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Eureka answers underfoot

If geothermal energy is the answer to Canadas future energy needs, we should at least know that by now. But 100 years after the worlds first commercial geothermal power plant was built in Italy in 1911, we dont. North Shore News editorial, Sept.

If geothermal energy is the answer to Canadas future energy needs, we should at least know that by now. But 100 years after the worlds first commercial geothermal power plant was built in Italy in 1911, we dont.

North Shore News editorial, Sept. 16, 2011

At some point in our lives, each of us will have an Archimedes moment, a Eureka! feeling that the solution to a tough problem is sitting right at our feet.

That happened to me when I read about the report, Geothermal Energy Resource Potential of Canada, that had triggered the News editorial except that the solution to British Columbias power needs is not at our feet but under them.

Authored by Stephen Grasby and a team of scientists at the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), the report should shake up our traditional way of thinking about how we create and deliver electrical power to the people of the province.

But first a story to explain why that moment was so important for me. Earlier this month, a friend sent me an article which described an innovative project in the Philippines. In April, Manilas mayor, Alfredo S. Lim, announced his citys support for a solar lighting project that uses nothing more than a clear plastic bottle, purified water and a little chlorine bleach to produce a 55-watt solar light bulb.

The bulbs are installed by cutting holes in the tin roofs of homes that are little more than plywood shacks. Sealant holds the bottles steady and the light bulbs take the place of fire-prone kerosene lamps and candles.

Manilas isang litrong liwanag or litre of light project has begun to bring light into the darkness of three million homes around the city that have no power.

As I read the account of this so-simple initiative, and compared it with independent power projects and the environmentally controversial Site C dam, it occurred to me that what North America really needs is a hefty dose of desperation.

From 1962 to 1968, the W.A.C. Bennett earth-fill dam was the grandiose project of its time and it has served us exceptionally well over the years.

That said, the project was not without serious environmental downsides evidence of which can be seen to this day in the debris and stark arms of dead trees that reach out as testament to mans carelessness all along the rim of the 200-kilometre man-made Williston Lake.

Nor did the Bennett dam benefit the people of two remote First Nations communities who were torn from their homes as the artificial lake flooded their lands. Those people still must depend on diesel generators for their power because, so far as I can tell, they have not yet been connected to the BC Hydro grid.

What an insult.

How can we even think of spending $8 billion to flood thousands more acres of farmland and wild lands for Site C, and why do we tolerate the privatization of our pristine rivers when, as the people of Manila and other poor areas of the world have shown, its possible to devise less destructive solutions by thinking outside the box?

This is not to suggest we recycle plastic bottles into light bulbs; but I have wrestled with these thoughts as I wrote columns about the political problems that beset BC Hydro.

My own light began to dawn a half-century late, because it was in 1957 that, looking without seeing what was at my feet, I visited Radium Hot Springs and first saw one of Mother Natures power plants at work.

The Geological Survey of Canada findings were presented to the mid-September conference of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association in Toronto, and are due to be discussed again by a panel at CanGEAs annual Geothermal Power Forum to be held in Calgary on Nov. 4.

Prefacing these conferences, CanGEA stated in Aug. 2010: Geothermal energy represents a massive opportunity that is well poised to tackle some of Canadas greatest challenges, including: climate change (reducing GHG emissions), energy security, job creation, and northern and remote community development.

The association then explains that the 5,000-megawatt potential of Canadian geothermal energy could create 10,000 full and part-time jobs, and is equivalent to more than 25 mega tonnes of [carbon] offsets per year. The emphases are CanGEAs.

In 2007, the Gordon Campbell government enacted Bill 44, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act.

That legislation established 2007 as the baseline against which a 2020 deadline for a 33 per cent reduction in GHG emissions would be measured.

Since then, the Campbell-Clark team has imposed tax after tax in the name of reducing carbon emissions.

Lectures about the need to create green jobs were recycled by Premier Christy Clark at every whistle-stop during last weeks trip around the province. But how can those goals be reconciled with her re-announcement of the liquefied natural gas terminals in Kitimat?

I ask because, although an improvement over use of coal or fossil fuels, the production of LNG is by no means an environmentally clean process.

In response to a feel-good Vancouver Sun editorial on Sept. 23 which claimed, LNG plants [are] essential to develop B.C.s natural gas bounty, an guest column by Marc Lee and Iglika Ivanova economists with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives stated unequivocally that, The proposed (LNG) terminals are the equivalent to tripling B.C.s greenhouse gas emissions. And yet only 120-140 permanent jobs . . . will be created.

How could the Sun editorial have overlooked those facts?

Frustrated at the slow pace of progress, CanGEAs mantra has been 5,000 MW by 2015.

Yet the association is quick to acknowledge that although much of the resource development has focussed on direct energy from hot springs for recreational and therapeutic use, federal and provincial governments have intermittently supported geothermal resources development for over 100 years.

Perhaps the problem for governments over the years has been that a discussion about geothermal energy is not about a single resource.

When the International Energy Agency introduced eight key findings to underpin its Technology Roadmap for geothermal energy and power, it stated, Geothermal energy can provide low-carbon base-load power and heat from high-temperature hydrothermal resources, deep aquifer systems with low and medium temperatures, and [from] hot rock resources.

As the Geological Survey of Canada/Grasby team wrote, Canadas in-place geothermal power exceeds one million times Canadas current electrical consumption.

Those resources could serve Canadas power needs for up to 300 years.

Premier Clark has said she wants to see thousands of jobs created, and plans to get out of the way of the people who can provide them.

Does that just mean getting out of the way of Gwyn Morgans EnCana, Apache Canada and EOG Resources Canada?

Or will she take Site C out of the way of the federally supported consideration of Canadas massive geothermal energy resource and those who have the expertise and the will to exploit the potential safely.

We could and should? begin by redeploying the projected multi-billion dollar Site C budget into projects that can unlock the energy and power right under our feet.