Clean Energy for BHP’s Olympic Dam Expansion ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , ,

Giles Parkinson at The Climate Spectator has a look at geothermal energy company Petratherm’s proposal for a renewable energy complex to power BHP’s Olympic Dam mine (the world’s largest if / when the expansion project is completed) - Cheap and green energy for miners.

It may seem somewhat audacious for a company with a market value of $16 million to propose a world-leading energy project nearly one hundred times its value. But, says Petratherm managing director Terry Kallis, if you don’t dream, you don’t get. And he just happens to think he’s sitting on a unique opportunity.

Kallis, on Wednesday, outlined his vision for a $1.5 billion clean energy precinct in the outback of South Australia that would take advantage of the unique combination of geothermal, solar and wind energy resources, the intersection of major gas pipelines, and the proximity of the world’s largest mine and other major developments.

The big opportunity is, of course, to service the massive energy demands of BHP Billiton’s proposed Olympic Dam expansion – which could be more than 700MW at that site alone – as well as other mine proposals or expansions such as Prominent Hill and Carrapateena. Mine managers do not normally think along the lines that Kallis has proposed – they will simply build a new transmission line if a connection is close enough, or build enough gas or diesel to ensure the operations keep going 24/7.

However, BHP Billiton have shown that they are willing to consider all options. As we reported in May, the world’s biggest mining company is effectively hedging its bets around the supply of energy and, after conducting a detailed analysis, is willing to concede that geothermal and solar power have the potential to offer the cheapest form of emissions reductions by the end of the decade, if not earlier, and the cheapest form of energy.

Kallis’ idea is to show BHP the path to get there, and to keep their options open as long as possible, so that they can take advantage of the opportunities when the new technologies are bankable, and can deliver at the costs anticipated. Kallis, of course, has great interest in this, because his company proposes to supply the geothermal energy – and Olympic Dam is too good an opportunity to let slide. "We want to make sure we don’t lose the opportunity to get geothermal into that market," he says.

Kallis proposes to create a clean energy precinct on the Moolawatana cattle station around 50km north of Petratherm’s Paralana geothermal prospect, and just over 200km from Olympic Dam. The plan calls for an initial 300MW of capacity – mostly gas sourcing fuel from the passing Moomba-Adelaide gas pipeline, and wind – and have that ready by 2016, around the time Olympic Dam would need it. The wind resource is not officially documented, but the cattle station’s name comes from the local indigenous word for “windy place", so Kallis expects that should not be a problem.

The idea is then to add another 300MW or so of geothermal and solar energy as those technologies mature by the end of the decade, and around the time Olympic Dam would be contemplating its next stage of expansion. The mixture of those four energy sources should provide the miner with the confidence of a secure supply. Kallis says they will be able to deliver attractive hybrid products that lower electricity costs and improve reliability, while also reducing carbon emissions.

Kallis has aligned himself with some unnamed parties – presumably gas, transmission and technology people – and plans to open formal talks with BHP with the view to obtaining a power purchase agreement. Failing that, they will talk to the local utility. Petratherm is, of course, in no position to fund this project, but as it has done by bringing in TruEnergy and Beach Petroleum to partner in its geothermal development, Kallis anticipates there will be no shortage of potential partners.

Of course, Kallis is not the only one to dream of creating a new energy precinct based around the needs of a large mining operation. The so-called “green grid" proposal to unlock huge wind resources in South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula is still awaiting the opportunity to proceed and will rely mostly on an upgraded connection to the eastern seaboard and the Copperstring project in Queensland, a project that was noisily supported by local member Bob Katter and hoped to link Townsville and Mt Isa and open up a string of renewable energy plays in wind, solar and biomass along the way.

However, such was the length of the transmission line that the fate of Cooperstring rested on the support of a single end user in Mt Isa, in this case Xstrata. Despite support from the Queensland state government, the Swiss-based Xstrata board plumped for the easy, not necessarily cheaper, option of a gas fired power station, and Copperstring is now dead. BHP, at least, is alert to the options, and as the country's biggest company with the world's biggest mine, would be aware of strong signal it would send to the broader economy.

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