Old mine to be turned into 90MW pumped hydro plant

GFG Alliance's Middleback Range Pumped Hydro Project

The disused Iron Duchess mine pit in the South Middleback Ranges of South Australia could be turned into a 90MW pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) plant after receiving financial support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

ARENA is committing $500,000 to GFG Alliance to begin the first phase of establishing the technical and commercial feasibility of bringing the disused mine site back to life.

The South Australian Government has also committed $500,000 to the feasibility study.

The $1.7 million project will investigate if the existing mine pit of Iron Duchess North could be utilised as a lower reservoir for a PHES plant creating an estimated capacity of 90MW and 390MWh of storage.

Pumped hydro works by pumping water uphill between two connected reservoirs when electricity is cheap and abundant, and running water downhill to power turbines when electricity is needed.

The first stage of feasibility is expected to be completed in six months, and will include high-level designs, engineering studies, network studies, geotechnical investigation, market modelling and commercial evaluation.

If the study is successful, the $170 million Middleback Ranges PHES plant could be built by 2022.

SIMEC ZEN Energy, part of the GFG Alliance, will play a key role in the study and CEO Geoff Titus said it would offer many benefits for the company and residents.

“We’re grateful to ARENA for their support on this important scheme,” Mr Titus said.

“This groundbreaking study into pumped hydro storage potential at the South Middleback Ranges is a great opportunity for SIMEC ZEN Energy to obtain real-world insights and use these to provide solutions for customers seeking secure, affordable and low-emission energy to overcome their current energy challenges.

“We look forward to working initially with Liberty OneSteel to meet its energy needs and ultimately to establishing partnerships with other large energy users across Australia seeking a new way of contracting energy for their long-term success.”

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the feasibility study was the first stage in assessing possible sites to store South Australia’s growing renewable energy generation.

“South Australia has ideal wind and solar resources to support large scale renewable generation, so we will need energy storage options to harness and store this capacity so it is available at all times,” he said.

“We are excited to explore the potential of old mining assets being turned into renewable energy storage which can provide dispatchable and reliable power.”

ARENA is also providing funding to support the Kidston hybrid solar and PHES project in a mine in Queensland, alongside feasibility studies into other pumped hydro across Australia including Snowy 2.0, Hydro Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation projects and EnergyAustralia’s proposed seawater PHES project at Cultana, South Australia.