Original Published on Aug 31, 2022 at 09:25
By Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Canada is in the middle of shifting away from traditional fossil fuel energy sources toward a green economy. With federal policy affecting oil-, gas- and coal-rich Alberta, both energy companies and investors are looking for ways to pivot to continue business in a more environmentally sustainable way.
Montem Resources Ltd. is one such company. Montem purchased the Tent Mountain mine in Crowsnest Pass back in 2016, initially with plans to restart mining activity.
However, increased regulatory pressure, and the denial of Benga Mining’s Grassy Mountain coal project last summer, resulted in Montem reassessing the economic viability of the Tent Mountain mine and switching gears to a renewable energy project at the site.
Peter Doyle, Montem’s managing director and CEO, updated Crowsnest Pass council on the new developments at the old coal mine.
Rather than mining coal, Montem is proposing to use an existing water reservoir from the previous mining operations in a pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) electrical plant.
The concept behind PHES is relatively simple: water is pumped uphill from one reservoir into another and then released downhill through pipes to turn turbines to create electricity. Since the water can be stored, PHES is a reliable way to “store” electrical energy for when the grid needs it most.
“We’re really excited about what we’re doing,” said Doyle.
With more of Alberta’s electricity being produced by solar and wind, both of which can experience a disruption in production when the sky is cloudy or the wind stops, Doyle said a PHES power plant is a way to provide a green source of electricity that is reliable.
Tent Mountain’s close proximity to existing power lines also makes it an ideal location. Once completed, the power plant would have the capacity to generate 320 megawatts of electricity for over 50 years.
“For eight hours every day it has the capacity to power 400,000 Albertan homes — that’s nearly half the homes in Alberta for one-third of the time,” said Doyle. “It’s a pretty big power station.”
Electricity needed to pump the water uphill would be provided by a 100-megawatt wind farm located off-site. The electricity would also be used to create hydrogen gas through a hydrogen electrolyzer, a facility where electricity is used to separate the hydrogen and oxygen molecules that form water. The hydrogen gas can then be used as an alternative fuel source to oil and gas.
The hydro-electrolyzer facility would not be located on Tent Mountain because the mountain’s watershed is too high and doesn’t provide enough water.
Montem is looking for a partner for the project, which would take three years to build at an estimated cost of $830 million. It’s anticipated that 400 temporary construction jobs and 30 full-time operating jobs would be created.
One big plus the PHES power plant and hydro-electolyzer have over the previously proposed coal mine, said Doyle, is that they do not propagate selenium. The biggest environmental impact to account for, he continued, is ensuring enough water from the snowmelt enters into the river system, with the water being cleaned before being released.
“We’ve talked to all levels of government, they support it. We’ve talked to the [local] First Nations, they support it, we signed agreements with Piikani. We have no reason not to do this apart from the fact we don’t have $830 million,” Doyle said, adding that agreements with Piikani Nation and other local First Nations would ensure Indigenous communities have partial ownership of the power plant.
Overall, the economic and environmental viability of the project is encouraging, said Doyle.
“It is a much, much easier and straightforward pathway to getting permitted,” he said. “It’s non-consumptive use of water, we’ll reduce the selenium, it’s on our land, it’s close to the grid — and I think it’s a good thing for the Crowsnest Pass.”
While having council’s support, Coun. Lisa Sygutek said she believed the project would generate opposition.
“It’s unfortunate that we have a group of people that don’t live here — and a group of people within — that don’t want to see anything happen to the Crowsnest Pass because it’s their playground and they don’t care that we’re an impoverished community,” she said.
Doyle replied that opposition to any industrial project is to be expected but the power plant would fill a need in Alberta’s electrical grid as it moves to greener sources.
“If it’s real what I’m telling you about your electricity grid, that it becomes unstable, then you have to build these things regardless of who pushes back, or nobody gets to turn the lights on,” said Doyle.
The next regular council meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. in council chambers.
This item reprinted with permission from Shootin’ The Breeze, Pincher Creek, Alberta