Thursday, August 21, 2008

Solar panels on mine tailings?

Word on the street is that negotiations are well along to build a solar energy power plant on the tailings at the San Manuel copper mine in Pinal County. The closed mine is undergoing the most comprehensive reclamation project in U.S. history. [right, view of reclamation progress on part of the San Manuel mine site. Credit, Arizona Mining Association]

The mine complex is owned by BHP Billiton which started the reclamation project in 2003.

The tailings impoundments cover 3,000 acres (1220 ha) and consist of seven different impoundments that are over 6 miles in length, 200 ft. high in places and just up gradient of the San Pedro River, according to the Arizona Mining Association. AMA reports that the closure plan calls for these facilities to be contoured, covered with soil, armored and revegetated to minimize long-term erosion and provide for lower long-term maintenance costs.

There is a land rush across the West for solar energy projects, pushing land prices to over $20,000 per acre in Gila Bend by one report. Putting large solar arrays on tailings impoundments sounds like a winning strategy.

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