Plans for B.C. geothermal power are full steam ahead

By Maura Forrest

April 2, 2015

A Calgary-based company has plans to build two geothermal power plants in British Columbia that it hopes will be producing clean electricity by 2018.

Borealis Geopower will build 10- to 15-megawatt facilities at Canoe Reach near Valemount and Lakelse Lake near Terrace, according to the company’s chief geologist, Craig Dunn.

“The goal is to be able to show geothermal is a viable option for the province of British Columbia,” Dunn told the Vancouver Sun.

B.C. is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the area of land bordering the Pacific Ocean that contains most of the world’s active volcanoes. That means it has some of the best geothermal resources in the world. Currently, the province is the only jurisdiction in the Ring of Fire that has failed to develop those resources.

Last November, the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA) released a report that said a suite of geothermal facilities could be built more cheaply than the controversial $8-billion Site C dam project, and could generate a similar amount of electricity.

The Site C dam will have a capacity of 1,100 megawatts. Last year, the Joint Review Panel on Site C concluded that “a failure to pursue research over the last 30 years into B.C.’s geothermal resources has left BC Hydro without information about a resource that BC Hydro thinks may offer up to 700 megawatts of firm, economic power with low environmental costs.”

CanGEA believes the province has the potential to generate at least 5,700 megawatts of geothermal power. 

The Joint Review Panel found that BC Hydro currently spends less than $100,000 per year on geothermal exploration. But even if the Crown corporation were investing more in research, it is required by policy to leave geothermal development to the private sector. And few independent power producers are submitting proposals. 

Geothermal power is not without its challenges. Upfront capital costs are high, particularly because some of the best sources of geothermal energy are in remote locations and would have to be tied in to the grid.

Also, exploration can be financially risky. Western GeoPower Corp. spent $30 million drilling wells as part of its Meager Creek project, only to discover they were not commercially viable.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett has said the province is still far from producing geothermal electricity. 

But Dunn is optimistic. “Geothermal is my energy superhero,” he told the Vancouver Sun. “It’s base load power you can give your kids.”



Photo Credit: Sean Connors