Tahoe Canada is being recognized as a mining industry leader in promoting energy conservation at its Timmins operations.
The company – previously Lake Shore Gold – operates the Timmins West and Bell Creek underground gold mines, along with the Bell Creek mill, located roughly 20 kilometres northeast of Timmins.
Tahoe hired Bruce Armitage in 2017 as its full-time energy manager with a goal to reduce its energy consumption. Now, the company is on track to save $11.95 million through a suite of energy-saving initiatives under its Digging Energy program.
Armitage said the program aims to raise awareness amongst employees about the challenges associated with mining.
Its logo – comprised of a headframe, a leaf and an electricity plug – represents the “struggle, understanding and acceptance that, as a mine advances, it will inevitably require more energy and resources, such as ventilation, dewatering, and compressed air, to extract our reserves,” he said.
At the core of Digging Energy is an incentive program that rewards workers, including employees, students and contractors, for coming up with ideas to save on energy across operations.
People who submit valid suggestions through the program have their names entered into a monthly draw for gift certificates, and the crew that tallies the most energy savings in a year is treated to a pizza lunch. At year’s end, one worker is awarded the grand prize of having their electricity bill paid by the company.
Armitage has committed to personally responding to every suggestion submitted, each one tracked on a spreadsheet and reviewed by senior management. He then writes and hand delivers a letter of appreciation to the worker who suggested it.
Since the program’s launch, the company has received close to 150 suggestions, a number of which have been carried out, or are in the process of being implemented.
One of the most successful has saved 6,900 megawatt-hours (MW) at the Bell Creek mill.
Inspecting the mill’s system during monthly downtime, staff found that its grates were getting plugged, causing slurry pooling and reducing the amount of attrition grinding, Armitage said. By just cleaning the grates and optimizing some additional internal designs, Tahoe was able to substantially boost the mill’s efficiency.
“We saved over 30 per cent in energy just making the internal changes into our milling than what we previously did, and that allowed us the capability of increasing the tonnage and the throughput,” Armitage said.
As a result, he noted, the mill has gone from running 170 tonnes per hour, at an energy intensity of 36 kilowatt-hours per tonne, to 225 tonnes per hour, at an energy intensity of less than 30 kilowatt-hours per tonne.
“To put that into perspective, when you look at Bell Creek mining and milling facility, your mill itself consumes over 50 per cent of the electricity of the whole site,” he added. “It's significant savings.”
In another project, with funding from the Independent Electrical System Operator (IESO), Tahoe undertook a feasibility study examining improvements on ventilation, dewatering and compressed air, replacing its aging compressors as a result.
“Essentially, the detailed engineering study proved that there would be a tremendous amount of energy savings to replace our existing 30-year-old compressors with three brand new models and, depending on the criteria that was there, (the IESO) virtually paid for one of the three compressors,” Armitage said.
A big reason Tahoe is able to undertake these energy initiatives is government funding programs, such as the IESO’s Save on Energy Program, the Industrial Accelerator Program (IAP), and the Canadian Industry Partnership for Energy Conservation (CIPEC), he noted.
Through the Northern Ontario Industrial Energy Rebate (NIER) program, just having an energy manager on site gives Tahoe access to incentives based on how much energy savings it achieves.
“Our target is 2,000 MW hours per year,” Armitage said. “We achieved 8,500 MW hours last year, so we’re doing really well.”
Tahoe has been widely praised for its efforts, earning Armitage and the company accolades including the IAP-CIPEC Energy Manager of the Year Award; the Most Non-Incented Energy Savings Award; and the CPIEC Leadership Award for Employee Awareness and Training.
The latter was especially poignant as 2018 marked the first time a mining company has ever won the award.
And industry is taking notice. Armitage has spoken at the 2018 Energy Summit and the 2018 Energy and Mines World Congress, sharing the success stories behind Tahoe’s initiatives. He believes it’s one way the company can help the sector become more sustainable.
“Mining's a very small community; we build upon and help one another,” he said. “So as part of that awareness, we don't only do it at our sites here in Timmins, we do it for the industry as well.”