An interview with Alison Thompson, Chair of the Canadian Geothermal Association
Originally Published in the ECOreport
British Columbia may have a “Trillion Dollar Opportunity,” and it is NOT LNG.* There are more than 150 known hot springs in Western Canada. Look at the map below, most of the high generation temperature areas are in BC! According to Alison Thompson, Chair of the Canadian Geothermal Association, there is more than enough geothermal energy to power the province’s grid, yet none of these sites have been developed. Geothermal energy has never been invited to bid on calls for power. In fact, there isn’t a single developed geothermal site in all of Canada!
“Hot springs are great for the direct use of geothermal, but for power you’d have to drill,” Thompson explained. “Of course the hot springs are a surface manifestation that leads you to prospecting in that area.”
Borealis Geopower has two prospective sites for +/- 15 MWe power plants in BC. The Federal government and First Nations both support development of the Lakelse Lake site, but the province has yet to come to the table. The Canoe Reach Project is at the end of a transmission line and the nearby city of Valemount is experiencing routine brown-outs! They want to use the water left over from production for a community greenhouse and could also use it for public hot springs facilities.
There are many direct use applications, which do not need power. The heat from geothermal has been used for lumber drying, green housing, fish farming, milk pasteurization.
“On our mission down to Klammath Falls we visited a geothermal brewery that uses the heat from geothermal for the fermentation process,” Thompson said.
“If you look at what similarly geologic settings have, the sky’s the limit for BC,” she added. “We certainly have thousands and thousands of megawatts beneath our feet. We have so much of it that it truly could provide the province’s needs.”
Thompson added that it would be cheaper to develop geothermal than LNG and the jobs that came through it would be fairly evenly distributed throughout communities and First Nations.
“Looking at a statistic from the US Department of Energy, the comparison between a natural gas plant and a geothermal plant, geothermal is usually lower for power price and we offer ten times the employment,” Thompson said.
Geothermal is also a good baseline power source, permitting the incorporation of more intermittent renewable energies into the grid.
“If someone was able to come online for a lower cost, you would just not use geothermal for those moments in time,” said Thompson. “Our ability to ramp up is as good, or better, than hydro. We really are a grid stabilizing feature and at a competitive cost, so perhaps you may want to turn off hydro and keep geothermal running.”
Looking south across the border, the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) says:
There are currently 64 operating conventional geothermal power plants in the United States, accounting for nearly 2,700 megawatts (MW) of total capacity at the end of 2013. Over three-fourths of U.S. geothermal power generation in 2013 was in California, largely because of favourable geothermal resources, policy, and market conditions in the state. The largest group of geothermal power plants in the world, a complex called the Geysers, located in Northern California, has more than 700 MW of capacity.
…. Geothermal plants are virtually emissions free, and unlike renewable sources such as wind and solar, they provide an available, dispatchable source of baseload power that is able to operate at a relatively high capacity factor….
There are 160 American projects in development that have a similar geology to BC.
EIA projects that America’s geothermal electricity generation could more than quadruple between 2012 and 2040, increasing to over 67,000 GWh.
Italy has been using geothermal energy for over a century. New Zealand, Iceland and California have utilized it for the past 50 years.
“This is just low cost base load energy that , for most people is comparable to hydro,” Thompson said. “There are 25 countries using geothermal power and they, too, have hydro. It isn’t a competition, it is a complimentary thing to build for your system.”
B C knows Geothermal is a Clean, Low-Cost Option
BC Hydro has been aware of geothermal energy since since at least 1983. On page 229 of the Joint Review Panel Report for the controversial site C dam it says, “BC Hydro, in its IRP, said that ‘geothermal appears to be a low-cost resource option,’ and ‘BC’s geothermal resource is estimated to total more than 700 MW of potentially cost-effective clean or renewable power.’
Given the opposition to site C in the Peace River Valley, and the fact thousands of acres of valuable farm land will be submerged if the project goes forward, it seems shocking to read BC Hydro said they were “not expected” to explore this option.
So why has British Columbia not developed ANY geothermal?
A spokesperson for BC’s Ministry of Energy and Mines said, “12 geothermal permits have been issued in recent years. Despite its relatively low cost, developers have not bid into the system primarily due to the high upfront costs and risks associated with exploring for and pinpointing geothermal resources.”
Thompson had a different explanation, “Of the 25 countries currently using geothermal power, BC is worst in class for its legislation. While there have been bright spots recently and there are two permitted projects CanGEA members are trying to further, it is not an easy sytem to navigate. There’s different ministries involved. With the last election now theres another ministry involved. There is the Natural Gas Ministry, the Energy Ministry and BC Hydro – a lot of bureaucracy and very little streamlining, and very little intent by the government to make geothermal a reality.
“We’d like to see them use their geothermal as a tool to stimulate industry, not as a barrier to keep industry at bay,” she added.
Most developers are going to less restrictive countries.
“At one point, before the financial market collapsed, there had been a billion dollars raised on the Toronto Stock Exchange and all but $25 million of that billion went to projects outside Canada,” said Thompson.
Listen to my interview with Alison Thompson, and Justin Crewson, of CanGEA in the podcast below (was originally broadcast on the ECOreport radio program).
* A reference to Premier Christy Clark’s oft repeated boast that LNG is BC’s “trillion dollar opportunity.”
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All illustrations courtesy CanGEA
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