image: Evolution Mining

As part of Queensland’s new energy plan, the state is now aiming for 70% of the state’s energy supply to come from renewables by 2032, and 80% by 2035. While these targets are hardly Australia’s most ambitious from a state government, the vision is pretty significant in that it represents a major U-turn from one of the country’s more conservative, coal holdouts.

According to the Mt Rawdon Pumped Hydro Project’s website, the company is hoping for the facility to come into operations by 2029 – a fairly optimistic outlook. 

While Evolution Mining doesn’t appear to want to actually develop or own the project itself, it is planning to use the renewable electricity potentially generated in its Mt Rawdon pit to decarbonise its mines – of which there are currently five, including the Cowal gold mine in New South Wales, Ernest Henry in Queensland, Mungari in Western Australia, and Red Lake in Ontario, Canada.

The Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan relies heavily on pumped hydro.

Image: Supplied

“Our plan to convert Mt Rawdon into a pumped hydro renewable energy asset has the potential to create significant value to shareholders while also being a model mine closure,” executive chair Klein said. 

“It demonstrates that by thinking differently we can continue to contribute to the local and state communities after mine closure and support the renewable energy transition.”

It would also provide the company will an interesting rehabilitation plan for its spent assets – turning what is effectively a big hole into a potentially lucrative income.

The company said its project team is continuing to engage with key stakeholders including the First Nations Partners at Mt Rawdon and all levels of government.

Mount Kidson pumped hydro project

In other Queensland gold mine turned pumped hydro news, the Kidston Pumped Hydro Project, in the state’s north, reached two major milestones this week ahead of its expected completion by early 2025.

The parts for the pumped hydro station arrived at the Port of Townsville this week.

Image: Queensland government

The 250MW/2GWh Kidston Project has received approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the first delivery of parts for the pumped hydro station have arrived at the Port of Townsville.

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