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Offshore wind and solar power: wacky or inevitable?

September 1, 2011
by Norm Tollinsky
In: Commentary, Norm Tollinsky with 0 Comments
Professor Dean Millar, MIRARCO research chair for energy in mining, is a voice in the wilderness working away on what some would consider wacky alternative energy schemes for an industry with a voracious appetite for conventionally generated power. A former program director for renewable energy and senior lecturer at the Camborne School of Mines in the U.K., Millar is a classic iconoclast, challenging traditional thinking and daring us to explore new paradigms.The buzz surrounding the planned development of a world-class chromite deposit by Cliffs Natural Resources and a nickel-PGE discovery by Noront Resources in the McFaulds Lake area of Ontario’s Ring of Fire provide Millar with an ideal test case. These two proposed mines are located in the far north of Ontario some 300 kilometres from the nearest road or rail line and will have to rely exclusively on expensive diesel fuel until the area is connected to the province’s power grid.

Offshore wind or solar power as part of an integrated power solution including diesel, Millar told delegates at the 5th Mining and Environment International Conference in Sudbury this summer, could save these mines millions of dollars. At some point, a grid connection would probably make sense for McFaulds Lake, but for even more remote mines like ArcelorMittal’s Mary River iron ore project on Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic, or Vale’s Voisey’s Bay Mine in northern Labrador, getting electricity from a grid will probably never happen.

The world’s hunger for iron ore and base metals is forcing mining companies to build mines in the most remote regions of the Earth at the same time that jurisdictions like Australia are proposing carbon taxes, scientists like Sudbury’s own David Pearson are warning about climate change (see Page 14) and nuclear power is looking more and more dicey as a result of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Mines in the not too distant future will have to rely more and more on the “wacky” alternative energy solutions like offshore wind and solar power espoused by Millar and his PhD student, Kim Trapani (see Page 16 and 18), but in 25 years, as alternative energy technologies mature, chances are we won’t consider them wacky at all.

The photographs illustrating our stories on offshore wind and solar power in this issue of Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal offer us a glimpse of what the future will look like. The Robin Rigg Wind Farm off the coast of Scotland supplies180 MW of electricity  – enough to power 117,000 homes, while in California’s Napa Valley, SPG Solar supplies wineries with floating solar arrays to free valuable agricultural land for growing grapes.

The mining industry has taken cheap, conventional sources of power for granted for too long. It’s time to get creative and pay attention to new alternative energy technologies in anticipation of a future that’s looking more and more inevitable.

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