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Rio Tinto has had a big week, with the major miner locking in plans to build two new solar farms in Australia and completing construction of a key solar power plant in Canada.

Australia

Rio Tinto plans to build two new 5.25-megawatt solar farms on the Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory, with both having a combined capacity of 10.5 megawatts.

The solar farms will be built upon leases Rio holds on Gumatj and Rirratjingu Country, with the major miner previously locking in an agreement with the Gumatj and Rirratjingu Traditional Owner groups.

“The Gove solar project is part of our shared vision with Traditional Owners to leave a positive legacy for the Gove Peninsula communities after bauxite mining ceases,” Rio Tinto Gove operations acting general manager Shannon Price said.

“We’re excited to work with the Gumatj and Rirratjingu clans to provide an opportunity to secure alternative electricity generation assets on their Country and to discuss opportunities to commercialise energy infrastructure in the future.

“We are working in partnership with the Northern Territory Government and Traditional Owners to ensure a smooth transition of leased land and town assets and infrastructure as Rio Tinto prepares to stop mining at Gove later this decade.”

Aggreko will construct, own and operate the solar farms for Rio Tinto for up to 10 years. Construction of the farms will commence in July and completion is scheduled for early 2025.

Aggreko Asia Pacific managing director George Whyte said his team has previously delivered similar applications and their focus is on working safely and respectfully with the local custodians of the land.

“Aggreko is pleased that the long-standing partnership between Aggreko and Rio Tinto Gove will continue for a further 10 years,” Whyte said.

“The introduction of the two solar farms will contribute to the decarbonisation of the region.”

Once operational, the solar farms are expected to reduce the Gove region’s annual diesel consumption by about 20 per cent, or 4.5 million litres per year, as well as lower annual carbon emissions by over 12,000 tonnes.

“The solar farms are also part of our ongoing commitment to decarbonise our business,” Price said.

“Once operational, they are expected to reduce annual CO2e emissions at our Gove operations by up to 17 per cent.”

Canada

Installation of a 3.5-megawatt capacity solar power plant has been completed at Rio Tinto’s Diavik diamond mine, with the project representing the largest off-grid solar power plant across Canada’s territories.

Construction of the 6620-panel facility commenced in February and is expected to generate 4.2 million kilowatt-hours of solar energy per annum, reducing diesel consumption at Diavik by one million litres per year and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2900 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

“The largest off-grid solar power plant in Canada’s north is our latest commitment to the environment we live and work in, and will improve the energy efficiency of our operations at Diavik,” Rio Tinto chief operating officer of Diavik diamond mine Matthew Breen said.

The plant will provide up to 25 per cent of Diavik’s electricity during closure work, with commercial production at the mine expected to end in 2026 and closure to run until 2029.

The facility is equipped with bi-facial panels that not only generate energy from direct sunlight, but also from the light reflecting off the snow that covers Diavik for most of the year.

The solar project also complements Diavik’s wind power plant that’s been operating since 2012 and is the largest wind power installation in Canada’s north, having generated over 195 million kilowatt-hours of electricity since activation.

“We are proud to lead the way for large-scale renewable energy projects in Canada’s North,” Breen said.