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Tjiwarl people land 'milestone' contract on BHP clean energy project

Giovanni Torre -

An Aboriginal contractor will play a key role in building one of the world's largest off-grid solar power projects for BHP sites in Western Australia's Goldfields.

Tjiwarl contractor Cundaline Resources has begun work on the TransAlta-built solar and battery storage system which will supply power to BHP Nickel West's Mt Keith and Leinster operations 350km north of Kalgoorlie.

The Northern Goldfields Solar Project includes a 27.4 MW solar farm at Mt Keith, a 10.7 MW solar farm, and a 10.1 MW battery at Leinster. It will be integrated into TransAlta's Northern Goldfields remote power grid.

TransAlta contractor Juwi awarded Cundaline Resources with the primary civil contractor role on the project.

"Once you get a presence on site, it will lead to more sustainable, long-term work" Brenden Taylor

Cundaline Resources managing director and Tjiwarl Traditional Owner Brenden Taylor said the deal was a milestone for the Goldfields.

"In the Pilbara they are used to dealing with Aboriginal businesses," he said.

"This is... the first ever Tjiwarl contractor to get a significant-size contract.

"There will up to 15 people working on it to start off with. Once you get a presence on site, it will lead to more sustainable, long-term work."

The solar project will replace power currently supplied by diesel and gas.

A BHP spokesperson said it would help the company reduce CO2 emissions at Mt Keith and Leinster by about 54,000 tonnes per year.

BHP Nickel West asset president Jessica Farrell said BHP was meeting its commitment to deliver sustainable low carbon nickel.

"The Northern Goldfields Solar Project is BHP's first off-grid large-scale renewable energy project across our global operations and, significantly, will remove the equivalent of up to 23,000 combustion engine cars from the road every year," she said.

"It is also very exciting that following years of close engagement with the Tjiwarl native title holders.

"Our project has contracted the services of a local Aboriginal business, boosting opportunities for people in the local community and across the northern Goldfields generally."

TransAlta has also entered into an agreement with BHP to identify potential sites for a 40 to 50MW wind farm, which would connect to TransAlta's northern grid and reduce scope two emissions at BHP's Mt Keith and Leinster operations by a further 30 per cent.

TransAlta Australia managing director Kelvin Koay said the construction phase of the solar and battery farm was "an exciting step" for the project.

"The Northern Goldfields Solar Project is TransAlta's first renewable energy project in Australia and is an important element of our Clean Electricity Growth plan," he said.

"This project contributes to achieving TransAlta's target of a 75 per cent GHG emissions reduction over 2015 levels by 2026 and 2050 carbon neutrality goal.

"As a company, we have a strong decarbonisation track record having already achieved a 61 per cent emissions reduction since 2005."

Mr Koay said TransAlta had built on BHP's engagement with Tjiwarl people by engaging Cundaline Resources on the project.

BHP said construction would create more than 100 jobs in the Goldfields and Perth and was expected to come online by November 2022.

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