B.C geothermal advocates keeps heat on campaign to promote energy potential
Challenges include Site C Dam, which has put many alternatives on the back burner
By Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun
Calgary-based Borealis Geopower is aiming to build geothermal power plants at two British Columbia locations that it hopes will be churning out electricity from the heat of the earth by 2018, the company’s chief geologist said in Vancouver this week.
Notwithstanding that the province essentially put large-scale geothermal exploration in B.C. on the back burner, along with a lot of other independent power projects, with its decision to build BC Hydro’s $9-billion Site C dam project, Craig Dunn is optimistic about Borealis’s prospects to build small, 10-to-15 megawatt facilities at Canoe Reach near Valemount and Lakelse Lake near Terrace.
“The goal is to be able to show geothermal (power) is a viable option for the province of British Columbia,” Dunn said.
That is a message the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA) has been working diligently to spread since the conclusion of the Joint Review Panel on Site C, which gave special mention to geothermal potential in its concluding report.
While the report concluded that Site C was likely the best alternative for long-term secure power, the panelists were critical of BC Hydro over its limited study of geothermal as an option for generating power.
“Our objective is very simply to build awareness,” said CanGEA chairwoman Alison Thompson.
Last September, CanGEA released its most recent research, including more detailed maps of potential geothermal hot spots, that suggested B.C. could generate 5,500 megawatts of electricity — the equivalent of about 45 per cent of BC Hydro’s existing generating capacity.
It followed that in November with a full report, Thompson said, which CanGEA released in Victoria and followed up with a luncheon at the end of January to show off its results and a technical briefing for government, BC Hydro and the public at the start of February.
On Thursday, CanGEA brought Dunn as its key speaker to Vancouver for another boardroom lunch audience of 31, with an overflow presentation to another 15, to talk about the challenges and potential payoffs of geothermal-power development.
To date, it is mostly the challenges that have been at the forefront of development in B.C. Developers poured millions of dollars into geothermal exploration at Meager Creek north of Pemberton and tapped temperatures high enough to generate power, but couldn’t find the hot water that it needed to flow.
In it’s last integrated resource plan, BC Hydro identified potential for just 780 megawatts of geothermal power from 16 potential sites.
And in November, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said B.C. is still a long way from having usable geothermal power, because the market has “been slow to pick it up.”
Statements like that, Thompson said, are misinformation. She said the province also needs to do more to enable geothermal exploration by approving more of the applications for subsurface exploration rights that geothermal developers have been making.
Thompson said she is aware of about 100 such applications that have been made to the province where decisions are still pending.
The geothermal sector is challenged by the long time frames and high upfront capital costs that go into exploration and development of resources, but they are long-term, stable cash generators once they are developed.
“(That) is great for pension funds,” Dunn said, but it makes it difficult to raise capital in the energy sector.
“Geothermal is my energy superhero,” said Dunn, who formerly worked in the oilpatch. “It’s clean (and) renewable. It’s baseload power you can give your kids.”
In B.C., Dunn said zones along the slopes of the Rocky Mountains are attractive areas for exploration, as are the sedimentary basins of the province’s heavily drilled natural gas fields where a lot is already known about subsurface temperatures and potential.
CanGEA’s goal now is to “leave everyone with the impression that this is doable,” Thompson said.