Old Coal Mines Can Win a Second Life as Green Energy Hotspots


By Rob Verdonck +Follow18 December 2020, 11:14 GMT+7

  •  Study examines turning coal operations into pumped hydro sites
  •  Other projects aim to add wind, solar at shuttered mines
Genex Power’s 50-megawatt solar farm at the disused Kidston mine.
Genex Power’s 50-megawatt solar farm at the disused Kidston mine. Photographer: Genex

Australia is studying plans to transform a disused underground coal mine into a pumped hydro facility, part of a wider effort to reuse retiring fossil fuel sites for renewable energy generation.

The A$13 million ($9.9 million) pilot trial at the Newstan Colliery, in Fassifern, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) northeast of Sydney, could offer a blueprint for dozens of expiring mines that’ll be retired in coming decades, according to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Studies will test whether the Centennial Coal Co. site, close to Lake Macquarie, can eventually support a 600-megawatt pumped hydro facility that would take advantage of its reservoir, grid connection and available water source. The results will also show if similar brownfield sites, including other coal operations, could also host renewables, ARENA said in a Friday statement.

“By repurposing old sites and taking advantage of the features at those facilities, we can bring more clean energy projects online that bring down emissions and deliver the secure and reliable power Australians need,” Australia’s Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said in a separate statement.

Australia has faced international criticism for its support of fossil fuels, including its plan for a gas-led recovery from a pandemic-induced recession, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s refusal to set a schedule to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more: ‘Land No One Else Wants’ Gets Solar as Coal, Nukes Fade Away

Pumped storage hydroelectric power plants, which push water uphill at times of low demand and then release it downhill to drive turbines that generate electricity when needed, have huge capacity for energy storage and can help back up intermittent generation from wind and solar plants.

The Newstan trial is one of several similar projects in Australia. Genex Power Ltd. is planning to install a 250-megawatt pumped-hydro facility at a former gold mine in Queensland, along with solar and wind resources. At the former Drayton coal mine in New South Wales, Malabar Resources has won approval to develop a 25-megawatt solar farm.

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