COMPANY

Midas Gold exploration camp — central idaho

Background

Despite nearly a century of mining activity, the Stibnite Gold Project in central Idaho contains valuable deposits of gold and other minerals, such as antimony. Mineral exploration firm Midas Gold set up an exploration camp on the site, which it has been studying since 2009 with the goal of opening a world-class mine. The camp includes a core shed, maintenance shop, fuel depot, several office trailers, and a handful of year-round staff members.

The company is currently conducting environmental baseline work on the project site and preparing a plan of operations as it works to secure permits for the mine.

Challenge

Midas Gold’s exploration camp is remote, even by Idaho standards. Located 100 miles northeast of Boise, along the boundaries of the Frank Church Wilderness — the largest contiguous wilderness area in the Lower 48 — the site is “at the edge of nowhere,” as the company describes it. In fact, the nearest electrical grid power is 15 miles away, in the 60-person town of Yellow Pine.

Midas Gold’s exploration camp is remote — the site is “at the edge of nowhere,” as the company describes it.

Midas Gold plans to connect to the grid when all the permits are secured. In the meantime, the camp must use onsite power generation. In the early days of the camp, that meant using large, fuel-hungry diesel generators to power the camp’s lighting, computers, engine block heaters, and other essential equipment.

In addition to being expensive, the smelly, inefficient diesel units weren’t a fit with the company’s environmental objectives. The camp required a no-grid power solution that would reduce both emissions and costs.

Solution

To overhaul the camp’s power usage, Midas Gold worked with clean energy consultant Kelley Dagley to design and build a new power system around two clean sources of energy: solar photovoltaics and propane.

The highly automated system is one that could be used by any business operating off the grid. The company installed a 12-kW solar array on the roof of the camp’s fuel depot (the solar capacity will likely double in 2015) alongside an 80-kWh battery for power storage. A 15-kW Generac EcoGen propane generator, designed specifically to work with off-grid renewable energy applications, kicks on to recharge the battery when additional power is needed. Together, the solar inverters and propane generator provide the same peak power capacity as a full-size prime diesel generator.

“Originally we considered a diesel generator, but it was harder to come by one that would work well with a renewable energy system, that was also affordable, and that was spec’d to meet EPA Tier 4i emissions regulations,” says Dagley, who is also vice president of the Idaho Clean Energy Association. “The EcoGen is specifically designed to do exactly what we’re using them for, which is a backup to solar generation. And it meets all the EPA standards.”

To overhaul the camp’s power usage, Midas Gold worked with clean energy consultant Kelley Dagley to design and build a new power system around two clean sources of energy: solar photovoltaics and propane.

Today, the camp is run completely on solar and propane; solar is also used to power two microwave relays and an air monitoring station. To improve the camp’s energy performance, Midas Gold took a number of steps to reduce its electrical usage. Motion sensors shut off lighting when not in use, and a remote power monitoring system can shut down the power to unnecessary equipment, like engine block heaters on equipment that won’t be used for weeks.

The poorly performing electric heat pump in the main office trailer was replaced with a propane furnace that performs better in cold weather. Even when the temperatures dip into the negatives, Dagley says, “It’s toasty warm.” In all, the camp was able to reduce its usage to about 30 MWh per year.

Results

Propane and solar provide millions of dollars in fuel savings.

Dagley used sophisticated solar modeling and examined diesel prices 20 years into the future to calculate the ROI on Midas Gold’s investment. The results were remarkable. A $169,000 investment in the solar and propane system yields a 27 percent tax-free dividend in the first year, growing 7 percent every year for 25 years. The capital payback is in just over two years, including a 30 percent tax credit in the first year. The company expects to save about $3 million in diesel costs over the life of the project.

Propane improves camp life.

“The quality of life around the core shed area has improved greatly,” Dagley says. “It’s quiet most of the time, because now the propane generator comes on only as needed, plus it runs quietly. It operates at full capacity, so it doesn’t have to run nearly as long — unlike the diesel generator idling 24/7, which puts out a little bit of a stink.”

“Propane is a lot cleaner just from a usability standpoint.”

Kelley Dagley

Clean Energy Consultant

Propane and solar meet environmental objectives.

In addition to reducing carbon emissions by eliminating the use of diesel fuel, the company has also reduced the chance of a diesel fuel spill while hauling the fuel alongside the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River and other area streams. “Every fuel truck we keep off the road reduces risk and we view propane transportation as a safer alternative in the event of a traffic accident,” says Jeff Root, Midas Gold’s Land Manager.

“Despite improved environmental performance by the modern mining industry, mining companies still face negative perceptions,” says Bob Barnes, Midas Gold’s COO. The exploration camp will serve as an example for the environmentally friendly approach the company is committed to. “As we go into the permitting process, taking a sustainable approach reflects how we want to run the project now and in the future,” Barnes says.

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