Geothermal Energy Could Be the Viable Alternative for B.C. as Site C Decision Looms

Site C

By Arman Kazemi

November 13, 2014

British Columbia’s potential to become a hotspot for renewable geothermal energy has been highlighted again as the provincial government is expected to hand down a decision on the controversial Site C dam sometime this month.

In an interview with Canadian Geothermal Association chair Alison Thompson, the ECOreport is calling the government’s blind spot when it comes to geothermal energy a trillion dollar opportunity that may soon be lost if the Site C proposal goes through.

Geothermal power plants dig below the earth’s crust at geological flashpoints such as volcanic zones and sedimentary basins, extracting steam from hot water to power turbines and create a predictable and renewable source of energy.

According to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Geothermal plants are virtually emissions free, and unlike renewable sources such as wind and solar, they provide an available, dispatchable source of baseload power.”

Despite Canada having a potential production capacity of over 5,000 megawatts, according to CanGEA’swebsite, there isn’t a single developed geothermal project in the country.

“If you look at what similarly geological settings have,” CanGEA’s Thompson tells ECOreport – referring to the U.S.’s 3,187 MW geothermal capacity, the largest in the world and mainly concentrated on the west coast – “the sky’s the limit for BC.”

“We certainly have thousands and thousands of megawatts beneath our feet,” Thompson says. “We have so much of it that it truly could provide the province’s needs.”

Indeed, according to the Joint Review Panel Report on Site C, published last May, B.C. Hydro estimates that“4 TWh of geothermal power and about 700 MW of capacity could be available within a range of $91 to $105 per MWh.”

“This is a very large resource,” concludes in the report.

“A failure to pursue research over the last 30 years,” the panel says, “has left B.C. Hydro without information about a resource that… may offer up to 700 megawatts of firm, economic power with low environmental costs.”

There are 25 countries, many with similar geological resources to B.C., using geothermal power, according to Thompson. These countries also use hydro and other resources to stabilize power to the grid.

“This is just low cost base load energy that, for most people, is comparable to hydro,” Thompson insists.“It isn’t a competition, it is a complimentary thing to build for your system.”