At the end of a mine’s operational life, mining companies face the challenge and cost of reclaiming the site. But unused sites don’t have to be a cost centre. In fact, there is opportunity to elevate a mine’s environmental status and generate revenue from old mines by using them for renewable energy generation.
Turning costs into profits
In Canada and the United States we have seen examples of closed and reclaimed mines transformed into solar and wind farms. They can feed power back into the grid, or even generate power for existing mining operations. Building solar farms on reclaimed mines in North America has shown signs of success, with operating and maintenance costs lower than expected.
Producing energy close to where it is consumed means less is lost through transmission. As mining projects move further into frontier markets, off-grid energy in close proximity to where it will be used typically means higher energy and cost efficiencies. Meanwhile, costs associated with some renewable energy sources have dropped dramatically in recent years, while reliability and effectiveness has increased. This makes renewables a perfect partner for traditional forms of energy and a lower-emission alternative.
Since not all geographies have weather conditions suitable for solar, the concept of exploring closed and reclaimed mine sites has been applied to other forms of energy conducive to the surrounding environment, such as wind.
Traditionally the costs of remediation are borne by the mining operator, but by turning that remediating space into a place where power generation can occur, operators can reduce the ongoing costs and even shift the reclaimed site to a profit centre.
Elevating your environmental reputation
In addition to the cost and efficiency aspects of transforming reclaimed mines into power generators, being an innovation leader can give mining companies an advantage when it comes to knowledge and best practices during the construction of future projects. These types of projects can lead to an elevated environmental status for companies, and improved reputation can further the mining sector’s social licence to operate and reinforce public acceptance, helping to position miners as leaders in addressing energy issues.
Companies in energy intensive sectors are under pressure to prove they are taking steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as the movement towards energy diversification increases.
Social pressure coupled with increased regulations at both the provincial and federal level mean tougher and more costly reclamation challenges.
There are many social and community benefits to these projects as well, such as jobs for local workers from construction to the operation and maintenance stages. For trade-exposed energy- producing communities who have felt the impact of low commodity prices and the closure of some types of mines, the opportunity represents a sustainable future as we look towards a lowercarbon energy future.
Converting a challenge into an opportunity
By taking a strategic approach, mining companies can get the most out of old and reclaimed mine sites. From lowering operational costs, to improved reputational excellence, companies stand to benefit from generating renewable energy. Setting themselves apart from competitors and creating green solutions can lead the way to a sustainable and lower-cost mining future.
SEAN GUNTON is a partner with EY Canada’s Transaction Advisory Services, MEGHAN HARRIS-NGAE is EY Canada’s Climate Change and Sustainability Services energy market leader.