After a century of pulling lead and zinc from the Sullivan mine in southeast British Columbia, the energy company Teck recently shut down the operation and began years of restoration work. Some of the land outside the city of Kimberley became a meadow with grass and trees, but it remained tainted after decades of mining activity.
There was no way it could be turned into a housing subdivision or some other development.
The area would likely have sat empty for decades if not for an initiative by the city to take it over and build a solar field. The project has since caught the attention of the mining industry as an innovative method of re-purposing old mining sites and generating revenue, even if the land is contaminated. As long as there are plenty of sunny days — or, in the case of wind farms, strong winds — a company has an opportunity to recoup some of the expense of cleaning up a mine, which can cost tens of millions of dollars.
Walk around Kimberley’s SunMine solar field and you wouldn’t know you’re hiking above an old mining site. Solar panels fill the landscape, like 96 sunflowers tracking the sun from dusk until dawn. The SunMine produces one megawatt of electricity, enough to power about 200 homes, but there is enough land to expand to 200 megawatts in the future, more than enough to power Kimberley, which has about 7,000 people, and surrounding communities.
Teck donated the land to the city along with $2 million towards the $5.3 million project. Initial costs were high, because of legal fees and other one-time costs, officials say.
Finding new life
The city invested in the project to create jobs and reinforce its environmental values. However, the potential of putting renewable energy facilities on old mining and oilsands sites elsewhere in the country isn’t lost on city officials, who operate…