The West

Alinta Energy has stolen a march on its rivals, calling for tenders to build a 120km high-voltage transmission line from its power station in Newman to drive Gina Rinehart's $10 billion Roy Hill mine.

If successful, the move will give the utility exposure to one of the world's biggest new iron ore mines, which is in the process of finalising funding for its 55 million tonne a year project.

However, perhaps more significantly, the 220kV line would also lay the foundations for the completion of a long-held dream of infrastructure groups: an integrated electricity grid in the remote but energy intensive Pilbara mining region. This could also trigger an explosion of solar power plants.

Alinta chief executive Jeff Dimery told _WestBusiness _that the power line project was in response to the utility losing its contract to supply BHP Billiton's Newman operations from 2014, leaving its 140 megawatt gas-fired plant stranded. BHP announced last year it would spend $US597 million building its own, on-mine, 190MW power station.

"We have been out to market calling for submissions on an EPC contract to construct a transmission line," Mr Dimery said.

"We are looking for alternate customers to BHP and as part of that process we are working through the approvals to contract a transmission line that would run more than 100km. It would represent almost a third of the East Pilbara Link proposal. We are doing a lot of work on development of infrastructure in the Pilbara."

Mr Dimery declined to name the new customer if the power line was built but industry sources said it was Mrs Rinehart's Roy Hill mine given it was the only advanced venture in the region without power.

Mrs Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting declined to comment.

Late last year Alinta won new work from Fortescue Metals Group at Port Hedland and is battling groups including Canadian giants ATCO and TransAlta for power sector dominance in the region.

"We have got experience now building transmission in the region, which we did to schedule and budget," Mr Dimery said.

The real boon from the line from Newman could be the potential to complete the long-held dream of an electricity grid or ring of interconnected power stations and mines.

Some analysts believe the line would improve the security of power supply because it would allow electricity to be sent in different directions, and lead to more energy efficiency by allowing bigger, more technologically advanced plants to power multiple mines from single locations.

Others say that it would also spur the development of solar power in the sun-drenched region by allowing remote power plants to more easily connect to a grid.

But it still faces funding challenges given it would need even more yet-to-be-confirmed mines to underwrite the completion of the loop.

The West Australian

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