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WA mining regions have solar potential

31st Oct 2011

Regions of Western Australia have been noted for their potential to adopt renewable energy - particularly solar power - in the future, according to two new reports.

Released by the federal government and commissioned by the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy, the reports highlight not only the potential environmental gains from a greater use of renewable energy in the Pilbara and mid west regions, but also the economic ones.

Minister for resources and energy Martin Ferguson said emphasised the importance of these regions, which are dominated by energy intensive mining and processing activities as well as agriculture.

"There are opportunities for wind, solar and bio-energy in both regions, based on the natural resources available. Increasingly expensive traditional fossil fuels such as diesel and gas make renewables an attractive alternative," Mr Ferguson said.

According to Mr Ferguson, the reports also recognise the barriers to overcome in terms of practicality.

"Reliability of supply is a crucial factor for the mining industry when deciding where their electricity will come from as they are exposed to revenue penalties in the event of process interruptions," he said.

The reports found that hybrid systems - such as like wind or solar combined with diesel or biodiesel - are the most suitable solutions for the two regions.

Geographically, the Pilbara region encompasses the Roebourne, Port Hedland, Ashburton, East Pilbara and Exmouth areas, and is a major iron ore and natural gas production and export area of Australia.

Other major minerals production operations are also dealt with in the area, such as gold, nickel, copper, manganese and salt. The resource production from the Pilbara accounted for almost 75 per cent of Western Australia's total merchandise export income in 2009.

Alternatively, the mid west region covers a 470,000 square kilometre area and includes the towns of Geraldton and Greenough, as well as neighbouring areas such as Northampton, Chapman Valley, Cue and Yalgoo. The report quotes the Mid West Investment Plan population forecasts for the district to be as high as 100,000 by 2031.

The current electricity supply in the two regions is provided to date by resource companies, and has been largely self-sufficient.

The reports will be considered by the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy and its successor the Australian Renewable Energy Agency as part of the government's ongoing support for the development of renewable energy.

“The Australian government continues to maintain an open mind when it comes to clean energy technologies that have the potential to provide workable solutions," Mr Ferguson said.

Posted by Mike Peacock - Solar Correspondent

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