Con Mine geothermal plan nets federal funding

Yellowknife's plan to harness geothermal heat from a defunct gold mine is in line for at least $10 million from Ottawa.

The City of Yellowknife's proposal to harness geothermal heat from a defunct gold mine is slated to get at least $10 million from the federal government.

The Con Mine geothermal project is one of 19 developments across Canada to be promised money Monday from the government's $1-billion Clean Energy Fund.

The Yellowknife plan is expected to receive between $10 million and $20 million, according to a government release.

The city is in advanced engineering stages of work to determine if a district geothermal heating system can be set up from the former underground mine, which produced five million ounces of gold from 1938 to 2003.

Prime source

A preliminary report found that the Con Mine's high temperatures — upward of 34 C — and its location directly below the city could make it a prime source of geothermal energy.

"It could be a major and huge contribution to the sustainability of Yellowknife, going forward," Mayor Gordon Van Tighem told CBC News on Monday.

The federal funding will cover as much as half of the project's estimated cost of $32 million, but Van Tighem said the city will have to find money to cover the rest.

As well, the mayor said the city still has to figure out if the project makes economic sense.

"It's great to come up with a proven technology and a super system, but if it costs you two or three times above what you're already paying, then maybe this isn't the time," he said.

'There's a resource down there'

City energy planner Mark Henry said several questions still have to be answered:

  • Which buildings might be able to tap into the system?
  • How much energy those buildings would use?
  • Exactly how hot is the Con Mine site underground?

While those answers would determine whether the geothermal system would be feasible in Yellowknife, Henry said he is optimistic.

"We have miners that have been in that mine that have experienced the temperature shifts — from deep within the mine, in the 30, 40 C range, [then] coming to the surface and having –40 C," he said.

"So I think there's been this intuitive idea circulating within the community for a long time that there's a resource down there."

The federal funding puts the Yellowknife project on a deadline, as the money has to be spent by March 2014.

The city, along with the other funding recipients, will now have to negotiate formal contribution agreements with federal officials before any of the money starts flowing.

Some of the other funding recipients announced Monday include:

  • A project based in Ontario and Manitoba to store electricity with new and repurposed lithium ion automotive batteries.
  • A plan for waste-heat recovery systems at compressor stations across Alberta and B.C.
  • Installation of an "interactive smart zone" in Boucherville, Que., with infrastructure for people to charge electric and hybrid vehicles.
  • A tidal energy project in the Bay of Fundy, to determine how tidal current turbines would perform in the Minas Passage.
  • A wind-power research park proposed on Prince Edward Island.

The government will invest up to $146 million from the Clean Energy Fund toward all 19 projects, according to the release.