If Geoscience B.C. expanded its survey of the Cariboo for geothermal activity to northeastern B.C., its findings would unveil so much energy potential that it would probably negate the need to build Site C Dam, an area geologist says.
Craig Dunn of Borealis Geopower is developing a hot spot near Valemount into what he hopes will be a 10- to 15-megawatt electricity plant with plenty of leftover heat to use in other commercial applications like a spa or greenhouse.
He and his partners are three years into an exploration program similar to exploratory mining, drilling a series of holes in strategic spots - very expensive educated guesses - to find out if the resource they seek is really down there. They expect three to four more years of this, if their success so far continues to move them forward on the project.
"We feel there is some phenomenal potential with some fault lines [in the Valemount] area, and it is right in proximity to one of the hottest hot springs in Canada so we are working with a data-set there. We aren't totally blind," Dunn said.
He applauded Geoscience B.C.'s effort to explore geothermal opportunities for the first time in its history in the Nechako Plateau/Cariboo area. Previously, the agency has mostly aimed its survey efforts at mining and energy opportunities.
"These data sets really will help grow the industry," Dunn said of the baseline science Geoscience BC will do. "Kudos to Geoscience BC for stepping into this opportunity. We had to invest a lot of our own money and come up with a significant amount of information by ourselves. That is onerous. We felt very strongly about the potential in this area so we are OK with that, but I think Geoscience BC will have success in that area they are looking in, and it will really bring to light a lot of geological knowledge."
The place in B.C. where geothermal opportunities have been studied most is the northeast of the province. Places like Liard Hot Springs, and activities like shale gas drilling have shown the Peace region to be great target for geothermal energy generation, Dunn said.
"In my opinion, you could tap into the geothermal values of the northeast so easily, and relatively cheaply, to the point it would offset the need to build Site C at all," he said. "The heat resource in that area dwarfs the oil and gas resource. The reason you see all the investment going in reverse is because of the quick returns the oil and gas industry can give you. Generating power is a longer term return, and all your costs are up front. But the power is basically forever, and the oil and gas is nonrenewable. And not only do you get power from the geothermal facilities you develop, you also get the byproduct of hot water which you can use for additional industries and businesses."
The hardest part is finding the key geothermal points. When Geoscience BC goes exploring, they will be looking for the signs and clues of past volcanic activity, hot springs or mineral waters, tectonic fault lines - all the places where the heat from the earth's core is easiest to access up on the surface.