PLANS for a geothermal power plant in the Mount Layton Hot Springs area near Terrace are still in the initials stages, but if the project were to proceed as intended, it could generate enough electricity to power close to 10,000 homes.
Exploration on the potential for a 15-megawatt geothermal power plant, through a Kitselas First Nation-led consortium that also includes Enbridge and geothermal exploration company Borealis Inc., is set to being this spring, confirmed Chris Knight, an advisor for Kitselas.
“We want to get the exploration program started this field season,” he said. “It’ll take a year so we want to get going as soon as we can.”
The consortium purchased exploration rights for $100,000 from the provincial government earlier this year.
The exploration process works in three phases. The first is “a series of biochemical analyses, data gathering, modelling, some work that doesn’t require much in the way of surface impact,” he said. The process then moves onto a series of slim-hole drilling initiatives, and if that proves viable, the third phase would be the drilling of a small number of production wells “to determine in full detail the carrying capacity of the resource and its ability to support what we’ve initially targeted as a 15 mega watt geothermal power plant.”
A 15-megawatt plant would have a small surface footprint, while still producing a decent amount of electricity, Knight explained.
“We wanted it to be modest in terms of size, and we wanted it to be of a size that would lend itself to consideration by the BC Hydro standing offer program,” he said.
That program involves independent power projects selling power to BC Hydro.
Aside from selling electricity to BC Hydro, the plant would generate nearly 30 megawatts of thermal energy as a by-product to be used for commercial and industrial purposes, said Knight.
“This is heat that could potentially heat greenhouses or provide primary fibre breakdown,” he said. “There’s kind of two dimensions to this – it’s the economic benefit of producing electricity but there’s also potential associated with the heat by-product that comes from the production of that electricity.”
That all adds up to it making “good business sense as a standalone project,” said Knight.
The project was a Kitselas initiative, he said.
“Kitselas has known about the surface anomaly of the geothermal resource for generations, it was used very extensively in historic times by the Kitselas First Nation so Kitselas has always known that there’s a potential there,” he said.
“With the move towards a requirement and a desire for renewable energy, particularly in the northwest … Kitselas thought it was time to move ahead with it and took the project to both Enbridge renewables and Borealis and we initiated the dialogue with the provincial government in order to get the exploration tenure out the door.”
In the northwest, Enbridge is mostly known as the company which wishes to build the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline.
This geo-thermal project “has nothing to do with Northern Gateway,” said Knight.
“It’s unfortunate in some respects that Northern Gateway has produced the attitudes out there that it has, but in the perspective of a renewable energy project, they would be a good partner respective of the Northern Gateway project,” he said. “They’ve got experience, they’ve got the financial resources, they particularly have experience in geothermal, which all adds up to positive consideration of them as a player in this project.”
Senior Enbridge official Janet Holder, who is in charge of the Northern Gateway project, said people in B.C. identify Enbridge as an oil-pipeline company, but they have been operating in B.C. in the natural gas area for 20 years.
“I can understand maybe some of the suspicions,” she said, of those who might question Enbridge’s motivations behind this geo-thermal project. “You don’t think of us as being anything other than an oil pipeline company, but we are much bigger than an oil pipeline company.”
It makes sense for Enbridge to look for renewable opportunities in British Columbia, she said, as that is what the company does all over North America.
“We’ve got renewable opportunities as far east as Quebec, obviously Alberta, we’ve got them south of the border, so wherever we work as a business, whether that be natural gas, oil, or renewables, we have a team of people that’s their job to really look at opportunities,” she said.
If the exploration process is successful, the consortium will still need to go through the environmental assessment phase. Area stakeholders, including First Nations, the city of Terrace, the regional district of Kitimat-Stikine and local property owners, are being kept informed as exploration unfolds, said Knight.