On March 28, 2015 an opinion piece was published in the Times Colonist written by G.W. Clayton (P.Eng) of North Saanich, extolling the Site C hydro dam as a "technical winner". At the end of the article, Mr. Clayton questions the viability of geothermal energy as an alternative to the large hydro project.
Our policy advisor, Justin Crewson, has written a response to this piece. We hope we answered all of Mr. Clayton's questions.
To read the opinion piece in the Times Colonist, click here.
Here is Justin's response:
Re: Site C hydro project is a technical winner
It must be acknowledged that hydroelectric projects have historically played an important role as sources of electricity in Canada. However, we must remember that times have changed, and so too must the manner in which we evaluate large public undertakings.
As Brian Peckford, the longtime premier of Newfoundland and Labrador recently advised in an open letter about Site C: “hydro development today is not the hydro development of a former era. There are more environmental issues, significant aboriginal issues in this particular case and the rise of generation alternatives unavailable in former times.” This observation is noteworthy, especially as Mr. Peckford presided over a large hydroelectric producing province.
The flooding of 5,340 hectares of land, including important heritage sites and First Nations treaty land is certainly a major concern. However, so too is the repeated failure to act on recommendations for research into viable alternatives for Site C such as geothermal power. Harry Swain, the Chair of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) for the Site C project, described the failure to research geothermal energy as a “dereliction of duty”.
Internationally, 24 countries produce geothermal power, including all other developed countries on the Pacific Rim. The US is currently the world’s largest geothermal power producer, with plants in various west coast states such as California, Oregon and Alaska. Mexico, is also producing geothermal power, and is actually the world’s fourth largest geothermal power producer.
British Columbia has significant confirmed geothermal energy potential, as indicated by data from drilling operations in the northeast region of the province. The binary power plant technology that could utilize these resources has been developed since the 1980s, and has been aggressively adopted in countries such as Germany and Turkey. In fact, owing to recent developments in these countries, 15% of the world’s geothermal power plants now use this technology.
While these resources carry significant potential, so too does the interior and coast of the province, which forms a massive white space for which little subsurface resource data is available. This area hosts numerous hot springs that are generally indicative of excellent geothermal resources. Such potential sites would also likely be able to use conventional technology, which creates the lowest levelized cost of electricity available.
The opportunities presented by these potential resources are significant, especially when one considers the following advantages over Site C. Geothermal projects would be much smaller than Site C, and could be built to meet demand incrementally. This would help to avoid the risks associated with projecting future demand, which the JRP ruled as being one of the major drawbacks of Site C.
Geothermal projects can also be situated strategically so as to reduce transmission costs, and to improve the reliability of electricity in communities located at the end of long transmission lines. All of this can be done without compromising relations with First Nations, and gambling at least $8.8 billion on a project that may never actually be needed.
Statistics also show that the equivalent MW capacity of geothermal energy would create more than ten times the amount of permanent jobs that Site C would. Geothermal wastewater could also be used as a low cost and clean source of heat for entrepreneurial endeavours such as greenhouses prior to being reinjected into the ground.
When you consider these facts it becomes clear. Geothermal energy is an all-around winner.
Justin Crewson, BA, MA, MPP (Master of Public Policy)
Policy Advisor, CanGEA