Giant wind turbine blades take the long road to inland WA lithium mine

Giant wind turbine blades take the long road to inland WA lithium mine

The first of 15 gigantic blades, which will make up five wind turbines, has left Geraldton Port on a 700km journey inland to a $951 million lithium mine being built in Western Australia’s northern Goldfields. 

Key points:

  • A total of 15 blades for five wind turbines are being transported 700km inland from Geraldton Port 
  • The wind turbines will be part of a 95-megawatt hybrid power station for a new lithium mine
  • The Kathleen Valley project, 60km north of Leinster, is due to enter production next year after a $951 million construction phase

The Kathleen Valley lithium mine near Leinster, 680km north-east of Perth, is set to be one of the greenest resources projects in Australia, designed to be powered 60 per cent by renewable energy. 

Once assembled, the wind turbines will be 210 metres tall and form part of a 95-megawatt hybrid power station at the remote mine site. 

The five turbines will each be capable of generating 6 megawatts. 

The first blade left Geraldton for Kathleen Valley on Sunday morning and another seven convoys are planned between now and January.

Project manager Guy Allen, from transport company Rex J Andrews, is overseeing the logistical challenge. 

He also oversaw the transportation of blades for a wind farm at the Agnew gold mine near Leinster in 2019, but those blades were shorter at 66 metres.

“There’s a little bit more to it this particular occasion … the size of them, they’re just getting bigger and bigger,” Mr Allen told the ABC. 

“There’re 15 blades this time around. The blades are 81.6 metres long and the combination of the trailer and the prime mover adds up to about 92 metres.”

 An aerial view of the processing plant being built at the Kathleen Valley lithium mine in WA.  (Supplied: Liontown Resources)

Wind part of hybrid mix

A 1,000-tonne crane will be used for the installation of the wind turbines, with the first footing recently completed after a 16-hour continuous concrete pour. 

It involved 625 cubic meters of concrete and more than 75 tonnes of reinforced steel. 

Perth-based, ASX-listed miner Liontown Resources maintains Kathleen Valley is on track to begin production by mid-2024, as the company targets net-zero emissions by 2034.  

Wind power will combine with solar energy and battery storage at the mine, after Liontown Resources signed a 15-year power purchase agreement with Zenith Energy in December last year. 

As part of the deal, Zenith agreed to finance, design, construct, own, operate and maintain the power station at Kathleen Valley.    

“Finalising the power purchase agreement marks another important milestone for Liontown and the development of Kathleen Valley, paving the way for the construction of one of the largest off-grid wind-solar-battery storage facilities of its kind in the Australian resource sector,” Liontown’s managing director Tony Ottaviano said at the time.  

“This reflects our unwavering commitment to delivering on our ESG (environmental, social and governance) credentials and establishing industry-leading carbon emissions from the outset.”

The hybrid power station also includes a 16-megawatt solar array, comprising 30,780 panels, and a 17 megawatt battery storage system.  

It will also include 27 megawatts of gas generation and 5 megawatts of diesel stand-by generation.  

Liontown Resources managing director Tony Ottaviano.(ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)

Miner’s target of net zero

Mr Ottaviano said Liontown was focused on ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues throughout the design phase for the project, describing it as part of the company’s “core DNA”.  

“We’re trying to do ESG on more than just a PowerPoint … real, tangible actions,” he told the Diggers and Dealers Mining Forum in Kalgoorlie-Boulder in August.    

The company’s sustainability report released in September declared its “ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2034” with an initial target of least 60 per cent renewable energy from start-up at Kathleen Valley. 

The project was initially expected to cost $545 million, but rising costs in the resources sector have seen those estimates blow out to $951 million.  

Nearly 90 per cent of the mine’s production for its first five years has already been locked in via off-take agreements with US electric vehicle manufacturers Tesla and Ford Motor Company and South Korean battery supplier LG Energy Solutions.  

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