Committee looks at creating local power utility

Valemount Geothermal conference in February 2016
Valemount Geothermal conference in February 2016

by EVAN MATTHEWS

As talks of a geothermal industrial park in Valemount heat up once again, a potential solution has emerged to a recurring problem in Valemount’s geothermal equation.

Rundi Anderson, co-owner of Three Ranges Brewing Co. and chair of the Village’s Geothermal Committee, says the committee is exploring options in order to run the utility on the proposed industrial park, a role — to date — no one has offered to fill.

Local municipalities and First Nations have access to funding pots — grants — that private companies do not, and Anderson says the Village is looking to access those funding pots.

The Village’s Geothermal Committee was formed in April 2016, and brought in people from a variety of backgrounds including forestry and engineering, Anderson says.

The idea is for the Village to maintain control of the utility, which would give it the ability to set the value for the heat resource as opposed to some other entity, according to the committee.

Utility, simply defined, is the management and distribution of a resource. After a developer has drilled for the resource, an organization must connect to the resource, distribute it, and manage it for the consumers.

Last week, Alison Thompson, a principal with Borealis Geopower, said Borealis would prefer not to run the utility, as Borealis is an energy developer, not a distributor, but she added, “It just has to be someone who is willing to step up and do it.”

Although it may be more difficult than just “stepping up,” according to Thompson.

“Operating it isn’t the issue,” she says. “Financing the construction of the utility is.”

The start-up cost for a geothermal industrial park, according to Thompson, could be climb as high as the hundreds of millions.

President of the Valemount Geothermal Society (VGS), Korie Marshall, said VGS doesn’t know what the Village is planning. Village of Valemount CAO Mark Macneill said the Village’s role is undefined at the moment.

While VGS is considering running the utility, Marshall says there are better options.

“If the Village wanted to run the utility, they’re in a better position to do it (than VGS),” said Marshall. “They have access to lawyers, and financially speaking they qualify for certain grants because it’s a municipality.”

At last week’s VGS meeting, Myles Bruns, regional manager of the Economic Development Division of B.C.’s Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, said Valemount’s community is in a position of strength.

“I’ve heard a lot people around town saying, ‘oh, we don’t have anything to bring to the table’, but they’re missing the point,” said Bruns. “You are a potential partner with Borealis.”

The fact that the Valemount Community Forest owns the industrial park makes the community a valuable partner, according to Bruns.

“Unless Borealis decides to build an industrial park on Crown land, where are businesses going to come and locate?” Bruns asked. “They’re going to locate at an industrial park, because it’s there. There is a piece the village has that adds value,” he said.

The Village has the ability to consult with government and First Nations, Bruns says, and if everyone comes together — everyone brings something to the table — for example, untapped First Nations funding.

There are two kinds of operating options for the proposed industrial park, according to Bruns.

There is a direct-use project with district heating below 80 degrees Celsius — which Valemount could do tomorrow without affecting Borealis’ permits — or there is an electricity-producing project with district heating at some temperature, which is the most likely project at this point.

Last week, The Goat learned that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) exists between the Valemount Community Forest and Borealis, which references the Cedarside property — the site of the proposed geothermal industrial park.

Two weeks ago, a report released by Geoscience B.C. listed Valemount as a leading candidate for direct-use geothermal. Geoscience B.C. is a provincially funded organization mandated to attracting mineral, oil and gas investment to B.C.

While the MOU has been signed, who will run the utility is still up in the air.

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