In what could only be described as a logistical nightmare, workers are preparing to transport a new wind farm more than 630 kilometres inland to power one of Australia’s biggest gold mines.
Fifteen blades, measuring 66 metres in length, will be trucked individually from Geraldton on WA’s mid-west coast to the remote Agnew gold mine in the northern Goldfields.
The blades were shipped from China and arrived at Geraldton Port on the Dutch bulk cargo vessel Danzigergracht this week.
The components for five wind turbines have taken several days to unload and required the Mid-West Port Authority to build a new hardstand for trucks, while the ship needed to be turned around in port mid-way through the process.
The first truck is due to leave Geraldton on Monday and it is expected to take a fortnight to complete delivery.
The convoy will leave early in the morning to ensure minimal traffic disruption.
Wind farm an ‘engineering feat’
James Harman, chief executive of Brisbane-based company EDL Energy which is building the project, said transporting each component was a complex logistical exercise.
“We have a very detailed plan to truck them out, special machinery, special trucks that can handle the turbines and the blades,” he said.
“It will be quite an engineering feat. It’s been done in other places around the world but this is a first for a mine site in Australia.
“We’re confident it will all go smoothly. Complex but smooth.”
Microgrid combines solar, wind, gas and diesel
The wind turbines are expected to be commissioned by mid-2020 as part of a $112 million project to take Agnew off the grid through solar, wind, gas and diesel power generation.
Once complete, up to 60 per cent of Agnew’s electricity will be sourced from renewables.
South African mining giant Gold Fields has owned the Agnew mine, 23km west of the small mining community of Leinster, since 2001.
Gold Fields’ executive vice president Australasia Stuart Mathews said the decision to go ahead with the project shows the company’s confidence in the long-term future of the mine.
“We’ve got line of sight on several projects coming online. We felt this was a great opportunity to put faith in the future of that mine,” he said.
“After 10 years we will actually own the microgrid and our power costs will come down again.”
Mr Mathews expects more mining companies in remote areas will begin incorporating renewables into their energy mix with access to the power grid often impossible and diesel power generation expensive.
He said construction of the wind farm had already begun.
“We’re actually building the concrete foundations for those now,” he said.
“They’re quite substantial because these wind turbines are going to reach about 160 metres in height.
“The wind will provide the biggest power lift for us.”
Stage-one officially opened
WA’s Mines Minister Bill Johnston officially opened stage one of the microgrid project at Agnew on Wednesday, including a new solar farm.
More than 10,000 solar panels which track the sun throughout the day were installed for the 4-megawatt photovoltaic solar power station.
“This innovative, Australia-first project is setting the standard for powering mine sites throughout Western Australia,” Mr Johnston said.
The solar installation follows similar moves by the owners of the DeGrussa copper-gold mine in WA’s Midwest and the Nova nickel-copper mine in the Goldfields.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency covered $20.9 million of the $39.4 million DeGrussa solar project, which was commissioned in June 2016.
The 10-megawatt solar installation reduced the annual diesel consumption at DeGrussa by around 20 per cent.
A 26-metawatt hybrid diesel and solar power station is in the final stages of being built at Nova, 360km south-east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
According to mine owners Independence Group, the 6-megawatt solar installation will supply up to 20 per cent of Nova’s electricity needs in full sunshine and reduce diesel usage by about 17 per cent.
Independence Group’s managing director Peter Bradford said it was part of the company’s “desire to be proactively green”.