The Northwest Energy Task Force is keeping a close eye on the power needs of two mines scheduled to open next year at Red Lake.

Task force member John Mason said there's a looming problem for two new mining projects that need a solution.

“Between the Rubicon operation and (Goldcorp's) Cochenour Bruce Channel, I would estimate over $700 million has been spent, and yet could be hampered with power issues, which would be devastating to these new operations.”

Mason said the mines could be held up unless electricity infrastructure is upgraded.

Rubicon’s Phoenix gold project is set to start up next spring, and mine maintenance superintendent Sylvain Talbot agrees there’s a challenge to overcome.

Red Lake map

(Canadian Press)

“There is nine megawatts available, and Goldcorp and Rubicon are maybe looking for 20 megawatts.  And there is another junior company that's coming, so Red Lake area is running out of power.”

Talbot said he recently asked about options to enable Rubicon to start production at the new mine next spring.

The Independent Electricity System Operator, he said, proposed a temporary "load curtain.”  The mine would have five minutes to shut down if issues developed with power generation in the system.

"The problem is the line. There is only one single line between Dryden and Red Lake. The line has a capacity.”

'Big concern'

Talbot noted planned upgrades to transmission infrastructure from Dryden to Red Lake may not be done until the end of next year. Talbot said "Hydro One has to upgrade the line between Ear Falls and Dryden,” and that it has to add capacity at the Red Lake Transformer Station.

That should be "good to go,” he said, by the end of 2015.

Meetings are being held between the companies and Hydro One to deal with the issue in the interim.

When contacted by CBC News on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Hydro One Networks said she was looking into the matter and would try to obtain information from Hydro officials about the situation at Red Lake on Thursday.

Mason said he is confident there's an opportunity to come up with short-term solutions by refurbishing existing lines — but those solutions are needed to allow production to begin at both operations next year.

If not, "in terms of an economic driver for the northwest, including all the northwest, there would be ramifications — and that's the big concern,” Mason said.