Hydropower the Key to Northern Development

Hydropower the Key to Northern Development

Publication: Global Business Reports
Issue: November 2012
Issue Title: Territories Mining and Exploration 2012

One thing everyone can agree on is the need for a reliable source of energy for any form of existence in the Canadian north. With the extreme cold and shortage of sunlight hours throughout the winter, energy for heating and light is of paramount importance. This becomes even more important for any form of mining venture where there are large power requirements to run the mine.

To date there has been almost total reliance on diesel powered electricity generation for any development outside the electrical grids of Yukon Energy in the vicinity of Whitehorse and NWTP in the vicinity of Yellowknife, both of which are supported by hydropower. Diesel generation is expensive due to both the volatility of world oil markets and the logistical constraints involved in supplying and storing fuel for remote locations. In an ideal world it would be nice to be able to use some form of renewable energy, but obviously solar will not work in the winter months and wind power is unreliable and technically challenging in extreme winter conditions. Hydropower will, in the right locations, provide an economic alternative to diesel generation either as a diesel replacement in the summer months only, or as a complete alternative if storage can be provided. In addition, hydropower will result in a legacy asset that could provide cheap, reliable electricity to adjacent communities for many decades after the initial capital cost is paid off.

Knight Piésold has carried out a number of studies for Qulliq Energy Corporation (QEC) in Nunavut and mining companies throughout the north to identify potential hydropower facility locations that would serve as cost effective alternatives to diesel generation. Precipitation throughout the north is relatively low with much of it falling as snow. Rivers are therefore subject to extreme variations in flow from a short summer high flow freshet consisting mainly of snowmelt to very low flows in the winter months. However, catchment areas can be very large and the general topography of the Canadian Shield and the region’s glacial history means that bedrock is close to surface along most river valleys and steep gradients, waterfalls or rapids exist on many river systems. Potential sites for hydropower require the right combination of catchment area, river gradient, potential storage sites and proximity to the proposed development (i.e. electrical load). The suitability of sites for construction of storage dams to allow for winter generation will depend greatly on the environmental attributes of the potentially flooded area but in many cases this could be bare rock with the potential benefits far out-weighing any adverse environmental impacts.

 

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