Global mining giant BHP Billiton plans to replace gas with renewables to provide all the power to its 1.2 million tonnes-a-year Escondida copper mine in Chile.

The Australia-based company’s chief external affairs officer Geoff Healy said the miner is in the final stages of contracting a renewable power supply.

Escondida is one of the world’s largest copper mines, and BHP Billiton joins other global mining companies that have already tapped Chile's rich solar and wind resources to supply their local operations.

Located in the northern Atacama desert, the Escondida mine produces around 20% of global copper concentrate production, making Chile the top copper producing country in the world.

With mining accounting for over 10% of Chile’s GDP, the industry’s power demand is significant, and as Chile moves to decarbonise its economy on top of a target to reach a 20% renewable energy supply by 2025, local industries are turning to solar and wind due to their increasing availability and declining prices.

Last year National Mining Company of Chile (ENAMI) signed a contract with the local unit of Spain’s Acciona Energía to buy solar power for its operations, and in July Anglo American decided to tap Enel’s local subsidiary for wind and solar power for its mining operations.

Healy’s comments were made at a meeting with investors. He didn’t expand on the renewable energy plan, but indicated that the decision to invest in renewable energy is not only aligned with its sustainability goals but also makes economic sense.

“We’re now in the late stages of securing a long-term contract for renewable power supply that could deliver significant cost savings relative to our current gas-fired supply,” he told investors.

Investments in renewable energy is part of the company’s $400m climate investment programme for the next five years. Aside from fuel switching and power efficiency, the company plans to carry out electrification of its processes.