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Mountain News: Mine property now mines solar energy

KIMBERLEY, B.C. — With its tumbling creeks and fast-moving rivers, British Columbia gets 97 per cent of its electricity from clean-energy sources, mostly hydro. Now, a new 1.
SOLAR POWER A new 1.05-megawatt solar installation at a Kimberley, B.C. mine has diversified the province's energy portfolio. Shutterstock photo

KIMBERLEY, B.C. — With its tumbling creeks and fast-moving rivers, British Columbia gets 97 per cent of its electricity from clean-energy sources, mostly hydro. Now, a new 1.05-megawatt solar installation at Kimberley has diversified the province's energy portfolio.

The city of 7,600 people is located in the foothills of the Purcell Mountains, about a 90-minute drive from the U.S. border and about two hours from Alberta. It now has a tourism-based economy, based partly on a local ski area but also proximity to Fernie, about an hour and a half away. It used to be a mining town, as the Sullivan Mine had been the largest lead-zinc producer in the world before closing in 2001.

Some 4,032 solar modules have now been installed on that former mining property. The panels are attached to trackers, which follow the daily progress of the sun, the first large-scale solar facility in Canada to use the technology. The German-engineered trackers allow the panels to generate as much as 38 per cent more energy than fixed panels.

Tech Resources Ltd., the owner of the mining property, provided the land as well as a $2 million contribution. By a wide margin, Kimberley voters in 2011 approved borrowing $2 million to be used for the solar installation, called the SunMine.

Also crucial was a commitment from B.C. Hydro, the province's electrical provider. The agency committed to paying 11 cents a kilowatt-hour for the next 25 years, substantially more than the cost of hydro, says Kevin Wilson, Kimberley's economic development officer.

Wilson says the solar helps diversify British Columbia's power supply. That, in turn, makes the power supply more resilient. Solar will, for example, continue even in times of drought.

Kimberley's solar project may also be a catalyst for other solar projects, perhaps in neighbouring Alberta, he says.

According to Alberta Energy, 90 per cent of the province's electrical production in 2013 came from either coal or natural gas. But as prices for coal and natural gas fluctuate, solar may eventually be seen as a more stable source, speculates Wilson. The sun maybe doesn't always shine, as solar energy detractors often point out, but it's free and generally reliable. Kimberley, for example, calculates it gets sunshine for at least some part of 300 days per year, the most of any location in British Columbia and on par with Colorado.

For solar to get traction in Alberta, says Wilson, the province will have to provide stronger incentives, probably including a long-time price commitment. Price guarantees can then allow solar developers to get financing.

With a major change in the Alberta government produced by elections in May, many observers predict policies more encouraging of alternative energy. Tellingly, shortly after the elections, several oil companies that help produce oil from the tar sands around Fort McMurray indicated their support of an elevated carbon tax. The province already has a carbon tax of $15 per tonne, which is now scheduled to increase to $30 per tonne by 2017.

B.C. has a broader carbon tax, first instituted in 2008 at a price of $15 per tonne. It has since increased to $30 per tonne.

Kimberley leaders have indicated that they may try to expand the solar project. Mayor Don McCormick pointed out that SunMine is relatively small, but there have already been inquiries from prospective partners. Existing panels cover five hectares of the property, but there's enough land to support 200 times as much electricity.

As electricity can travel across borders as well as any other commodity, it's possible that electricity markets in other locations, such as in California or Alberta, could conceivably drive future outlays.

Park City has only one! Well, actually, it has two

PARK CITY, Utah — Vail Resorts has unveiled its new marketing tagline for its combined operations of Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons: "There is only one."

Actually, in Park City, there are still two: the new combined resort and Deer Valley. Coleen Reardon, director of marketing for Deer Valley Resort, tells The Park Record that her resort did too good a job of branding its individual identity. People thought Deer Valley was apart from Park City, somewhere else along the Wasatch Range.

She likes what Vail has done, however. "I thought it was a really smart marketing move," she says. "It speaks to the resort on two fronts: there's only one biggest (resort) in the U.S. and also they are combining two resorts, so now there is only one. It makes great sense to me."

When stealing cannabis, it's best to wear a mask

ASPEN, Colo. — If you should plan to rob a cannabis store in Colorado, you should remember that state regulators require top-of-the-shelf security systems.

Hide your face. Don't speak. Be quick.

But then, if you're desperate, you may forget all this. A robber at a cannabis store in Aspen last week was both contrite and admittedly desperate. He arrived at the Stash with a hammer and a trash bag and, after other customers had left, entered the back room. There, he emptied several jars, with an estimated retail value of $11,000, into his getaway bag before he, himself, got away.

Garrett Patrick, owner of the Stash, told the Aspen Daily News that his unwelcome visitor was apologetic but insistent. "Sorry, I apologize about this, but I'm desperate right now," he remembers the young man saying.

Store employees said they recognized the man. Police got in touch with his family, in the hope that the man could be persuaded to turn himself in before worse trouble ensued. That worse trouble almost occurred in St. Louis, where the relative youngster led police on a high-speed chase before finally submitting.

As for the cannabis, it's now down the tube, at least as for retail value. It's considered possibly contaminated.

The storeowner credited his employees with handling the situation well. They're instructed not to resist. But he also noted that the store's high-definition cameras provide better definition than his own TV.

Scientists study ebbing of Athabasca Glacier

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta — University scientists this summer have been spending time on the Athabasca Glacier, the largest of six tongues of ice descending from the Columbia Icefield.

The icefield is located on the eastern flanks of the Continental Divide, about halfway from Lake Louise to Jasper. It's about a four-hour drive from either Calgary or Edmonton.

Like other glaciers around the world, the Athabasca has been shrinking. In the last 125 years, it has retreated more than 1.5 kilometres, now at a rate of 5.5 metres each summer. It has also lost half its volume.

The scientists from the University of Saskatchewan hope to learn how the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield regulate their own climates by cooling the local air mass and interacting with the warmer air from the valley bottom, explains the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

"We wanted to better understand the mechanisms by which this occurs and how much this might affect the melt rate of the Athabasca Glacier," says Dr. John Pomeroy, the director for the university's Centre for Hydrology. "By better understanding this self-regulating climate, we can understand how resistant it is to climate warming and, as the glacier and icefield shrink, start to estimate at what point this 'resistance' is no longer effective."

Once the ice shrink reaches that threshold, says Pomeroy, "we can expect greatly accelerated ice melt rates."

The research has one other significant so-what: If the glaciers do vanish, will that diminish the amount of water flowing into rivers. The Columbia Icefield is the headwaters of three major rivers, the Columbia, the Saskatchewan, and the Athabasca.

How small can you get and still have a home?

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — The average home size in the United States continues to increase. In 1983, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, new homes were an average 525 square metres. By 2013, the average had increased to 844 square metres.

At least in regards to its labouring class, Crested Butte looks to go in the other direction. The town has six so-called micro-lots that it intends to develop for affordable housing. Town regulations are being revised to allow seven, instead of six, single-family homes. The homes could range in size from 122 to 381 square metres.

Jim Schmidt, who himself lives in affordable housing, thinks that instead of trying to create single-family homes, the town should build more duplexes. "They are cheaper to build and less expensive to heat," he said at a recent meeting covered by the Crested Butte News. A 122-square-metre home is no bigger than a garage, he added.

His opinion, however, was in the minority.

New tech deployed to set off avalanches above highways

EMPIRE, Colo. — A new avalanche mitigation system has been installed over the highways across two Continental Divide crossings in Colorado.

Using both helicopters and llamas, crews transported nearly $1 million worth of equipment to the top of the Seven Sisters avalanche paths. The paths cross U.S. 6 on its way to and from Loveland Pass. The Gazex avalanche mitigation system has also been installed on the Stanley Slide, located on the northern side of Berthoud Pass.

The Summit Daily explains the Gazex system triggers avalanches remotely with a blast of compressed air. As it's triggered remotely, there is no chance of people doing the triggering and getting hurt. As such, it replaces use of Avalaunchers.

A first for Colorado's Department of Transportation, the technology is already used in Utah at the Snowbasin and Brighton resorts and at Wyoming's Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.