Diavik Diamond Mine plans to harness wind energy and cut diesel consumption at its site by building a windfarm.

Construction has begun on the windfarm at the mine located 400 kilometres north of Yellowknife. According to Diavik, it will be the first industrial windfarm in northern Canada and the first large-scale windfarm at an operating mine anywhere in the world.

"We want to broaden the generating capacity into wind to reduce our reliance on diesel," said Alasdair Martin, Diavik’s acting president and chief operating officer.

Modelled after similar turbines in Europe, the four turbines, each about 100 metres high, will have a total capacity of 9.2 megawatts of electricity.

"Beyond Diavik, from a Rio Tinto point of view, and any other mining company's point of view, it's a leap into the unknown so to speak," said Martin.

"It's innovative, but in terms of challenging the technology, we're challenging it about as far as we can by putting it in Diavik. But we think we can make it work."  

The turbines will still function until the temperature hits -40, which they say is 10 degrees colder than previous technology.

Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions expected

The windfarm is expected to cut the mine’s diesel consumption by 10 per cent, or 4 million litres, resulting in 100 fewer truckloads travelling along the winter road. The company expects its greenhouse gas emissions will drop by six per cent, or 12,000 tonnes.

Starting the project will cost about $25 million but company officials say they'll save about $5 million a year in diesel.

Louie Azzolini, executive director of the Arctic Energy Alliance, said that a private sector organization building a windfarm to decrease its reliance on diesel fuel is a positive sign.

"If the private sector is getting involved, it means there's money to be had and saved," he said.

The company said the four huge windmills are expected to start producing power next fall.