Top Miner Switches to Solar and Wind Power at One of the World’s Largest Copper Projects
Rio Tinto’s Kennecott operations, including its flagship Bingham Canyon copper mine that satisfies 15 percent of U.S. copper demands, are among the most prolific in the world. Kennecott has also become one of the industry’s cleanest, permanently shutting its last coal plant and reducing its carbon footprint by 65 percent. This facility, located 35 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, has become a leader in solar and wind power.
In 2016, officials shut three of the company’s four coal-fired plants. The following year, officials idled the last coal-fired plant for maintenance and air quality requirements before formally closing it in May 2019. These transitions occurred with no job losses.
The closure of the last plant followed extensive consultations with local communities and state officials. It also earned Kennecott the 2019 Clean Air Business Partner of the Year Award from Utah’s Clean Air Partnership, a prominent nonprofit in the state.
The transition away from coal has reduced air pollutant emissions by 6,000 tonnes—one million tonnes of CO2 – annually.
Retiring our power plant is an important milestone for our business because it will immediately reduce our emissions to the local airshed, and I’m proud Kennecott is a leader in pairing our electrical needs with carbon-free energy certificates.”
– Marc Cameron, Managing Director, Rio Tinto Kennecott
Rio Tinto’s decision to retire their power plant is a win-win for our community. Their decision will simultaneously support Utah’s shift toward a low-carbon economy and improve air quality in the Salt Lake Valley”
– Gary Herbert, Governor of Utah
Clean Energy: Tried and True
Kennecott now meets its energy needs through 1.5 million Megawatt hours (MWh) of clean energy from Rocky Mountain Power, a local regulated electric utility. Sourced in part from a Utah solar portfolio, Rocky Mountain helps the complex generate power from Wyoming-based wind turbines. This supply covers mining, recycling and crushing operations at the facility.
Kennecott draws on natural gas to power its processing facilities, which include one of the world’s most advanced copper and precious metals smelters. It uses diesel power to operate its fleet of 88 haul trucks.
The Green-e ® certification program of the nonprofit Center for Resource Solutions, guarantees transparency by issuing certificates to establish that Rocky Mountain generates and delivers clean energy from renewables. It provides a certificate for every Megawatt hour of clean energy it produces. The Division of Public Utilities of Utah regulates the certificate program.
Rio Tinto is committed to playing a part in the transition to a low-carbon economy. This move will significantly reduce emissions associated with our operations in Kennecott and allow us to offer customers copper, gold and silver with a reduced carbon footprint.”
– Jean-Sébastien Jacques, Chief Executive, Rio Tinto
Kennecott officials are constantly developing new ways to increase energy efficiency. The company has deployed a $10 million, 6.2-Megawatt (Mw) combined heat and power (CHP) system at its copper processing facility. The system boasts a superior output that is more than 80 percent energy efficient. Its performance outranks that of separate heat and power systems, which are less than 50 percent efficient. The CHP provides the entire steam supply for the facility, at a rate of up to 70,000 pounds per hour. Meanwhile, it supplies half of the plant’s electricity, with rates of up to 6.2 MW per hour, levels sufficient to power 6,000 homes.
These are only the latest endeavors to make Kennecott’s projects greener. In 2012, officials began smelting scrap, including old copper wiring, into its recycling process. In 2017, they processed over 1.27 million kg (2.8 million lbs.) of copper from recycled scrap, enough to provide the electrical wiring for 6,400 newly constructed homes.
A Sustainable Future
These initiatives continue alongside Kennecott’s recently approved $1.5 billion investment—to commence in 2020)—to support operations at their projects through 2032. This commitment is part of a greater $5 billion dedicated to mine life extension, environmental stewardship and modernization initiatives since Rio acquired Kennecott in 1989.
“This is an attractive, high-value and low-risk investment that will ensure Kennecott produces copper and other critical materials to at least 2032.”
– Jean-Sébastien Jacques, Chief Executive, Rio Tinto
The funds will allow personnel to improve infrastructure alongside strip waste rock mining in the second phase of the South Wall Pushback operation. The construction, by adjusting its south wall, will enable mineral extraction to move into a fresh area of ore body to deliver nearly a million tons of refined copper between 2026 and 2032. This surge in production will accommodate growing worldwide demands.
Investing in Climate Resilience
In February 2020, officials at Rio announced plans to invest approximately $1 billion in the next five years to satisfy their 2030 climate change targets and 2050 net-zero emissions goal. The measures will include curbing company-wide emissions intensity from 2018 levels by 30 percent.
Between 2008 and 2019 absolute emissions from managed operations were reduced 46 percent and emissions intensity fell 29 percent.
Officials for Rio, which has ceased mining for coal, have stressed that they acknowledge global warming as a “critical global challenge.” They have called on industry associations to join their efforts to move decisively to address the problem.
As climate change continues to pose an existential threat to the planet so, too, does it endanger mining sites the world over. In a time of unprecedented uncertainty, Rio Tinto and Kennecott are making great scalable strides in the international fight to effectively mitigate climate change. It is an effort that will pay dividends for mining and the planet alike.
About Rio Tinto Kennecott
Rio Tinto Kennecott is a fully integrated mining operation just outside Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., and a fully owned unit of Rio Tinto. For more than 110 years, Kennecott has been mining and processing minerals from the rich ore body of the Bingham Canyon Mine. In addition to Bingham Canyon, the subsidiary possesses other facilities at South Jordan in the Salt Lake Valley including a refinery, a concentrator and a smelter.
About Green-e® certification
A program of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Center for Resource Solutions, since 1997, Green-e certification is a global leader in clean energy transparency. The initiative empowers businesses and people to buy verified clean energy. Green-e also promotes the advancement of renewable energy technology, markets and policies. In 2019, it certified over 62 million Megawatt hours (MWh) in retail business.
About Rocky Mountain Power
Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Rocky Mountain Power is a utility which provides safe, reliable affordable and sustainable electricity. Committed to developing renewable resources, Rocky Mountain provides services to one million customers across in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.
About the International Copper Association
The International Copper Association’s brings together the global copper industry to develop and defend markets for copper and make a positive contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., ICA has offices in three primary regions: Asia, Europe and North America. ICA and its Copper Alliance® partners are active in more than 60 countries worldwide. For additional information, please visit www.copperalliance.org.