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Geothermal seen as part of realistic alternative to hydro dam project in BC, Canada

Geothermal well being flow-tested at Meager Creek, BC/ Canada (source: Western GeoPower)
Alexander Richter 1 Nov 2017

In the report on a public inquiry on a controversial hydropower dam project in the province of British Columbia, the province's Utility Commission sees up to 81 MW of geothermal power generation capacity as part of an alternative scenario for energy production in the province.

Having reported on a controversial hydro power project in the province of British Columbia in Canada and an ongoing investigation, the province’s Utility Commission (BCUC) has now released its finding of the inquiry.

On August 2, 2017, the Provincial Government issued an Order in Council (OIC) No. 244 requesting the BC Utilities Commission undertake an inquiry into certain aspects of BC Hydro’s Site C project. The OIC asked the BCUC to report on the implications of the scenarios — continuing, terminating, or suspending construction with the option to resume by 2024.

In addition, the Commission was asked what the costs are to ratepayers of the suspend and terminate scenarios. Further it was asked, given the energy objectives set out in the Clean Energy Act, what, if any, commercially feasible generating projects and demand side management initiatives could provide similar benefits to ratepayers with an equal or lower unit energy cost as the Site C project. In order to provide a fulsome response to the questions laid out above, the Commission has also considered the costs to ratepayers of completing Site C.

In an overview, the BCUC states that “it is not persuaded that the Site C project will remain on schedule for a November 2024 in-service date. The Panel also finds that the project is not within the proposed budget of $8.335 billion. Currently, completion costs may be in excess of $10 billion.

The Panel finds the least attractive of the three scenarios is to suspend and restart the project in 2024. The suspension and restart scenario adds at least an estimated $3.6 billion to final costs and is by far the most expensive of the three scenarios. In addition, the Panel considers it the most risky scenario because, among other things, environmental permits will expire and that will require new applications and approvals.

The Panel finds the Site C termination and remediation costs to be approximately $1.8 billion, in addition to the costs of finding alternative energy sources to meet demand. The Panel finds BC Hydro’s mid load forecast to be excessively optimistic and considers it more appropriate to use the low load forecast in making our applicable findings as required by the OIC. In addition, the Panel is of the view that there are risks that could result in demand being less than the low case.

The Panel believes increasingly viable alternative energy sources such as wind, geothermal and industrial curtailment could provide similar benefits to ratepayers as the Site C project with an equal or lower Unit Energy Cost. Neither completing Site C nor assumptions used in the Illustrative Alternative Portfolio are without risk. The Panel reviews the risk of each approach.

As part of its report and evaluating alternative scenarios, geothermal is given room and estimated that up to 81 MW of geothermal power generation capacity could be started in 2025.

Source: British Columbia Utility Commission