Most wind farms in Australia are constructed on the coast to take advantage of the strong sea breeze.
- Once completed, Agnew will be home to Australia’s largest hybrid renewable energy microgrid and the first mine site to use wind generation
- The microgrid will have a total power generation capacity of 54 megawatts, including 19MW of gas and diesel, 18MW of wind, 4MW of solar and 13MW of battery storage
- Three of five wind turbines have been installed to date and they are on track to be commissioned by the middle of the year
While the bush landscape surrounding the remote Agnew gold mine, 640 kilometres north-east of Perth, might seem an unlikely setting, wind is not in short supply.
Before construction of five new wind turbines began in January, sophisticated equipment — which shoots sonic waves into the air to measure wind speeds — collected data for 12 months.
EDL Energy’s Andy Devene, who is overseeing construction of the wind farm, said the turbines are designed to operate in regions like Agnew where the average wind speed is 7.5 metres per second.
Smaller turbines typically start generating power when the wind speed is around 12 metres per second.
“Wind is a very constant resource there so it’s the perfect place for turbines,” Mr Devene said.
“The larger turbines were selected due to their effectiveness at lower wind speeds.”
Crane does the heavy lifting
The ABC watched from the sidelines this week as gigantic components for the wind turbines were lifted into position.
The first rotor has been installed at a new wind farm in the northern Goldfields. Five new wind turbines are being assembled at the Agnew gold mine near Leinster as part of a $112 million renewable energy microgrid.
A 1,600-tonne crane, which was previously used in the oil and gas industry off WA’s Pilbara coast, was trucked in and assembled for the job.
It can take nearly two hours between lifts, but the painstakingly slow process is part of a safety-first approach.
Depending on weather conditions — as high winds make it unstable — each turbine can take four to five days to assemble.
The turbines comprise five tower sections weighing between 50 to 100 tonnes.
The bottom sections are heavier.
As the gigantic cylinders were lowered into place, three workers wearing hard-hats were visible at the top as they guided it into position.
The nacelle, generator, and blade assembly — the parts that sit on the top of the tower with the blades — weigh 420 tonnes.
“The wind turbines stand 110 metres to the hub and they extend up to 170 metres with the blades fully extended vertically, so quite a challenging logistical exercise getting them up with the crane,” Mr Devene said.
“This is a 1,600-tonne crawler crane. It’s one of the largest, if not the largest in Australia.
“We were lucky enough to get it for this project.”
The wind turbines were shipped from China late last year, and transporting the components to Agnew was no mean feat.
There are 15 blades, each measuring 66 metres in length, and special trucks were used to truck them 630 kilometres inland from Geraldton Port.
Wind turbines Facebook post
Agnew goes off the grid
Commissioning of the first wind turbines is due to start in the next couple of weeks.
The owners of the Agnew mine, which has been running since the 1980s and was prone to blackouts, expect the decision to take the mine off the grid will likely save millions of dollars a year in lost production.
Agnew mine manager Jason Sander said up to 60 per cent of Agnew’s electricity will be sourced from renewables once the microgrid is complete.
“It has the potential to be 50 or 60 per cent — that’s what we believe it will be — but it may actually be up to 100 per cent depending on ideal weather conditions,” Mr Sander said.
“I’m sure more and more mining companies will embrace this sort of technology in the future.”
Mining industry ‘turns green’
The Federal Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency is funding $13.5 million of the $112 million project at Agnew.
Saracen Facebook post
Already, five large solar farms are running at major WA mines and more are planned, indicating the mining industry is embracing a greener future.
Mining giant Oz Minerals has also announced plans for a $275 million renewable power station at a proposed nickel-copper mine near the WA, South Australian, and Northern Territory borders.
The $995 million West Musgrave project, 500 kilometres west of Uluru, has an estimated mine life of 25 years and has been awarded “lead agency status” by the WA Government to fast-track approvals.
The proposed 50-megawatt station, comprising a mix of wind, solar, and diesel power supported by a battery installation, means renewables would potentially provide up to 80 per cent of the mine’s electricity needs.
OZ Minerals CEO Andrew Cole said the plan at this stage is to outsource the power plant to a third party and purchase electricity back over the life of the mine.
“We are pleased the study has identified a means for us to reduce the project’s carbon footprint significantly and overcome the historical challenge of affordable power for West Musgrave,” he said.
“We believe, supported by the views of potential renewable energy suppliers, that 70 to 80 per cent of the power needs for West Musgrave can be supplied by renewable sources, supplemented by battery storage and diesel, or trucked gas fired generation.”
Oz Minerals said a final investment decision is due next year and the company hopes to be in production by 2024.