Copperstring 2 — Coal Money To Buy 6-Gigawatt Renewable Project

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In a massive irony, the Queensland Labour government will use increased taxes on coal miners to buy and complete the 1,000 km high-voltage networkCopperstring 2. These transmission lines will connect the solar- and wind-rich areas of northwestern Queensland with the industrial hub of Townsville. The communities of Mt Isa (a mining powerhouse), Cloncurry, Hughenden, and the North West Minerals Province will be connected to the national electricity grid.

The Queensland Labour government has purchased the project for an estimated AU$5 billion dollars, with a down payment of $500 million from the state’s coal royalties fund. The government’s aim is for 50% of all electricity produced in the state to be from renewable sources by 2030. The plan is to keep the project 100% publicly owned. The Queensland government already owns its own coal-fired power generators. Construction work will be done by Powerlink, a government-owned transmission business.

There is a great map here.

Copperstring 2 is expected to bring 6 GW of renewable energy into the grid. To put this into perspective, Queensland currently has installed power capacity of about 8 GW. As I write, that is made up of 4.5 GW of coal (about 60%). Copperstring 2 will certainly make a difference to that.

Each night, as we watch the news, the Mining Council of Queensland runs ads decrying the unfairness of the Queensland government’s tax hike on coal miners. “They make the Queensland mines uncompetitive,” they sob. These sorts of ads worked 10 years ago when the federal government tried the same thing. They don’t work anymore; public sentiment has changed and we want the money raised and spent on services for the community — including cheaper electricity from renewable sources.

With Townsville set to become a major green hydrogen hub, having reliable and competitively priced electricity will accelerate the proposed energy projects. Copperstring 2 should mean thousands of new jobs and a major economic uplift for Queensland and Australia. The north of Australia is sparsely populated. This project may mean a shift northward from the southern states — not just for the sun (which they do in droves to escape their miserable winters), but for well paying jobs.

Construction of the Copperstring link is expected to create 800 direct jobs over the next six years and many thousands of new jobs going forward, in critical minerals mining, manufacturing, and construction of renewables. It will create the largest renewable energy zone in the nation and cement Townsville as a renewable manufacturing epicentre.

It is estimated that the North West Minerals Province contains reserves worth approximately AU$740 billion. With greater exploration and cheaper power, this could dramatically increase.

“Copperstring is the most significant investment in economic infrastructure in North Queensland in generations,” Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk said in a statement. She also called it “a smart, future focused investment.”

“CopperString and the Townsville Critical Minerals Demonstration Plant will act as a magnet for investment into North Queensland during the clean energy industrial revolution, and that means good secure mining and manufacturing jobs for Queenslanders.”

The Townsville Critical Minerals Demonstration Plant will initially process vanadium, but will later expand to other minerals critical to the third industrial revolution and the progress of renewable energy and electric vehicles. The $75 million facility will be located between the Sun Metals zinc refinery and Glencore copper refinery. The facility will work with prospective users, universities, and research centres. In time it will be expanded to process cobalt and rare earth elements, thus moving Queensland up the value chain, from just mining the materials to producing the batteries. It’s expected to commence operations by the first half of 2025.

“North Queensland provided the copper during the second industrial revolution to transport electricity and now stands at the centre of the clean energy industrial revolution,” the premier said. “By partnering with all levels of government Sun Metals and Ark Energy have paved the way for future critical minerals processing plants in North Queensland. Already we have seen Queensland Pacific Metals secure an agreement with General Motors to supply minerals for electric vehicle batteries.

“The opportunities in North Queensland include mining and processing the minerals for vanadium, zinc bromine and iron flow batteries, cobalt and nickel used in lithium-ion batteries, high-purity alumina for LEDs, batteries and semiconductors, rare earth elements used in electronics and silicon for solar panels and semiconductors.”

Minister for Resources Scott Stewart said, “Vanadium had come a long way from first being used in the Ford Model T Car over a century ago to now being used in batteries with twice the life span of lithium-ion batteries.

“Global demand for vanadium in batteries and high-quality steel is expected to outpace supply before the end of the decade. Queensland has world class, highly economic deposits of vanadium located in accessible marine shale.

“There is already interest from companies in using the facility and once the market sees the quality of Queensland’s valuable resources for themselves, they will have confidence to invest in commercial scale facilities and downstream manufacturing infrastructure creating thousands of good skilled jobs for Queenslanders.”

The government is not wasting any time — with early works on Copperstring 2.0 to start this year and construction to commence in 2024. Power will be available for the start of the Townsville Critical Minerals Demonstration Plant and any projects that will spring forth.

“We’ve been campaigning for grid upgrades in north west Queensland for years now because the region has some of the country’s best co-located solar and wind resources that can be turned into abundant, cheap electricity for Queenslanders,” said Solar Citizens deputy director Stephanie Gray on Tuesday. She expects that it will be the equivalent of doubling the existing large-scale solar and wind farms in Queensland.

Previously known as CuString, the project has been under development for some years as a private venture. In late 2021, CuString secured approval from the Electricity Transmission Authority for the proposed 2.0 version of the new link. CuString CEO John Obrien is quoted as saying that this project is “the largest expansion of the NEM ever undertaken.” KPMG predicted that it could unlock AU$60 billion worth of investment over the next 2 decades.

“It will make the national transmission grid available to about 106,000 square kilometres of … immensely productive Queensland that is currently isolated from our national grid,” he said.

“Right now industries in Mount Isa are struggling because they have to rely on expensive gas-fired power. An injection of cheap and clean energy is just what the doctor ordered to ensure Queensland’s industry can remain globally competitive,” said Mick De Brenni, Minister for Energy, Renewables and Hydrogen and Minister for Public Works and Procurement of Queensland.

“Investment in electrical infrastructure and the advancement of renewables is critical for Australia’s future prosperity and our environment’s survival. Today’s announcement is a win for both,” John Cole, the CEO of Australian renewables outfit Edify Energy, said.

A win for Queensland, Australia, and Mother Earth.

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

David Waterworth has 750 posts and counting. See all posts by David Waterworth