Rio Tinto signs long-term PPA for 1.1 GW Australian solar plant

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From pv magazine Australia

Rio Tinto will drive the development of the largest solar power project in Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM) after agreeing to buy all electricity from the proposed 1.1 GW Upper Calliope Solar Farm for 25 years as it progresses plans to power its operations in the Gladstone region with renewable energy.

Pending development and grid connection approvals, the Upper Calliope solar plant will be built and operated by the Australian arm of Danish-headquartered developer European Energy on a 2,400-hectare site about 50 kilometres southwest of Gladstone on Queensland’s central coast.

Once approved, construction of the solar farm is expected to commence in 2025 or 2026. The project is expected to take two years to construct.

Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm said the solar farm, which is expected to generate 2.8 TWh of clean energy per year, is a key element of the company’s plans to green its aluminum production facilities in the state.

“This agreement is a first important step in our work to repower our Gladstone operations and illustrates our commitment to keeping sustainably powered industry in central Queensland,” he said. “The task remains challenging, but we have a pathway to provide the competitive, firmed power our Gladstone plants need, and we are continuing to work hard with all stakeholders, including the Queensland and Australian governments, on getting there.”

Rio Tinto, which is aiming to halve its global Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon emissions this decade, said the Upper Calliope solar plant has the potential to lower the company’s operating carbon emissions by 1.8 million tons per year.

European Energy Chief Executive Officer Erik Andersen said the supply of renewable and reliable energy to what is one of Australia’s key industrial hubs marks a new standard for industrial energy consumption.

“The Upper Calliope Solar Farm is not just a solar power project; it’s a testament to our shared vision for a greener future,” he said. “This project underlines our dedication to driving the transition towards renewable energy in Australia and demonstrates the potential of solar power in transforming the energy landscape of the region. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Rio Tinto and other stakeholders to create a sustainable and energy-efficient future for Australia.”

European Energy, which established its Australian office in Melbourne in 2022, is developing a portfolio of wind and solar assets with a combined capacity of more than 2.5 GW. This includes the 1 GW Sawpit Solar Farm being developed near Biloela in central Queensland and the 56 Mokoan Solar Farm which is being constructed near Winton in Victoria.

The Upper Calliope Solar Farm is the first successful applicant in a formal Request for Proposals Rio made for an estimated 4 GW of wind, solar farms and firming capacity to power its operations in the Gladstone region, which include the Boyne smelter, the Yarwun alumina refinery and the Queensland Alumina refinery.

Rio Tinto said it was continuing to assess other proposals, solutions and partnerships to help competitively meet the energy needs of the production assets which require more than 1 GW of reliable power to operate.

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