Kitselas First Nation, Enbridge, and a geothermal exploration company have signed a deal that could see a power-producing geothermal plant built in the Mount Layton hot springs area.
A first step was to pay $100,000 to the province earlier this year for the exclusive subsurface rights to 2,865 hectares of land south of Lakelse Lake, on traditional Kitselas territory.
LL Geothermal Inc., a consortium of Kitselas, Enbridge and Borealis GeoPower can now apply for authorization to drill in the area, and if it discovers a geothermal resource and decides to proceed with a plant, it can apply to convert the permit to a lease.
A geothermal energy plant uses steam and super-heated water found deep inside the earth to spin turbines which then generate electricity.
Champions of the resource charge it as one of the most clean and reliable renewable energy sources, although the geothermal industry is still relatively small in Canada compared to other renewables like run-of-river, wind, and solar power.
But the project, which, if approved, would be the first of its kind in Canada, is still in its infancy.
“The project, and its site, must meet a number of conditions during its approval process,” reads an article in a recent issue of a Kitselas First Nation newsletter. “One important condition is whether other First Nations have an interest in the area.”
Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla, Tsimshian First Nations on the North Coast, also have claims to the area, and talks are ongoing.
According to the application filed with the provincial government, the site also overlaps an area identified by the Haisla of Kitamaat Village as being traditional territory.
The regional district of Kitimat-Stikine and the City of Terrace also want to be included in discussions surrounding exploration and development.
There had been interest in geothermal development in the Lakelse Lake area as far back as 1991 but the regional district called for a halt of any exploratory drilling plans after Mount Layton owner Bert Orleans said his water source could be threatened.
But in 2009, the province put a number of potential geothermal sites on offer, including the area near Lakelse Lake, although it wasn’t until late 2012 that it received interest in the site. The government then proceeded with a new pre-tenure referral in May 2013.
Tim Thompson, CEO of Calgary-based Borealis, said the hot springs in the Mount Layton area are the hottest in Canada.
“We’ve been interested in the area since we became incorporated as a company (in 2007),” he said. “Since before that probably.”
This also isn’t the first time Enbridge has taken an interest in renewable energy here.
Enbridge previously had been interested in hydroelectric power possibilities in Gitxsan territory north of the Hazeltons.
And it has several licences in the Terrace area, also on Kitselas traditional territory, to look at future run-of-river hydro possibilities.
For Enbridge, which owns the country’s largest natural gas distribution company, and which transports oil and gas through pipelines and which wishes to build the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, the Lakelse Lake geothermal project is consistent with its goal to double, by 2017, the $3 billion it’s already invested in renewable energy, said company public relations official Ivan Giesbrecht.
“It’s a province rich with resources, so we’re always looking for opportunities,” he said.
Kitselas representatives were invited to be a part of a local delegation who attended the opening of the Neal Hot Springs geothermal plant in Oregon last year. It’s partially owned by Enbridge.
“The purpose of the Oregon trip was to give these local residents an opportunity to visit an Enbridge geothermal project already in operation,” Giesbrecht said. “We’re proud of that project, and rightly so.”
But details on what a similar project here could look like are slim.
“We really are unable to talk very publicly about the projects that we are investigating, both for commercial reasons and for the privacy wishes of local partners,” Giesbrecht said.
Borealis had been working for more than five years on a proposed geothermal energy site in Fort Liard, NWT in partnership with the Acho Dene Koe First Nation.
But that project ended last May when the company could not reach an agreement with the territory’s supplier of electricity.
A Kitselas representative was not available to speak to the issue by the end of last week.