Developer eager to work on proposal with BC Hydro
VANCOUVER — Two potential geothermal energy projects near Pemberton could generate electricity for about seven cents a kilowatt hour — only slightly higher than the 5.8 cents to 6.1 cents a kilowatt hour cost estimate of the Site C dam project.
That’s the conclusion of a recent Kerr Wood Leidal Associates study on the economic viability of geothermal resources in B.C., which considered nine of the most favourable geothermal sites in the province.
There are no geothermal energy projects operating in B.C. but the study estimated the cost per kilowatt hour for the nine sites would range from 6.9 to 7.1 cents for Pebble Creek and Meager Creek near Pemberton to 17.6 cents for Clarke Lake near Fort Nelson.
BC Hydro senior strategic technology specialist Alex Tu said some of the projects appear promising but stressed the cost estimates are still “very uncertain” and carry a lot of risk.
“Even though it says seven cents a kilowatt hour, it’s still a risky proposition,” he said. “All the geothermal in the province is still looked at as very uncertain and very high risk but if you can make the project happen, seven cents is a good price.”
Tu noted BC Hydro invested tens of millions of dollars drilling at the two Pemberton area sites in the 1970s and 1980s but could only produce enough steam for a 20-kilowatt demonstration facility that operated for 18 months.
Geothermal power facilities work by drilling into the earth and redirecting steam or hot water into turbines that convert the energy from the fluid into electricity.
Tu said Hydro has always been open to geothermal power as an alternative energy source but no geothermal projects have ever been submitted to Hydro in any of its calls for power from independent power producers.
Hydro’s standing offer program offers to pay producers US$100 a megawatt hour for smaller energy projects of up to 15 megawatts. The two Pemberton area geothermal sites each have estimated capacities of 50 to 100 megawatts.
Borealis GeoPower chief geologist Craig Dunn, whose Calgary-based firm hopes to build two geothermal power plants in B.C. by 2018, said he was excited by the Kerr Wood study, which was commissioned by BC Hydro and Geoscience BC.
“I think it’s a giant step forward in recognizing that geothermal is a viable energy opportunity for the province of British Columbia,” he said.
Dunn said the drilling and turbine technology associated with geothermal power continues to improve, making that form of energy more economically viable than ever.
“As a private developer, I know that my costs are significantly less than the estimates,” he said.
Tu estimated the cost of the two proposed Borealis geothermal sites near Valemount and Terrace at about US$120 to US$140 a megawatt hour but Dunn said current drilling economics — with many drilling rigs now inactive due to the oil industry slowdown — could cut that estimate by 25 to 50 %.
“We look forward to working with BC Hydro within the standing offer program pricing (of US$100 a megawatt hour),” he said. “We believe that we can be economic.” – Vancouver Sun