Under-utilised Lake Argyle hydro power offered new life

Under-utilised Lake Argyle hydro power offered new life

An Australian mining company has revealed its plan to be the first to utilise Lake Argyle’s hydro-electricity project since the closure of the Argyle Diamond Mine in Western Australia’s far north.

The Ord River hydro power plant opened in 1997 to harness the flow of water from Lake Argyle to supply the Kimberley towns of Kununurra and Wyndham and the Argyle mine.

The hydro plant has had up to 15 megawatts of unused power in the years since the diamond mine’s 2020 closure.

Flourite miner Tivan has advised shareholders it has signed a memorandum of understanding with operators of the power station, Pacific Blue, to evaluate use of the redundant power supply at their mine site, 85 kilometres from the hydro plant.

Tivan aims to expand upon existing transmission lines built for the Argyle diamond mine in 1997.(Supplied)

Tivan chief executive Grant Wilson said the company wanted to utilise the existing infrastructure left by the diamond mine.

“When we acquired [the mine site], we recognised the potential of tying up with this iconic national infrastructure,” he said.

“Hydro has got great advantages because it’s not just renewable, but it’s durable and it’s dispatchable.”

The announcement comes after Tivan moved to fast-track its fluorite project in the Kimberley region in January, citing the federal government’s addition of fluorite to Australia’s critical minerals list in December.

“[Fluorite] is a really critical feedstock for cutting edge industries, including electric vehicle batteries and semiconductors, so prices are at all time highs,” Mr Wilson said.

Fluorite production currently only occurs in China, Mongolia, Mexico and South Africa. 

Grant Wilson sees the global demand for the critical mineral fluorite as an opportunity.(ABC News: Dane Hirst)

Removing diesel generator reliance

Tivan’s announcement to shareholders also notes the company has engaged WA government-owned power company Horizon Power to complete a feasibility study for the proposed power transmission. 

“The Speewah fluorite project will have a baseline requirement of around 8 megawatts and there is around 10 megawatts available,” Mr Wilson said.

An upgraded transmission line could present an opportunity for local Indigenous communities and tourism operators to move from diesel generated power to hydro.

“So we’ve focused on communities such as Mandagala and Doon Doon that could get onto that hydro and then there could be a low voltage extension run all the way north up to El Questro,” Mr Wilson said.

An extension to the power transmission line would have to go over the ranges of the east Kimberley.(ABC Kimberley: Alys Marshall)

Opportunity for economic development

Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley President David Menzel said the region enjoyed the luxury of pre-existing hydro infrastructure, and needed to utilise it.

“The resource has been known about for a long time, but we’ve yet to see anyone being able to commercialise it,” he said.

“So seeing these sorts of plans come forward and the opportunities they might raise for local employment and the development between local communities down around Doon Doon, in Kununurra and also [exporting fluorite product] out the port of Wyndham — it’s just a fantastic opportunity if we can get this thing over the line.”

Tivan expects to have a pre-feasibility study for its Speewah fluorite project by mid-year.

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