Tent Mountain green energy plan: triple solution

Combining a wind farm, hydroelectric power and hydrogen production into one project

by Timothy Fowler
Aerial view of the Tent Mountain Mine

Wind power, hydro electric generation and hydrogen manufacture are the three cornerstones of the proposed green energy project at Tent Mountain. — Image provided by Montem Resources

One of the significant challenges coal mining companies like Montem Resources wrestle with is how to best use assets that are no longer producing coal. The Tent Mountain coal mine in the Crowsnest Pass straddles the Alberta and British Columbia borders and is such a property. The uniqueness of the landscape provides the perfect location for a triple tier of green energy development.

Will Bride, Advisor Chair Committee for Tent Mountain Renewable Energy Complex said, “It’s a unicorn.”

Let me explain.

Pumped Hydroelectric Energy Storage

Tent Mountain is a metallurgical mine in the Crowsnest Pass area that is the perfect platform to build out a green energy project that utilizes wind-generated power and the ability to store excess electrical power in a Pumped Hydroelectric Energy Storage system (PHES). 

The electricity generated could operate a hydrogen generating plant based on electrolysis. What makes this particular mine landscape perfect for the energy project is the existence of two large reservoirs of water that are separated by 300 metres of elevation. This is thought to be an ideal set-up for hydro energy generation—the water can be returned to the “battery” by reversing the turbines when power is in low demand. 

Graphic explaining how a Pumped Hydroelectric Energy System works.

The combination of an upper and lower reservoir separated by 300 metres is the perfect set up for unique energy storage. — Image provided by Montem Resources

Project Explained

Peter Doyle, Managing Director, and CEO of Montem Resources explains it like this: 

“In 2019, we embarked on a full definitive feasibility study for the Tent Mountain Mine. Our chairman at the time said, “Why don't you investigate a Plan B as well?” We spent time, energy and money on investigating the potential for Tent Mountain for a pumped hydroelectric energy storage system or facility.

“There's a huge reservoir in the old open-cut mine that started filling up when they stopped mining it and reclaimed it and in the subsequent 40 years, it has filled up. The lower reservoirs are part of the water reticulation,” said Doyle. “It's very simply a water battery—it's storing the potential energy in gravity and water, and then sending down pipes through turbines into a power station. That generates electricity. And then when electricity prices are cheaper, you turn the turbines around and pump the water back up.

Scenic view of Tent Mountain Mine.

The upper reservoir at the Tent Mountain Mine has filled with water within the last 40 years. — Image provided by Montem Resources

“We invested in it [the development plan] through the middle of 2021 and took our concept study through pre-feasibility and we are on our way to full feasibility now,” said Doyle.

“A consulting group came to us and said, “Look, you've got the potential with your relationship with Piikani First Nation to co-locate a wind farm to power your pumped hydro system and add an electrolyzer that will be powered by green electricity.” Therefore, you have your renewable electricity source producing green hydrogen, which is the lowest carbon intensity.

“We’ve also separated the three businesses into the wind farm, pump and hydro energy storage, and the electrolyzer to produce the hydrogen. They are separate business units, or at least we're looking at them separately so that they can each stand alone. If they all come together as one, that is beneficial too.

“We're just teasing out the economics of it now,” said Doyle. “Hopefully by the end of June, we've got completed cost estimates. And we can line up the renewable project next to the coal project and weigh up the risk of both and make an informed decision as a company on what we're going to invest in.”

To be clear, the global demand for coal will require it to be mined and shipped to markets for the foreseeable future, but a multi-layered green project like this hits on all the positive no-carbon emissions processes. Hydrogen as a usable fuel is in the early stages of development, but this project can be on the forefront as the market develops. This plan addresses what to do with an aging mining asset that has a completely green outcome.

Doyle said, “We think it's an amazing and exciting opportunity for Alberta, to potentially take a coal mine and switch it off and turn it into a very large, cutting-edge, renewable energy project.” 

Graphic outlining components of proposed energy project.

Each of these three projects are designed to stand alone, but are perfectly suited to be built in combination to compliment each other. — Image provided by Montem Resources

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