Clean Power

Published on March 9th, 2013 | by Andrew


Transforming Abandoned Iron Mine Into 400 MW Hydroelectric Power Plant

March 9th, 2013 by  

Looking to put an abandoned, open pit iron mine to good use, Toronto’s Northland Power intends to transform the former Bethlehem Steel site between Ottawa and Toronto into a 400 megawatt (MW) pumped hydro power storage facility. Doing so would entail creating a waterfall nearly five times the height of Niagara Falls.

A developer of clean, green energy projects, Northland Power believes the Marmora Pumped Storage project will facilitate energy storage and the integration of wind and solar power generation onto Ontario’s grid, and enable the company to pocket the difference between peak and off-peak electricity prices along the way.

Ontario’s been leading the way forward in renewable energy deployment in Canada, with passage of the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, 2009 ushering in North America’s first renewable energy feed-in tariff (FiT).

Marmora Mine. Image Credit: Robert Scott Photography (some rights reserved)

Marmora Mine.
Image Credit: Robert Scott Photography (some rights reserved)

Mining – iron ore mining in particular – has been central to life in the town of Marmora, Canada since it was first settled in 1820. Being the first iron mining community in Upper Canada, the settlement’s original name – Marmora Iron Works – belies the prominent role iron ore mining has played in the town’s existence.

Bethlehem Steel revitalized iron ore mining in Marmora in 1953, when it began exploiting a magnetitie ore body that was discovered by a Canadian government aeromagnetic survey in 1948. Excavating an open pit mine some 213 meters deep across an area of 75 acres (30.4 hectares), Bethlehem Steel closed the mine down in 1978, leaving behind a vast open pit and mountainous heaps of slag, a site that’s open to the public.

Now filled with water, Northland Power’s Marmora Pumped Storage project envisions construction of a closed-loop, pumped hydro power storage and generation facility on the site capable of producing 400 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable electrical power for five hours.

From Open Pit Iron Ore Mine to Pumped Storage Hydro Power Facility

Northland’s project plan entails purchasing electricity from Ontario’s grid at night when prices are cheaper and using it to run a Francis water turbine/pump combination that would pump water from the open pit mine – now a lake – up some 245 meters into a storage reservoir during off-peak hours. The stored water would then be released, flowing down through the hydroelectric turbines to generate electricity during peak load hours as demand necessitates.

Credit: Globe and Mail, Northland Power

Credit: Globe and Mail, Northland Power

Doing so, according to Northland Power, would “enable time-shifting to support renewable energy and grid demand patterns.” Moreover, by making productive use “of existing man-made infrastructure from three decades…it is cheaper than wind, solar, and natural gas-fired power (without the emissions),” according to the company.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail has posted a nice video explaining the challenges energy storage and grid integration pose for renewable energy growth and describing the benefits of Northland’s Marmora Pumped Storage project.

Ontario: Blazing The Renewable Energy Trail

Ontario’s been at the forefront of renewable energy development and deployments in North America. Canada’s leader in terms of wind and solar power generation capacity, the provincial legislature enacted the first renewable energy feed-in tariff on the continent in 2009.

“The proposed feed-in tariff program would help spark new investment in renewable energy generation and create a new generation of green jobs,” then Deputy Premier and Minister of Energy and Infrastructure George Smitherman was quoted at the time. “It would give communities and homeowners the power and tools they need to participate in the energy business in the new green economy.”

“Ontario has made great progress in procuring renewables, becoming Canada’s leading province for wind power,” added Ontario Power Authority (OPA) CEO Colin Andersen. “This proposed FIT program would build on our success and ensure that more contracts turn into projects sooner.”

OPA has executed a total of 1,728 FIT contracts with rated electrical power generation capacity totaling more than 4.5 gigawatts (GW), according to the latest, January 31, 2013 FIT Program Quarterly Report. Of this total, 542 are in commercial operation. Another 882 FIT applications with a total generating capacity of nearly 10.6 GW are pending.

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About the Author

I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.

  • Otis11

    2 GWhs of storage? That’s great news!

  • This is a good way to ” recycle ” a previously disturbed site. Congratulations to them for making new power without new impact.

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