Jobs boost as construction begins on Northern Goldfields solar and battery storage project

Construction is now underway on one of the world’s largest off-grid mining solar and battery energy storage systems being built by TransAlta to help power BHP Nickel West’s Mt Keith and Leinster operations. 

The Northern Goldfields Solar Project, which was announced last year, includes a 27.4 MW solar farm at Mt Keith, a 10.7 MW solar farm and a 10.1 MW battery at Leinster, and will be integrated into TransAlta’s Northern Goldfields remote power grid.

The project, which will replace power currently supplied by diesel and gas, will help BHP Nickel West reduce scope 2 emissions at its Mt Keith and Leinster operations by 12 per cent1 resulting in an estimated reduction of 54,000 tonnes CO2-e per annum.

The construction phase of the project is set to create more than 100 direct and indirect jobs in the Goldfields and Perth regions and is expected to produce its first solar power by November 2022. 

The project aims to employ Traditional Owners from the Tijwarl Native Title Holders following TransAlta’s contractor, juwi, awarding Cundaline Resources with the primary civil contractor role on the project. Cundaline 

Resources is an Aboriginal business whose owners include members of the Tjiwarl Aboriginal Corporation. BHP Nickel West Asset President Jessica Farrell said BHP was meeting its commitment to deliver sustainable low carbon nickel to its customers, a product that is in high demand to power batteries and electric vehicles.

“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 cars2 from the road every year, supporting our greenhouse gas reduction targets,” Ms Farrell said.

“It is also very exciting that following years of close engagement with the Tjiwarl Native Title Holders, our project has contracted the services of a local Aboriginal business, boosting opportunities for people in the local community and across the northern Goldfields generally,” she said.

TransAlta also unveiled today it had entered into an agreement with BHP to identify potential wind sites for a 40 to 50MW wind farm, which would connect to TransAlta’s northern grid and reduce scope 2 emissions at BHP’s Mt Keith and Leinster operations by an estimated further 30 per cent.

Adding wind will increase renewable energy supply to support BHP’s growth and to further each company’s sustainability goals. TransAlta Australia Managing Director, Kelvin Koay, said the construction phase of the solar and battery farm was 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. This project contributes to achieving TransAlta’s target of a 75 per cent GHG emissions reduction over 2015 levels by 2026 and 2050 carbon neutrality goal. As a company, we have a strong decarbonisation track record having already achieved a 61 per cent emissions reduction since 2005.”

“We’ve had a long-standing partnership with BHP since the 1990s and we welcome the opportunity to support BHP in meeting its carbon emission targets and in enhancing its competitiveness as one of the lowest carbon nickel miners in the world,” added Mr Koay.

He said TransAlta had also been able to build on BHP’s close engagement with the Tjiwarl Native Title Holders by engaging Cundaline Resources on the project.

“Throughout the planning phase and now into construction, both TransAlta and BHP have prioritised their stakeholder engagement with the Tjiwarl Traditional Owners to understand what is important to them and to ensure we consider that when we plan, develop and construct a project,” Mr Koay said. 

Cundaline Resources Managing Director and Tjiwarl Traditional Owner, Brenden Taylor, welcomed the opportunities that the project brings for Traditional Owners and Traditional Owner businesses. 

“I would like to thank juwi, TransAlta and BHP Nickel West for providing Cundaline Resources with this exciting opportunity out on country,” Mr Taylor said. Western Australian Minister for Mines and Petroleum; Energy, Bill Johnston, congratulated BHP and TransAlta on their game-changing renewable energy project.

“The companies are setting a great example of new social and environmental standards and I look forward to this project coming to fruition. 

“The McGowan Government is supportive of mining and resources companies that are embracing renewable energy solutions, which all contribute to our target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“Nickel is a key ingredient for a low carbon energy future, and this is another step forward for the McGowan Government’s Future Battery Industry Strategy.”

1 Based on FY20 scope 2 emissions.

2 Based on the average combined CO2 emissions for a new light vehicle sold in Australia of 182 grams per kilometre in 2017 and average travel distance of 13,301 kilometres a year.