Australia-based Montem Resources has announced plans to explore a renewable energy project instead of a coal mine at its Tent Mountain site in southwestern Alberta, leaving some wondering. on business intent.
The proposed project would include an offsite wind farm that would pump water to an upper reservoir on Tent Mountain, with the hydroelectric power generated being used to create green hydrogen in the lower reservoir. Any excess power would be sold to the power grid.
Montem Resources, which describes itself as a steelmaking coal and renewable energy development company, had previously attempted to re-open an open pit metallurgical coal mine at Tent Mountain, which was closed in 1983. The proposed development is located in the Crowsnest Pass of the Alberta Rocky Mountains near the British Columbia border.
The company is still pursuing approval for the Tent Mountain mining project while it explores the feasibility of the renewable project, a move by environmentalists that casts doubt on its new image as a green player.
“I think if Montem were really committed to a renewable energy future, [they] would end their demand for coal mining, and they just haven’t,” said Fraser Thomson, a lawyer for environmental charity Ecojustice.
Thomson noted that a project of this scale would require a full impact assessment and consultation with neighboring First Nations.
Peter Doyle, CEO and managing director of Montem Resources, said the company is in the early stages of talks with the Piikani First Nation to build the offsite wind farm on their land.
For now, Doyle said the company is focused on assessing the investment potential of the renewable energy project and will decide in late June or early July whether to go ahead with him or the mine. of coal.
“We are reimagining our assets and, in fact, in doing so, we are reimagining the future of energy in Alberta,” Doyle said.
Doyle said the company was forced to seek alternatives after facing “significant progress” from the provincial and federal governments on the development of a coal mine.
Plans for the mine were stalled last summer after Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson ordered that it undergo a federal impact assessment.
Norma Dougall is the interim president of the Livingstone Landowners Group, which has opposed previous mining projects in the area. She said the Tent Mountain area is environmentally sensitive and the impacts of proposed hydroelectric facilities on water supplies are of concern.
The headwaters of the Crowsnest River are adjacent to the proposed site. The river empties into the Oldman watershed which is already facing high water demand.
“From what we know, approximately every unit of hydrogen produced requires approximately nine units of water, and that is, the water is never returned to the system,” Dougall said.
“So if they plan to use significant amounts of water to produce hydrogen from the upper reaches of the Crowsnest River, it could significantly reduce the flow of the river during dry periods of the summer or during drought years.”
Given that the renewable energy project would require the use of a former open pit mine as a reservoir, Dougall also wonders about the potential contamination of the Crowsnest River and Oldman watershed when sediments from the water body are disturbed.
“We’re not thrilled with the idea because we don’t have much confidence… that either [Montem Resources] or I really assume that the Government of Alberta has the best interests of Albertans at heart. »
Lack of work in the region
Lucas Michalsky is a rancher and local business owner in Blairmore, a Crowsnest Pass township. Many family members work in nearby mines.
He said that during his lifetime he saw the surrounding area change drastically due to lack of work.
“I heard all these stories from my dad and grandfather about when [Crowsnest Pass] was vibrant, you could walk down the street and there were all these shops and stores open and you could buy stuff,” Michalsky said.
“We’ve really lost every kind of industry that we’ve ever had.”
Michalsky said he would rather see the coal mine continue instead of the renewable energy project because it will provide more jobs – 190 positions compared to just 50, according to Doyle. But progress on either project would make a difference in the community, he said.
Michalsky added that he didn’t want any further environmental degradation anyway, and that an appealing aspect of the Tent Mountain project is that it wouldn’t involve the creation of a new industrial site.
“You know, times change and hey, if there’s a better way to generate power, by all means, let’s do it,” he said.
“It’s an old coal mine that’s still there. We might as well use it.”