Wind, solar to power Rio Tinto aluminium

·2-min read

Rio Tinto will invest in large-scale wind and solar farms in central and southern Queensland to power its aluminium operations in the Gladstone region.

The resources giant's aluminium chief Ivan Vella on Thursday announced a call-out for proposals to meet the energy needs of the Boyne smelter, the Yarwun alumina refinery and the Queensland Alumina refinery.

"It is early in the process, but this is an important step towards meeting our group climate change target of halving our emissions by the end of the decade (from 2018 levels)," Mr Vella said.

At least 4000 megawatts of wind and solar power will be needed to run the facilities, roughly the equivalent of two coal-fired power plants.

"This is an important moment for Queensland," Australian Conservation Foundation Gladstone campaigner Jaclyn McCosker said.

"Coupled with the news that energy ministers have agreed to come up with a national transition plan to phase out fossil fuels, this marks a significant moment in Australian action to tackle climate change."

Rio Tinto's pitch to renewable energy developers follows the signing last October of a statement of cooperation with the Queensland government to establish more renewable energy sources in the regions.

"As Queensland's largest energy user, we have an important role to play in driving the development of competitive renewable energy sources ... and supporting the state's renewable energy targets," Mr Vella said.

The new wind and solar projects will have to start supplying power to Rio Tinto's Gladstone operations through the Queensland grid by 2030, but there are concerns transmission infrastructure is falling short.

"In Central and Northern Queensland there's currently a cap on how much clean energy can be developed locally because there's a dire need to upgrade grid infrastructure," Solar Citizens spokeswoman Stephanie Gray said.

But the community-run organisation welcomed the Rio Tinto announcement, saying it demonstrates the scale and speed of change that's underway in the energy system.

Queensland Minister for Energy Mick de Brenni has been contacted for comment on grid stress.

Work has also begun on the $2 billion state-owned MacIntyre wind farm in the Southern Downs, which will be one of the largest in the southern hemisphere.

The federal Labor government has pledged $20 billion to finance more grid infrastructure, and plans to accelerate new renewable energy, battery storage and transmission nationwide.

"We also need more action from the Queensland government to manage the orderly closure of coal-fired power stations," Ms McCosker said.

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