Map shows areas of geothermal potential

Geothermal pitched as alternative to Site C dam

Energy Minister Bill Bennett says it has promise, but isn't developed enough to replace Peace River dam

Geothermal energy can help power the B.C. electrical grid around the province, and B.C. should assess that option before deciding to proceed with a third dam on the Peace River, an industry association says.

The Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA) issued a report Tuesday detailing its latest work on geothermal sites. In addition to hot springs and volcanic sites that could be tapped to provide power, the study examines “hot sedimentary aquifers” that have been stumbled upon by oil and gas drilling.

“At the risk of offending my own mother, this ain’t your grandma’s geothermal,” said CanGEA chair Alison Thompson at a Victoria news conference.

Thompson pointed to the recent joint federal-provincial review of BC Hydro’s Site C dam project, which noted that little research into geothermal energy has been conducted in B.C.

The CanGEA report estimates that deep hot water aquifers and other geothermal sources are capable of producing enough electricity to meet BC Hydro’s projected needs, including the 1,100 megawatt capacity offered by Site C. The report calls for a one-year delay on Site C, which has passed federal and provincial environmental reviews and is being considered by the B.C. cabinet.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett said Tuesday he expects cabinet to make a final investment decision on BC Hydro’s $8 billion dam proposal by the end of December. He said geothermal energy has potential in B.C. because unlike wind or solar power it provides a steady source of power, but he doesn’t see it as an alternative to the dam.

“It is a good resource,” Bennett said. “We do want to use it. It will be important to B.C. in the future. It’s not a way to get the 1,100 megawatts of electricity that we need now.”

Bennett noted that the provincially-funded research agency GeoScienceBC issued a request for proposals Tuesday for a study on the economic viability of geothermal resources.

CanGEA is doing its own mapping, not just of promising sources but their proximity to roads, power lines and consumers. Thompson said the industry is also looking at combining solar and biomass with geothermally heated water to produce enough heat to fire boilers for electricity.

Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver said the report shows Site C should not go ahead next year, because CanGEA projects lower cost, with power sources and jobs distributed across the province.

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