The idea has been around for years but if John O’Brien has his way, Copper String may finally become a reality.
Mr O’Brien, based in Townsville, is the founder of the project which hopes to link Mount Isa and Cloncurry with the eastern seaboard electricity grid and has 45 years in the power industry, engineering and management.
His involvement with Mount Isa dates back to 1986 when the then Mount Isa Mines-owned Mica Creek was a coal-fired power station that needed refurbishment.
“MIM had three options, they could refurbish it as coal, they could build a pipeline and bring gas in from the south, or we could build a power line from the east coast,” Mr O’Brien said.
“They decided on gas and that was a really good decision at the time.”
Fast forward to 2008 when Mr O’Brien was doing consultancy work for MIM and other mines in the region.
“I recognised that the original gas contracts were due to come up for renegotiation around 2011,” he said.
“I saw another opportunity to change the way electricity was supplied into the North West.”
This was the birth of the first Copper String project.
“We spent about $32m developing the project and had a good arrangement with the mines and had contracts in place that were subject to us getting financial close,” he said.
“In the end Xstrata decided to build Diamantina Power Station and that put Copper String on hold.”
But Mr O’Brien said the opportunity has come up again now to revisit the project and he said the mines were showing interest.
“The cost of gas is making power here expensive – the big players here are paying two and half times what they would pay on the East Coast,” he said.
“It’s a problem for the big mines and it’s a problem for the emerging players, making it hard for a new mine to get up.”
Mr O’Brien said their objective was to bring East Coast prices into the North West market to shore up existing operations and stimulate new activity.
“Chinova, south of Cloncurry have said publicly they would already be mining if Copper String was here," he said.
“This about the interdependence of the east coast and the north west, a sustainable resources corridor from Mount Isa to Townsville.”
Copper String would require a high transmission power line from Hughenden to Cloncurry, assuming the state government brings the high transmission network from the coast to link with Hughenden’s renewables project Kennedy Park.
“The North West has a maximum demand of about 350 MW and Diamantina and Mica Creek have got about 500 MW of generation capacity,” Mr O’Brien said.
“If we build Copper String, both of those power stations will be able to operate flat out when the price in the market makes it attractive for them to do it.”
Mr O’Brien said they were working with the mining companies to push the agenda forward with governments and have met with Scott Morrison.
“The prime minister recognises he has to be proactive about helping to resolve energy prices out here,” he said.
“The miners openly say they get embarrassed internationally when they talk about the price of energy in Australia.”
READ ALSO: Copper String on agenda of North West Minerals Province conference in Brisbane
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