Will nuclear power eclipse solar energy?

Solar energy installations, like the world-class Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant,have amped-up in Canada, reaching 0.5 per cent of total energy production despite an international resurgence in nuclear energy.

Solar generation now produces over 2,900 megawatts of electricity in Canada, up from 500 megawatts in 2011 – enough power to supply an industrialized city of approximately two million people. Europe, Asia, and North America lead the world with 300.4 gigawatts of combined annual solar energy production.

Belarus, Bangladesh, UAE and Turkey are currently building new nuclear powerplants. Thirty other countries, including Norway, Portugal and Australia, are considering, planning or starting nuclear power programs.

The current need for consistent baseload power offered by nuclear – and reduced emissions offered by solar, is reinvigorating the global energy debate.

In a recent popular TEDx Talk, American environmental policy writer and energy expert Michael Shellenbergerwarned the environmental damage caused by the deployment of millions of solar panels threatens solar energy’s status as an alternative to nuclear energy – which produces approximately 10 per cent of the world’s electricity.

“We tend to think of solar panels as clean, but the truth is, there is no plan to deal with solar panels at the end of their 20 or 25-year life,” Shellenberger said.

“A lot of experts are concerned that solar panels are just going to be shipped to Africa or Asia with the rest of our electronic waste – exposing people to really high levels of toxic elements – lead, cadmium, and chromium.”

At the beginning of his fight against climate change, Shellenberger thought the technical solutions – solar panels on every rooftop – electric car in the driveway – were straightforward. He proposed a $300 billion renewable energy investment, which paid off when the Obama Administration invested $150 billion in cleantech.

Problems were encountered.

“Solar farms require covering a pretty significant amount of land and also building very big transmission lines to bring all that electricity fromthe countrysideinto the city,” said the founder of Environmental Progress.

Shellenbergersaid that solar farms, which kill thousands of birds and displace wildlife, require almost 20 times more raw materials than nuclear plants – in the form of cement, glass, concrete steel, and nuclear fuel.

“About the same volume of uranium as a Rubik’s Cube can power all of the energy that you need in your entire life,” he explained.

Shellenbergersaid nuclear energy ends up being a lot more reliable, generating emissions free power 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He explained that transitioning to solar and other renewables actually increases CO2 emissions.

“All of which I think raises a really uncomfortable question,” he said.

“In the effort to try to save the climate, are we destroying the environment?”

 The World Information Service on Energy (WISE), an anti-nuclear environmental group, said that Michael Shellenberger and Environmental Progress are disseminating misleading information that minimizes nuclear energy hazards.

“Shellenberger claims that “under 200” people have died and will die from the Chernobyl disaster,” asserted Jim Green, in a WISE report.

“In fact, the lowest of the estimates of the Chernobyl cancer death toll is the World Health Organization’s estimate of up to 9,000 excess deaths in the most contaminated parts of the former Soviet Union – of course, there are higher estimates for the death toll across Europe.”

Fred Schwartz is an adjunct professor of renewable energy at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, former manager of renewables and advanced generation for the City of San Francisco, and winner of the U.S. President’s Conservation and Environmental challenge Award.

“There’s no way in the world you could talk about nuclear energy being clean,” Schwartz said.

“Nuclear is like playing Russian roulette with the most toxic stuff we produce. It’s the single-most toxic thing we do on the planet – the consequences could last tens of thousands of years.”

Schwartz said the cadmium telluride, lead and other toxic ingredients in solar panels “are only a tiny fraction of solar modules – benign compared to nuclear waste.”

“Uranium mining and concentrating are extremely energy intensive,” he added.

Jeremy Leggett, author of The Winning of The Carbon Warsays the nuclear renaissance is “doomed to fail.”

“Nuclear power has become uneconomic,” he said.

“It now costs $9 billion to build one reactor.”

Leggett, who sat on the UK Renewables Advisory Board, said that in 2017, worldwide solar power production grew faster than nuclear and fossil fuels combined – reaching 399 gigawatts. He said that the average cost of solar power has dropped to approximately $50 / MWh in 2019, down 78 per cent from $350 / MWh in 2010.

“Solar and wind are now the cheapest new sources of generation in every developed country except Japan,” Leggett said.

The International Energy Agency reported that current global solar energy production is over 328,000 gigawatt hours, up from 3,904 in 2005.

While BC mining sector resurrects, small miners are being left behind.

 

Gold prospector Dan Hurd prepares for a day of exploration in central B.C.

David Makepeace is fighting to advance the re-opening of a 100 ton per day silver-lead-zinc mine. But the “never-ending permitting and environmental reports” have exhausted the sixty-five-year-old senior project geologist with KlondikeSilver Corp.in Sandon B.C.

“When you transition from exploration to an active mine permit, there is a quantum leap in the amount of paperwork,” said Makepeace, who has a graduate degree in environmental engineering.

“Our tiny operation is considered the same as a major operating mine like Highland Valley Copper, which produces over 100,000 tons a day,” he explained.

The B.C. Government requires Makepeace to produce the same paperwork and environmental studies. Right now, he’s writing a 200-page annual reclamation report, which “diverts my attention from exploration and helping raise money for the company.”

“Klondike Silver could’ve begun production three years ago,” Makepeace said. “Instead, we spent $4 million of shareholders’ money to do nothing.”

Despite Makepeace’s struggle, the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum reported in their Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey that 2018 was the second consecutive year of grass-roots mineral exploration growth, with project spending up 62 per cent from 2016 – totalling $330.2 million. They said total drilled metres were up 17 per cent from 626,897m to 730,500m – a robust increase that saw early-stage exploration spending rise nine per cent.

Iain Thompson, Canadian Mining and Metals Leader with Ernst & Young (EY) said that it’s getting much more challenging – globally – to get mining exploration projects through the approvals phase.

“It’s not just a B.C. issue,” he said.

“Obtaining social license is now part of the process – it’s jumped from number seven to number one in global risk.”

However, Thompson said a recent EY study put B.C. in a positive light.

“From a total investment dollars perspective, we certainly are seeing an increase in expenditure in B C,” he explained.

“Three years ago, there was an expectation for a reset, which was a return to early-stage exploration in B.C. We’ve seen that hold somewhat true as Canada captures a larger portion of global mining investment.”

From the 60s to the 90s, the B.C. mining business was like a live theatre that showcased thousands of penny-stock mining companies — many of which were successful in transforming Vancouver into a global mining centre.

The stars of the show were bombastic geologists, Cadillac driving mining promoters, and trophy investment bankers. Men with money blasting their way to riches or bankruptcy.

Decades later things have changed.

Seeking sustainability, successive NDP and Liberal governments have added environmental red tape, making it difficult to advance mining projects from discovery to production. Although B.C. maintains a healthy baseline of producing mines, such as New Afton in Kamloops and Highland Valley Copper near Logan Lake, many mineral explorers are leaving Canada.

According to a Mining Association of Canada report, innovation dollars are steadily leaving for countries like Australia, Germany and South Africa.

Statistics Canada reported that B.C. mineral exploration and deposit appraisal expenditures dropped by $113.4 billion between 2014 and 2018. The Mining Association of Canada reported the number of active projects in Canada is down by almost one-half since 2011. Only two new mining projects were submitted for federal environmental assessment in 2016 according to the MAC.

Daniel Lui, a 17-year veteran of the B.C. mining sector, is one of the exploration geologists who’ve stayed in Canada. He’s grateful that exploration permitting has been streamlined with the use of multi-year area-based permitting, “a system that authorizes flexible exploration work for up to five years on mineral or coal tenures – where (drilling) rigs are sometimes allowed to change planned locations without having to re-permit.”

“But there aren’t many exploration programs left in B.C.,” Lui said.

The situation might be improving. The B.C. Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey said that early stage mineral exploration influences the outlook for the mining and metals sector. Five years ago, the prospects for discoveries leading to new mines appeared bleak, with few investments being made in grass-roots exploration. According to the survey, the mining sector has been going through a reset over the last two years – 2018 denotes 5 years of increases in early stage exploration as a share of total exploration.

Rob Stevens, vice president, regulatory and technical policy, for the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C., said the provincial government has accepted approximately 25 new recommendations via the final report of the association’s Mining Jobs Taskforce.

“They are going to implement all of the various recommendations,” Stevens said.

“The aim of the taskforce was to position B.C. as essentially the most interactive jurisdiction in the country for exploration and mining. They (provincial government) have made tax incentives for flow-through investment permanent.”

Stevens said there are two types of incentives — one for investors, and one for companies – which are able to write-off a portion of their exploration activities. The provincial government has also provided funding for an initiative called the B.C. Regional Mining Allowance, a pilot program that is a collaboration between First Nations, the province, several exploration companies, and the AME.

“The idea was to attend investment forums – to bring forward a consolidated front where everybody is working towards advancing exploration and mining in B.C,” Stevens said.

BCIT graduate, and independent prospector Dan Hurd, 45, has over 20 gold tenures throughout the interior of B.C.

“There’s lots of small-scale exploration to be done out there. That’s easy to do. Moving beyond that is where it starts getting tricky,” said Hurd.

“That’s where the bureaucracy comes into it. We have some fairly strict (environmental) rules here in B.C. Well-natured rules. For a good reason.”

Hurd said that moving beyond hand-digging involves the same approval processes as open pit mining.

“That’s where it gets tough for the little guys,” he explained.

“It really hampers that mid-stage of prospecting. And First Nations consultations can cost thousands. Pretty much everyone now is having to do an archeological study.”

The Government of B.C. website stipulates, “proponents are generally encouraged to engage with First Nations as early as possible in the planning stages to build relationships, and for information sharing purposes that may support consultation processes.”

Hurd said that following the amorphous rules is a near impossibility for some prospectors.

“People are losing their shirts in the process,” he lamented.

 

The Financial Post: Canadian copper producers on a tear as metal rallies again

Base-metal analysts and tarnished copper miners are optimistic on a potential bull trend in copper amid optimism around U.S.-China trade talks and growing scarcity of the metal that’s offsetting concerns about a Chinese economic slowdown.

Copper hit an all-time high of US$10,190 per ton in 2011, but has been on a roller coaster ever since. The metal, considered a key barometer of the global economy given its various uses, hit a four-year high of US$7,348 last June before plunging to US$5,725 in early January. Since then it has clawed its way back to US$6,426.50 per ton, up 7.7 per cent since the start of the year.

The upturn comes as a relief for the Canadian copper industry, which produces approximately 600,000 tonnes annually — three per cent of global supply.

Canadian companies such as Hudbay Minerals Inc. (up 52.61 per cent year-to-date), Imperial Metals Corp. (up 71.88 per cent), Taseko Mines Ltd. (up 10 per cent) and Capstone Mining Corp. (up 6.5 per cent) are among some of the major copper producers riding the latest copper rally.

Brain Bergot, vice-president investor relations at Taseko, which owns 75 per cent of B.C.’s Gibraltar Mine, says he’s optimistic about an industry readjustment, fuelled by shrinking copper supply and a sliding loonie. But he’s concerned about China’s economic slowdown.

“We believe the fundamentals for copper are getting stronger every day,” he said.
“There’s limited new supply, and copper demand continues to grow at historic levels — around two per cent a year.”

Bergot estimated a 350,000-tonne global supply deficit this year, a good indicator for copper producers and investors. A struggling Canadian dollar is also helping domestic copper suppliers.

“For Taseko, 80 per cent of our costs are in Canadian dollars, and our revenue is in U.S. dollars,” he said. “And the outlook for the Canadian dollar is not bullish.”

But Bergot believes the U.S.-China trade dispute, and China’s economy are holding back copper prices.

“We believe the tariff problem, and questions around Chinese government stimulus spending are an overhang for the price of copper,” the 20-year resource sector veteran said.

“People don’t know how it’s going to affect copper demand, and until that’s resolved there’s an uncertainty. Copper should be at a higher price today given the fundamentals.”

In a recent report, RBC Capital Markets analysts said they are cautious towards copper and mining equities given a slowing global economy. Governments and central banks are helping absorb the economic downside — and the physical market for copper remains relatively tight.

The analysts expect Teck Resources Ltd. (up 9 per cent year-to-date), First Quantum Minerals Ltd. (up 47.44 per cent), Lundin Mining Corp. (up 13.34 per cent) and Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. (up 37 per cent) among Canadian producers that are positioned to benefit from the rally.

RBC increased its 2019 copper price slightly to US$2.75 per ounce from US$2.63 per ounce, following a stronger-than-expected performance this year, but warn that cuts in Chinese or European demand could mean a copper surplus.

Still, if the electrification theme in autos and the electrical grid plays out this could offset slowing demand from China as could growth in other emerging markets, RBC analysts said. “We continue to see the need for more supply growth sometime in the mid-2020s, which would require a higher copper price.”

Ross Strachan, a senior metals analyst at Capital Economics, agrees that copper scarcity is supporting prices and creating optimism.

“Copper is the base metal that we are most positive about in the longer term,” he explained. “And a key part of that is the lack of supply growth due to the restricted capital expenditures that have been in the copper market over a number of years.”

A recent Danske Bank report said that China is showing signs of a moderate recovery this year on the back of stimulus, which is reducing uncertainty. The Danish bank expects a U.S.-China trade deal in the coming months, and forecasts  more upside in emerging market assets.

David Cole, CEO of EMX Royalty Corp., which holds 38 per cent of its mining portfolio in copper, says that copper scarcity will drive prices long after the U.S.–China trade negotiations are over.

“The U.S.–China trade talks have consequence with respect to perception and short-term trading patterns,” the 30-year mining veteran said. “I don’t think it’s consequential to long-term copper demand.”

Cole explained that worldwide copper consumption has risen to the point of needing the equivalent of one new Bingham Canyon Mine every year.

Utah’s Bingham Canyon Mine, owned by Rio Tinto Group, is the largest man-made excavation on earth, and has produced more copper than any other mine in history — more than 19 million tons.

“Over the course of the next quarter century, we will produce and consume the equivalent of all the copper that has ever been produced in human history,” said Cole.

jsnell@postmedia.com

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The Financial Post: North America’s first cobalt refinery inches closer to production — but obstacles remain

First Cobalt Corp., the $50-million company, is inching closer to becoming the first producer of battery-grade cobalt to feed the nascent North American electric vehicle market, but there are still plenty of roadblocks in its way.

The Toronto-based company achieved a breakthrough when it announced earlier this month that it successfully produced battery-grade cobalt sulfate using its refinery’s own processes, or flowsheet, — but the problem is, it was done in a lab using a small sample.

CEO Trent Mell, who is currently in Shanghai meeting with investors at the Fastmarkets MB Battery Materials Conference, remains optimistic about the  refinery, which is in the midst of a $30-million refurbishment.

“We’ve had a fair amount of interest in this facility because it’s largely built. Pouring concrete, the roads, the power – it’s all there,” he said.

If built, the refinery would help North American consumers of cobalt reduce their dependence on China —  the dominant player in cobalt refining.

The company has some credible names on its board, including Henrik Fisker, Danish-American electric vehicle designer, who is a director at the firm.

“There’s been some talk of reducing cobalt in batteries, but there’s not really a sign of completely removing cobalt from any sort of viable battery technology for a very long term,” Fisker, the Edison Award winner, said. “That’s why I joined the First Cobalt board.”

Cobalt’s recent manic episode is over. Having swallowed the oversupply pill, prices have dropped more than 60 per cent from last year’s peak, settling around $15 a pound.

The First Cobalt refinery is located inside a large mining block that contains the town of Cobalt. With a base capacity to produce 1,000 tonnes of battery-grade cobalt annually, it is the only permitted primary cobalt refinery in North America – just over a kilometre from the Ontario Northland Railway.

Cobalt, Ont. itself is the birthplace of Canadian hard-rock mining. The area produced 30 million ounces of silver in 1911, — with cobalt as a nuisance by-product — establishing itself as one on the world’s major mining camps. Fuelled by over 30 operating mines, the population of Cobalt once rose to 10,000 – etching an indelible mark on Canadian economic history.

Gino Chitaroni, President of the Northern Prospectors Association and lifelong resident of Cobalt, says the First Cobalt Refinery has earning potential, but only if it can process more cobalt.

“At some point, they’re going to need to put a mill in there,” he said. “Without the mill, you’re not going to get anything produced locally. Guaranteed. The only way around this is ore sorting technology, which could be done within their existing operation. That’s a big factor.”

Mell says he is on the cusp of sourcing refinery feed. After that he expects 18-24 month before he can start producing battery-grade electric vehicles market that has seen sales jump to two million last year alone, according to InsideEVs.

“In the down market, there’s a lot of cobalt available,” he said. “We’ve got a few of the bigger cobalt miners under non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and four automotive companies under NDA. We have a couple of capital providers, and one that’s ready to fund the entire operation.”

Mell concedes the initial cobalt refinery feed will likely come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“It’s a lot easier,” the CEO said. “With that solution, we can produce up to 2,100 tonnes of cobalt per year. It’s a quicker pathway to cashflow than our mining process,” Mell said.

The troubled African state is the world’s dominant producer of cobalt, accounting for roughly 64 per cent of the world’s cobalt supply. Canada is the world fourth largest supplier, after Russia and Australia, accounting for 2.7 per cent of the global market, according to The United States Geological Survey.

While DRC cobalt is famous for its ubiquity, high-grade and low arsenic content, it is also infamous for hammer and chisel artisanal mining and child labour.

Peter Campbell, vice-president of business development at First Cobalt says the company will be working with a large-scale commercial operation in the DRC, but eventually wants to wean itself off the concentrates from the central African state.

Siphoning off DRC cobalt from the Chinese supply chain would be a significant milestone for the North American company, and help other major consumers such as the United States that are keen to source new markets.

First Cobalt’s own mining claims contain dozens of mineral showings and old mine workings in a geologic setting that includes large mineralized faults. However, the company drilled over 30,000 metres last year in the Cobalt Camp without a significant discovery.

Offsetting its lack of self-generated domestic cobalt concentrate, First Cobalt owns and actively explores Idaho’s patented Iron Creek project, the largest unmined cobalt resource in the U.S. The Iron Creek deposit contains an estimated 30 million tonnes grading 0.11 to 0.3 per cent cobalt equivalent, and 0.3 to 0.68 per cent copper.

The company drilled 28,700 metres in 2017 – 2018, adding additional high-grade cobalt and copper zones with room for expansion.

Mell says the best option for Iron Creek is producing unwrought copper on site, while refining cobalt at a new off-site facility.

“There’s a lot to be done in Idaho,” he said.

Fisker says he’s collaborating with First Cobalt to produce optimal battery grades.

“Our scientists are giving the exact formula of the type of cobalt we need for our batteries, so First Cobalt can make sure they mine the type of cobalt we need. Obviously, there’s some refining that has to be done.”

jasnell@postmedia.com

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The Western Producer: A new type of farm boss eager to take charge

Change is constant on the Prairies, starting with new life and then shifting to growth, development, maturation and eventually renewal.

TeddiAnn Skibsted is on the cusp of one such change as one of Canada’s youngest up-and-coming farm bosses.

Skibsted Farms operates 4,500 acres near Drumheller, Alta. The farm has three employees, three dogs, one horse, one donkey, several cats and dozens of gophers. Continue reading “The Western Producer: A new type of farm boss eager to take charge”

The Financial Post: ‘We’re in uncharted waters’: Canola ban, swine flu in China adding up to volatile year for Canadian farmers

China’s ban on Canadian canola may be capturing most of the attention, but it’s not the only factor sowing seeds of uncertainty in Canadian agriculture this year.

In a report issued this week, Al Mussell, research lead at Agri-Food Economic Systems in Guelph, Ont., noted that an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in China is also disrupting the global meat supply.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” Mussell said. “We’ve never had a structural bull market in agricultural products led by the protein complex, while at the same time experiencing an opposite trend in oilseed.”

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The Financial Post: Persistent deficits and higher spending raising Canada’s economic ‘vulnerability’: Fitch

A raft of new spending items in the federal budget aims to stimulate an economy that’s lost momentum, with some analysts predicting a recession on the way. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Liberal government’s preference for continued deficits and increasing program spending “could increase the vulnerability of public finances to a faster economic slowdown or sudden shock,” according to Fitch Ratings.

Canada has the second largest gross government debt of ‘AAA’ rated countries after the United States, which is ‘incompatible’ with its gold-plated rating, according to the ratings agency.

While the credit agency concedes that increased spending and projected deficits in Canada’s latest budget remain consistent with a falling federal debt burden, the forecast assumes the economy will avoid a recession.

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The Western Producer: First Nations horseman communes with his horses

Jordan Camille shoots from the hip. Photo by Candice Camille

Jordan Camille lives at the northwestern tip of the great western desert, which stretches from Durango, Mexico, to the Deadman Valley west of Kamloops, B.C.

Cactus- and sagebrush-covered hills reach up to burned-out, pine-covered mountains. Mile-high limestone and basalt cliffs preside over alfalfa crops in summer. In winter, brown grass and snow mix with cattle on the open range. Continue reading “The Western Producer: First Nations horseman communes with his horses”

The Weal: Canadian diamond shines bright at Carnegie Hall

Adversity is like a furnace. It can burn, consume and reduce solid constituents to charcoal, ashes, smoke and heat. What goes into the fire of sorrow and difficulty always exits as something different and potentially useful.

Ashes can be scattered to fertilize new growth. Charcoal can become an art medium. Heat can warm entire civilizations. Smoke can become the ambient medium of memory and love.

From time to time – in the fires of life – the divine hand reaches down, opens the furnace door and feeds the flames with broken dreams, spent arrogance and misplaced sophistication.

It’s during those times – when the door is open – that sparks fly out.

Arlen Hlusko, a 26-year-old cellist fellow with Ensemble Connect at Carnegie Hall in New York City, is one of the sparks that rolled across the utility room of life, landed in the wall, and set the house ablaze.

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