A new solar-diesel hybrid plant which will power a Rio Tinto mine in remote Far North Queensland is a perfect example of the potential for renewable energy to help protect the competitiveness of the Australian resources sector, the peak body for the clean energy industry said today.

CEC Deputy Chief Executive Kane Thornton said the project, being built by First Solar and Ingenero, showed that solar power could provide electricity for major industrial operations where reliability was essential, while reducing the reliance on increasingly expensive gas and diesel for electricity generation.

“This project is a first in Australia for a leading mining company like Rio Tinto, and has the potential to demonstrate this exciting innovation to the global resources sector. The project will show other miners the value of a technology like solar power in an off-grid environment, particularly given the combination of the great solar resource we have in Australia and the increasing cost-effectiveness of solar power,” Mr Thornton said.

“The logistics of transporting diesel to these remote locations is one of the factors that makes the fuel very expensive, and using solar power will help to reduce the bauxite mine’s use of diesel by hundreds of thousands of litres every year.”

Mr Thornton said the project was also a great example of the role of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which provided funding to the project.

“ARENA was designed to support the demonstration of these kinds of leading-edge projects and help reduce costs for future projects. Unfortunately these types of projects will be much more difficult to demonstrate in the future as a result of the imminent abolition of ARENA.

“The agency’s abolition was announced in the Federal Budget less than two years after it was established with bipartisan support to be independent of government, with operational funding that was supposed to be protected from the political fashions of the day.”

While short-sighted parts of the resources sector continue to criticise renewable energy, leading companies like Rio Tinto have already realised the potential of renewable energy and are quietly getting on with the job of integrating them into their energy mix – minimising their exposure to increasingly expensive gas and diesel.

Please contact Clean Energy Council Media Manager Mark Bretherton on 0413 556 981 for more information or to organise an interview.