Rio Tinto Kennecott completes construction of solar power plant
Rio Tinto has completed construction on a new 5-megawatt solar power plant at its Kennecott copper operation in Utah.
The 12,800 solar panel power plant will be commissioned in coming weeks, enabling Kennecott to reduce its operational emissions by 3 kt (3,300 st) of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.
The plant will serve as a pilot project with the goal of expanding Kennecott’s solar energy supply in the future.
Shifting to sustainable energy solutions is a priority for Kennecott. The mine closed down its coal-fired power plant in 2019, moving to electricity paired with renewable energy certificates. This resulted in a 65 percent reduction in its carbon footprint and the elimination of more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide output per year.
“Rio Tinto Kennecott has a key role to play in supporting the energy transition,” Rio Tinto Kennecott Managing Director Nate Foster said. “We supply U.S. companies with the copper and tellurium they need to produce solar panels, wind turbines, and conductors. We also continue to take steps to further decarbonize our business, from our battery electric vehicle trial to our renewable diesel trial and now to our very own solar plant.”
The location of the 30-acre solar array was carefully selected to minimize visual and environmental impacts. It is adjacent to other existing industrial operations, away from residential and commercial zones, with earthen berms from the railway providing a visual barrier to most of the installation.
Last year, Rio Tinto started producing tellurium as a byproduct of mining and refining copper at Kennecott, becoming one of only two U.S. producers of this critical mineral. Both copper and tellurium are vital components of photovoltaic solar panels. The tellurium from Kennecott is refined by 5N Plus, a producer of specialty semiconductors and performance materials, before being supplied primarily to First Solar for use in its solar panels.
Rio Tinto aims to reduce its global Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.