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Trucks rolling in on landmark geothermal project

Drilling of two test wells will begin soon, continue through fall



After more than 20 years and $42 million worth of exploration, another round of drilling has started on Canada’s first geothermal energy project situated near Meager Creek, north-west of Pemberton.

This project is a pivotal one because, while there are hundreds of geothermal projects supplying power to people around the world, there are none in Canada.

The company running the operation, Western GeoPower Corp, or WGP, has predicted that the site could provide 100 Megawatts of power, which is enough electricity to supply 80,000 households for a lifetime.

Final government approval is still 12 to 18 months away but WGC is drilling more holes now in a bid to compile a more detailed plan for the B.C. Environmental Assessment Agency.

President and CEO of WGP Kenneth MacLeod confirmed that 70 trucks of equipment would soon be at Meager Creek to start drilling two wells, 2.5 kilometres deep.

"The first well will be completed by mid-October and the second well by the later part of December," said MacLeod.

"At that point we will have enough information to determine the commercial viability of the resource and complete the feasibility study.

"Concurrent with the drilling program we will be conducting the feasibility study on the transmission line routes and concurrent with all of this there will also be some base-line environmental studies."

MacLeod said the project has a total budget of $276 million and is scheduled to begin extracting geothermal energy by mid-2007.

"Approximately $45 million has been spent to date on determining the value of the resource and the work we did in 2002, which was a drilling program of three core holes and a geophysical survey, enabled us to better delineate the location, size and temperature of the resource.

"This gave us a very high degree of confidence that this resource is capable of sustaining at least 100 Megawatts with a probable capacity of 200 MW."

The 2002 exploration also proved that there is a geothermal reservoir with average temperatures above 220 degrees Celsius and a maximum measured temperature of 275 degrees Celsius.

MacLeod said these temperatures were ideal for geothermal mining.

"When the water comes into contact with the hot rock, which is being heated from below by the magma, the water heats up and the hot water rises on a convective cycle."

The high temperature water is then "flashed" into steam so it can drive a turbine and this creates energy.

Once the steam is used it is condensed, cooled and then re-injected into a reservoir so it can, eventually, be used again.

The one issue MacLeod hopes to explore more in this round of drilling is the permeability of the rocks surrounding the site.

Permeability relates to the ability of the water to flow through the rocks underground into the wells WGP will drill.

The more permeability the less number of wells WGP will have to drill and therefore the more profit they will make.

The other major issue MacLeod identified is the transmission line that must run from the site to the B.C. Hydro transmission lines.

WGP said in a press release that the cable would be a 70 kilometre long, 230-kilovolt transmission line that connects to the B.C. Hydro line in Pemberton.

"The plant itself will have a very small footprint… but we still have to take that power to market so there has to be a transmission line," said MacLeod.

"We’ve identified six possible routes and we have to make a short list of two so we can do in-depth design on these routes.

"The transmission line is probably the biggest down side for any geothermal project."

Derek Griffin, who is the Project Assessment Director from the Environmental Assessment Office, confirmed that this project was unique in Canada and could pave the way for more geothermal exploration.

"At this stage we’re accepting that geothermal power is a possible source of power for electrical production in British Columbia, but we need to learn a lot more about the what it involves and what its impacts are," said Griffin.

"We’re obviously not experienced in reviewing these kinds of projects."

The assessment process WGP must navigate is complicated and will only be given the go-ahead once three federal ministries approve the project.

"What we do in the first stage of this process is develop terms of reference for the environmental assessment application," said Griffin.

"We will also be asking the proponent to hold some public meetings or open houses to describe the project to local residents during the pre-application stage.

"Then we’re expecting to receive a formal application along with a full environmental assessment in 2005.

"That will go through a formal review process, including public comment period, and a decision will be made by the appropriate ministers."

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