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VANCOUVER – Mining companies are gluttons when it comes to energy use as they haul, grind and process ore, but soaring costs and environmental concerns have many turning to cleaner alternatives.
With energy now representing about 25 per cent of production costs, more companies are making huge long-term investments in wind, solar and other renewable energy projects to cut expenses and clean up their operations.
Companies such as Barrick Gold Corp., Teck Resources Ltd. and Rio Tinto PLC have ambitious wind-farm projects under way that will reduce energy costs and provide the much-needed social benefit of showing the communities where they work that progress is being made to reduce their environmental footprint.
The investments are being made even as governments are still trying to figure out ways to reduce carbon emissions and regulate the industry through measures such as carbon taxes and credits.
Barrick Gold Corp, the world’s largest gold miner, is pushing ahead with alternative energy projects, and this week will inaugurate its $70-million Punta Colorada wind operation, the first wind farm built by a mining company in Chile.
The site has 10 turbines now generating 20 megawatts of energy, with capacity to expand to 18 turbines and produce 36 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for 20,000 homes.
The operation connects to a power substation that supplies energy to Chile’s national power grid. Barrick is credited for the power it contributes to the system.
“It’s a good opportunity for our guys in South America to get first-hand experience with what it takes to operate wind farms long-term,” said Bill Williams, Barrick’s vice-president of environment.
“Our position right now as a company is really one of looking at the future, trying to understand a bit about where the energy market is going, but also trying to understand where government is taking us regarding climate change … It’s a rather complex playing field for us right now.”
The Chilean wind farm will also help Barrick evaluate whether that type of alternative energy project makes the best economic sense.
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