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Far north wind power

Wind power is successfully being built in Canada's far north, providing huge cost savings to companies that are off the grid and rely on diesel powered systems.

By Diane Mettler

In retrospect, it's hard to believe it has taken until now to start installing wind turbines in
Canada's far northern region. Companies and communities are cut off from power grids, and many are running on expensive diesel fuel. Wind power actually allows some of these communities that experience temperatures down to -40 Celsius to see a break in energy costs.

Projects like the Diavik Wind Farm and the Raglan Mine Wind Energy Project are proving that far north wind power works. The Diavik Wind Farm was the first to break the cold weather barrier with their turbines. The project was so successful that Diavik Diamond Mines Inc., operator of the Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada's Northwest Territories, was awarded the Canadian Wind Energy (CanWEA) 2013 Group Leadership Award. The award is presented to a government, corporation, or nonprofit organization that has contributed significantly to the advancement of wind energy in Canada.

The four-turbine, 9.2-megawatt wind project was constructed at the Diavik mine site on an island in a subarctic lake called Lac De Gras, 300 kilometers northeast of Yellowknife, Canada.

The wind farm has been producing energy since September 2012 and holds the title of being both the first large-scale wind farm constructed in Canada's northern territories, and the world's largest wind-diesel hybrid power facility.

Construction of the Diavik wind farm (with its four Enercon wind turbines) cost $31 million, with a payback estimated at eight years. The biggest savings is in diesel fuel. Since the Diavik mine isn't near a transmission or natural gas line, the facility runs diesel-fueled generators. The energy produced from the wind turbines provides almost nine percent of the company's power needs, reducing annual diesel consumption by 3.8 million liters. It has also reduced Diavik's seasonal winter road fuel haul by approximately 100 loads. The turbines also reduce 12,000 tonnes of CO2 annually and have reduced the mine's greenhouse gases by six percent.
Because of the extreme northern location and harsh weather conditions, the turbines required gearless direct-drive turbine design, and the enormous blades were fitted with a de-icing technology.

Contracted to do all the civil work on the Diavik project, the Det'on Cho Nahanni Construction joint venture used more than 190 tonnes of rebar and over 1300 cubic meters of concrete to get the turbines firmly in place. The challenge was getting those resources to the site. Sixty loads of wind farm components were transported over the winter roads. Those loads included the four Enercon E70 2.3 MW turbines and the 33-meter epoxy resin blades (6.5 tonnes each), which were the longest loads ever hauled over the road. Transportation also required customized trailers to ensure the turbine components could successfully navigate the winter road's 65 portages.

Once completed, the towers stand 64 meters high-100 meters if you include the total turbine heights-and the turbine rotor diameter is 71 meters.

None of this would have been possible without Diavik's renewable energy feasibility study, which began in 2007 with the installation of a meteorological tower to collect weather data at the mine site. The three-year study confirmed a strong wind resource was there to be harvested.


In 2011, when Diavik completed the study, the tower was donated to a local Aboriginal partnership studying the wind resource potential at the shuttered Giant Mine, near Yellowknife. The hope is that the meteorological tower will demonstrate a viable wind resource there and one day lead to the reclamation of the Giant mine site.

"Our investment in this project, and our work to ensure its success, demonstrates our commitment to environmental protection and shows wind power is a viable power source in remote cold climates," said Diavik
Diamond Mines president Marc Cameron.

Flash forward to summer 2014. Installation began on a 3-MW wind turbine-also manufactured by Germany's Enercon-at Glencore Xstrata's Raglan nickel-copper mine. The wind farm is located on the Ungava Peninsula, in the Nunavik region, in the province of Quebec, roughly 1,100 miles north of Montreal. It is said to be an ideal location, sitting on a plateau 600 meters high with few trees around.

As of October, the project was 81 percent complete, and it will replace approximately five percent of the mine's annual diesel consumption-or 2.4 million liters of diesel.

The next phase is to install three storage technologies-a flywheel (which helps smooth the energy curve), batteries, and a hydrogen storage loop with an electrolyser and fuel cells. When the winds are high, the turbines will produce excess power that will be used to generate hydrogen through electrolysis of water. The hydrogen will be compressed and stored.

The hydrogen storage will hopefully lead to a wider array of green energy opportunities at the Raglan mine. Using tank storage, the mine can later combine the hydrogen to create energy for running vehicles.

Laurent Abbatiello is principal vice president and CFO of Tugliq Energy Co., owners and operators of the Raglan wind farm. He says that the storage technologies and their optimal integration into the microgrid are the R&D components of the project.

"All of them are cutting edge technologies, with the hydrogen as an energy storage device being much less common," he says. They want to test them in the most extreme conditions to determine which method is the best for the long term. "By testing now, we can choose the reliable mix to complement renewable energy in a micro grid environment."

Once the turbine and the storage systems are operational, the next step is to install two to three more turbines to generate an additional nine MW to 12 MW of energy. This would lower the mine's overall diesel consumption by 40 percent and substantially lower the mine's operating costs.

The wind farm only went forward after nearly five years of data gathering.

A study had been done in several northern locations, to determine how wind turbines fare in such harsh climates. The company then studied how a project would work with turbine suppliers experienced in Nordic or Arctic conditions, such as Enercon.

The total cost of the turbine and storage facilities at the Raglan mine is around $20 million, with 70 percent provided in grants from the Quebec and Canadian governments. Luc Blanchette, Quebec's minister for mines, is excited about what this project could mean for the future of the region. "The energy costs to operate a mine in this region are significant. The ability to reduce these costs by providing renewable energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions in an Arctic environment is quite a feat. This opens opportunities for communities and new industrial projects in the North."

The Enercon 3-MW wind turbine at Glencore Xstrata’s Raglan nickel-copper mine. The turbine is located near the mine site on the Ungava Peninsula, in the Nunavik region, roughly 1,100 miles north of Montreal. 

The wind penetration level at the Raglan site is around 15 to 20 percent. With the incorporation of the storage technologies, those numbers could rise to 35 to 55 percent.

Abbatiello foresees wind farms being used throughout the arctic for both mines and communities. "The plan has been to prove that the technology is stable and good enough in very difficult arctic conditions, and then be able to replicate it with other mines and with local communities. And the size of a project needed for an Inuit village would be nearly that of a mine.

"All the Inuit and local communities in the arctic are currently using electricity produced by diesel generators," he added. "The cost of electricity is very high in the arctic, and with wind, we could potentially lower the cost of electricity substantially-from 60 cents-$1.50 per kilowatt hour to 20 cents per kilowatt hour.

Although Tugliq Energy is no newcomer to building in the arctic, the project had its unique challenges, for example: the remote mine is not linked to any roads, which meant all the components arrived by ship.

Despite the cold temperatures and the remote site, Tugliq has been able to complete the turbine in record time-nine months from the time the investment decision was made to the completion of a power-generating turbine. The project was not only on time, it was on budget as well.

Abbatiello says the success of the project started with Glencore's willingness to try new things, as well as the government agencies who have been part of making the project possible.

"Glencore has supported us, but they also supported the actual construction with knowledge and, when needed, with resources. Building in the arctic is complicated, because if you forget something, you just can't get out there and buy it in a local hardware store. Without the support of Glencore, it could have been much tougher."

Tugliq's goal is to eventually remove as much diesel power generation from the arctic as possible. Projects like the one at the Raglan mine not only remove diesel power, says Abbatiello, but do so at a price that makes a solid business case for wind energy.

Other projects-like Tugliq's construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in the north-are going to help bridge the gap between diesel and clean energy. "We are really looking at millions of liters of diesel currently being burned and being replaced by a cleaner fuel, which is natural gas,
for the short term," says Abbatiello. "We want to be able to remove that gas in the longer term and replace it with something that would be even cleaner, but the technologies are not there yet. Natural gas is the transition energy to cleaner energy, and with our projects, we'll be at the forefront of that."

Both the Raglan and Diavik wind farms are demonstrating one important fact. Turbines have arrived in the windy arctic and are the cheapest way to produce electricity at a
remote location.