Lean, green, and joining the team: Why this former Vimy boss couldn’t pass up Frontier Energy
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Mike Young knows a thing or two about developing mines.
The former Vimy Resources managing director spent the past seven years in the uranium space, giving new life to a previously unknown and unappreciated uranium deposit – Mulga Rock in the Great Victoria Desert of Western Australia.
Today, Mulga Rock is well on the way to becoming Western Australia’s first uranium mine to hold a staggering mineral resource of well over 90 million pounds U3O8 (34,657 tU), driving an annual production turnover of 3.5 million pounds U3O8 (34,657 tU) by shallow open-pit over a 15-year mine life.
But tracking back, well before Vimy crossed Young’s path, some 15 years… and Young is standing deep in the rich Pilbara and Murchison regions of Western Australia, as the managing director of BC Iron – now the half a billion dollar diversified miner BCI Minerals (ASX:BCI).
It’s a company he helps drive from an early-stage prospect. He guides the upstart to progress and then accelerates – from first drill hole to iron ore first shipment in just under four years.
That was back in 2006.
More than 15 years on, and nudging 61, Young tells Stockhead the lure of an undeniable opportunity sees him leave Vimy (in August last year) ready for change – but not the one he expected.
The offers are coming in – he’s thinking – ‘maybe ride my bike more, build an electric vehicle, sit on a few different boards in the resource space …’
“I wasn’t planning on working full-time as an executive again,” he smiles.
But Frontier Energy simply proved too exciting an opportunity for a man who is, at heart, a developer and creator of mines.
“I am a mine builder,” he says. “And I’m at my best building and leading teams of motivated people and delivering the company’s vision to investors and stakeholders.”
Now Young is taking that passion and leaning hard into the soon-to-be-listed developer of the Bristol Springs Solar (BSS) Project in the southwest of WA, about 15km away from the town of Waroona.
It’s here Frontier plans to initially produce 114 MWdc of electricity on 200 hectares, utilising the latest solar technology to deliver a low-cost energy solution, plugged straight into the backbone of the Southwest Interconnected System or “SWIS”.
“The guy behind Frontier is Grant Davey and I first met him at uranium conferences, I always liked what he was doing,” Young says.
“He brought the Honeymoon deposit to Boss Energy and was the non-executive director of Lotus Resources when they acquired the Kayelekera uranium deposit in Malawi.
“I’ve always admired his work. And particularly liked his (Frontier) business model.”
Davey is a mining engineer with more than 20 years’ experience. When Frontier proved itself, he went straight to the source and headhunted Young to drive the team.
“Grant took me down to the site… and you stand there in the blazing sunlight in the middle of a big paddock that you’re going to fill with solar panels and 3.5km away is your grid and another 5km away is a potential customer,” he says.
The project is perfectly located in what Young describes as the ‘golden triangle’ between Kwinana – a centre of major industry, the port of Bunbury, and Collie – where around 900 people are employed in coal mining and coal fired power generation.
“Collie will need to transform to clean energy within the next decade, so they are a major, potential customer and then as you head down the Darling scarp there are four aluminium refineries and aluminium is one of the highest-energy consuming processes on Earth,” he says.
“We are surrounded by potential customers; we are close to infrastructure… oh, and there’s a gas pipeline running straight past the project.”
Looking at all that as someone that has been involved in the mining industry for a long time dealing with infrastructure and land access, Young says it was an opportunity he simply couldn’t pass up.
What’s even more interesting, he says, is that the same aspects which made BC Iron successful will make Frontier Energy successful.
“I equate solar to iron ore because there is iron ore from Esperance to the Pilbara but unless you have access to infrastructure, you’re not going to get a mine up,” Young says.
“And that’s no different to solar and wind, you need to have access to the Southwest Interconnected System, and if you don’t get that you’re not going to get your project up.”
Frontier Energy plans to relist on the ASX this quarter alongside an $8m raise as part of its recapitalisation to help develop Bristol Springs.
So far, development approval has been granted by the WA Regional Development Assessment Panel and an electricity connection application is in progress with Western Power.
As well as further land acquisition opportunities, which would allow for an increase in solar power generation up to around 490MWdc, Frontier plans to review the economics of adding a battery energy storage system and will undertake studies to assess the feasibility of adding wind energy generation and the production of green hydrogen.
“I’ve been an advocate for clean energy my whole life, so this is just a natural progression,” Young says.
“My view has always been that nuclear energy is the cleanest, safest form of energy there is and that hasn’t changed.
“But we’re not going to do nuclear anytime soon in Australia – I think in the 2030s we may move towards small modular reactors but until then we must look at other forms of clean energy and solar certainly, in a state like Western Australia makes sense.”
Just take a look around, Young says.
“We have a lot of flat land, we have a lot of sunshine, and if you combine that with energy storage and hydrogen then you’re on a real winner.”