Editorial: Waiting to get lucky? Let’s get to work instead

by Andru McCracken, Editor


Making the future happen takes more than vision, it takes work. Luck? That’s code for being informed and prepared. If we want to reap the rewards of geothermal power and heat as a community, we need to prepare.

When we wait for others to act we are nearly always disappointed. When we act, we reap what we sow. I have a couple Valemount based examples: the bike park vs Valemount Glacier Destinations, Crystal Ridge vs Saas Fee, the Robson Valley Music Festival vs Canoe Mountain Resort. (I could go on, but I’ll leave it there). In exactly half of these projects our efforts brought us great gain, in the other half our efforts bought us nothing. 

We know from Borealis GeoPower that the Calgary-based exploration company won’t own or operate the resulting electric and heat utility. Who will? Enbridge. General Electric. Us.

You might say that the drilling information isn’t complete, it’s too early to consider the possibility. I would argue it’s almost too late.

We know that the federal government is interested in developing geothermal power, and they have indicated this with $25.6 million dollars of investment to DEEP, a Saskatchewan-based geothermal energy company. 

We know that provincially there is widespread support for communities reducing carbon emissions.

We also know that because of the province’s commitment to Site C, BC Hydro is not interested in buying new power from third parties. 

I believe there are a few exceptions though. I believe BC Hydro would buy power from two rural communities (one with significant power challenges) and a first nation. McBride, Valemount and Simpcw First Nation would be ideal local partners.

I sat on the board of the Columbia Basin Trust as they negotiated their way through the construction of the $900 million dollar power facility called the Waneta Dam Expansion Project.

Boring two 10-metre-wide holes in the rock adjacent to a massive hydro electric dam is nothing if not risky. But the project was well researched, well-funded and well-executed. The risk was managed. Now the Trust will reap the rewards.

The $900 million dollar award-winning project came in on budget in 2015.

Just three years after it became operational, the Columbia Basin Trust and its partner the Columbia Power Corporation purchased the remaining 51% still owned by Fortis Inc for almost one billion dollars.

And it is a very good deal. At full capacity, the plant generates about $643,000 each day. 

A 10 megawatt geothermal power plant in Valemount would also make money. Between six and nine million dollars per year. A plant worth $50 million could be warranted, especially if other levels of government came on board.

Despite all the talk about geothermal power, an ownership stake for local partners has never been assessed. We know that a successful drilling program has not yet been completed, but every other part of the equation is knowable. It is time to take this conversation to the next level and look at what is required. 

Being a part of the Columbia Basin Trust has been of great benefit to Valemount. It’s improved our trails, helped our non-profits and been a benefit to our youth. But the real benefit of the Trust isn’t the annual handouts, it’s the model they provide: making astute long-term investments. 

Geothermal Power can make the Robson and Canoe Valleys energy islands that can withstand nearly any storm. It could clean up McBride’s wintertime power supply. It would save BC Hydro transmission costs during the winter, provide us with a long-term steady income, forge a new relationship between our communities and First Nations, create great new local jobs, introduce more clean green energy to the province and develop local expertise.

I’m not proposing we start building a plant, but I am saying we need to take charge and see if there is a role for us to play. Now is the time to prepare. To be informed. 

To make our own luck.

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