Geothermal power… Canada’s forgotten energy source

Zero. That's how many power plants in Canada use high-temperature geothermal heat to generate electricity. It's estimated that British Columbia alone could have 6,000 megawatts of "easy" geothermal potential, and as I point out in my latest Clean Break column, across Canada the potential is much more if we include low enthalpy geothermal and enhanced geothermal systems that go deeper and are engineered to produce useable energy.

Despite the popularity of geothermal power in parts of the U.S. southwest and other areas around the world, Canada remains the only Pacific Rim country to not exploit this renewable, cheap and plentiful resource. In fact, Canada cancelled its federal geothermal energy program in 1984 and has more or less forgotten about it ever since, even as the rest of the world passes us by.

Fortunately, the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association -- a 30-year old organization with little clout over the years -- is trying to rejuvenate discussion of geothermal power in Canada. It has jazzed up its Web site, started an education campaign and membership drive, and is busy doing up a white paper that it hopes will lead to a reinstatement of Canada's federal program and policies that support development of geothermal projects.

Alison Thompson, vice-president of the association, believes there's an opportunity for Canada to leapfrog other countries by embracing new technologies from the start -- kind of how developing countries bypassed landline telecommunications in favour of wireless systems. I hope she's right. At a time when we're scratching our heads on ways to fight climate change, and talking about elaborate plans to build CO2 pipelines and sequester greenhouse gases, you'd think we'd go for some low-lying fruit first. Yes, it will take a large amount of initial investment and some risk before we get it right, but hell, you get that with nuclear and clean coal. It's why any discussion of future energy development should -- must -- include discussion of geothermal power, starting on the west coast and spreading across the country as technologies mature.

There's my holiday rant. Merry Christmas -- and thanks for reading over the year!

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