On a bare paddock among the Kojonup Hills, 260km southeast of Perth, a strong breeze blows over granite ridges and crop stubble.
- BHP has signed an agreement to buy power from the $200 million stage one of the Flat Rocks wind farm in southern WA
- Under the agreement, BHP will use the energy to offset emissions from the company’s Nickel West division.
- Industry experts say the tie-up shows companies are increasingly pushing Australia towards carbon neutrality
The area has long been home to one of Western Australia’s most productive – and premier – agricultural regions.
But now there are plans to harvest a resource of a completely different kind, with mining giant BHP set to fund a $200 million wind farm that will feature the largest turbines ever installed in WA.
As well as transforming the landscape, the project is part of an ongoing revolution across Australia to decarbonise the country’s electricity system.
Industry experts say it’s a transformation that has now spread far beyond the corridors of power in Canberra to the boardrooms of Australia’s biggest companies.
And they say its momentum is unlikely to slow as companies increasingly push Australia towards carbon neutrality and the federal government is left on the sidelines.
“The Future Happens Now”
“What’s happening is that across Australia, across the economy, companies are moving towards decarbonisation,” said Matthew Bowen, partner at energy law firm Jackson McDonald. .
“And what drives that is that … just (yesterday) we have the latest climate report from the United Nations and it shows that we need this decade to do large-scale decarbonization.
“And that’s a huge task.
“The good news is there is still time to avoid the worst outcomes.
“We’ve had the federal government’s inaction over the past decade.
According to BHP’s plans, announced this morning, the miner would buy all the power from the project which will be built at a site known as Flat Rocks, south of Kojonup.
The arrangement is part of BHP’s goal to become neutral by 2050 and would be used directly to offset emissions from the company’s Nickel West assets, including at the Goldfields, 670 kilometers away.
Renewable energy start-up Moonies Hill, which will develop the wind farm with Italian green energy heavyweight Enel, said the deal with BHP would allow the first stage of the Flat Rocks project to go from strength to strength. ‘before.
It would include 18 turbines each measuring 200 meters at their highest point.
BHP eyes global green change
Moonies Hill chief executive Sarah Rankin said the ultimate goal was to more than double the size of the project, taking its capacity to 180MW in a move that would cost around $400m.
Dr Rankin said the lack of any other form of generation around Kojonup and the absence of other wind farms in the area meant the Flat Rocks development would help strengthen the grid.
But she said it was the strength and consistency of the region’s winds that were most appealing.
“It’s windy,” Dr Rankin said.
“Interestingly, we’re sitting here today at ground level and it’s very windy.
“But if you actually go up 125 meters in the sky, it just gets windier.
Nickel West Assets President Jessica Farrell said the Flat Rocks deal was part of a fundamental change in the way BHP powers its operations.
As part of this plan, the company had committed to reducing its operational emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2020.
Ms. Farrell also noted that much of the nickel division’s products were used in technologies such as electric cars that aimed to reduce carbon output.
She said customers were among those calling for change.
“BHP provides high-quality nickel to global markets for use in electric vehicle batteries and other growing technologies that will support global decarbonization,” Ms. Farrell said.
“We are making great strides to make our operations more sustainable and strengthen BHP’s position as the nickel supplier of choice for global customers.”
Renewables are shifting gears
Jeremy Schultz, chairman of the Australian Energy Institute and founding member of the Clean Energy Council, said BHP’s decision was a sign of the times.
Mr Schultz said much of the initial wave of renewable energy in Australia was driven by a Commonwealth mandate requiring major electricity retailers to buy nearly a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources from 2020.
He said the latest wave – and future investments – were funded by companies seeking to meet their own carbon reduction plans independently of government.
“My own view is that their boards come to conclusions in terms of two things,” Schultz said.
“First, their own need to steer their business towards reducing emissions, because it’s good business to do so.
“And second, being able to do it in a commercially appropriate way for them.
“They don’t get into non-commercial projects.
“It is enormous.”
Running a business “a good thing”
For Lachie Thorn, a fourth-generation Kojonup farmer whose homestead will host the Flat Rocks wind farm, rising emissions were a cause for concern.
Mr. Thorn said he is happy that companies are taking the lead in the energy transition.
“As farmers we want to leave an asset here for our kids to run around too, that’s where renewable energy comes in,” Mr Thorn said.
“I think renewable energy has to start somewhere. We have to do our own little bit…to keep it sustainable. We can’t keep burning fossil fuels.
Energy lawyer Matthew Bowen said it would take decades and billions of dollars for Australia and its companies to meet their emissions reduction targets.
In the case of BHP, he noted that the miner would not only have to overhaul its electricity supply, but also the way it powered its huge fleet of trains and trucks, which currently run on millions of liters of diesel a year.
“Like cleaning a tank”
However, he said the pressure on big companies to cut emissions was overwhelming and came from financial markets, shareholders, customers and the wider community.
He compared the nature of the task to cleaning a tank.
“The reservoir is fed by many streams, so if you want to start cleaning the reservoir you can say ‘for the energy I’m drawing…I’m going to contract someone to make sure that’ he puts in clean energy to match what I put out,’” he said.
“Now it’s true that the electrons that actually arrive at your property will be a mixture of dirty and clean electrons.
“And over time, as more consumers ask their suppliers to replace dirty fluxes with clean fluxes, the tank will become clean.”