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British Columbia Geothermal can rival controversial B.C. dam in affordability, power generation: industry

The area of the Peace River where the proposed Site C Hydro Development Dam would be built near Fort St. John on January 17, 2013.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

B.C. should put off its decision on the proposed Site C project to allow time to study geothermal alternatives, says a geothermal industry group, citing a new study that concludes such projects could meet all of the province's future power needs.

In a report released Tuesday, the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association said a "portfolio" of geothermal facilities could be built for less money than the projected $8-billion cost of Site C while generating similar amounts of power. In addition, it would have other advantages over a single, big dam, including a smaller environmental footprint and the generation of heat as a byproduct.

Energy minister Bill Bennett, however, said that while geothermal may have a role in the province, it is not likely to be developed in time to eliminate the need for Site C.

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"In B.C., the market has been really slow to pick [geothermal] up," Mr. Bennett said. "There have been a few licences granted over the years and a few million dollars invested but nobody has actually found a geothermal resource that you can convert into electricity. So we are a ways away from actually being able to use it."

The province is currently considering whether to build Site C, a hydroelectricity project on the Peace River that would have a capacity of 1,100 megawatts.

Two existing facilities on the Peace River – the Peace Canyon and G.M. Shrum generating stations – together have a capacity of about 3,424 megawatts and account for an estimated 28 per cent of B.C. Hydro's total capacity.

B.C. Hydro maintains Site C is the cleanest, most cost-effective way to meet future energy needs.

A joint review panel that studied Site C said in its May report that "failure to pursue research" over the past 30 years had left B.C. Hydro without information about geothermal alternatives.

The panel also noted that new sources of energy are not required immediately, CanGEA chair Alison Thompson said on Tuesday in releasing the new CanGEA report.

"So there is time to complete proper due diligence, built geothermal plants and catch up to the rest of the world after 30 years of downplaying geothermal," she said in a statement.

Mr. Bennett said the province has research under way to identify promising geothermal resources.

"It [geothermal] is a good resource, we do want to use it," Mr. Bennett said. "It will be important in B.C. in the future. It is not a replacement – it's not a way to get the 1,100 megawatts of electricity that we need today."

Both the provincial and federal governments issued environment approvals to Site C in October.

The province is expected to announce a final investment decision on Site C before the end of the year.

With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria

A report from a joint review panel released Thursday urged provincial and federal governments to consider 50 recommendations if they decide to proceed with the Site C hydroelectric megaproject on the Peace River in northern B.C.

Still, it will take several more months for the final decision to be made. Do you support the project? Cast your vote below or click here.

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