"Geothermal Whitecourt projects not currently ‘economically viable’: Report" by Brad Quarin
Now is not the time to develop geothermal heat or electricity projects in the Whitecourt area, according to a Geothermal Development Feasibility Study.
Town planning director Jennine Loberg spoke on the study at Whitecourt council’s policies and priorities committee meeting Monday.
“Unfortunately with the current market conditions, the economics of using geothermal are not quite there,” Loberg told council.
“However, the good news is that there have been several spots of hot sedimentary aquifers confirmed for our area.
“I think having this information publicly available is going to increase the discussions on the potential for our area, and increase the likelihood of a project that is a good fit for geothermal.”
According to council’s agenda package, high capital costs for geothermal projects mean using geothermal direct heat instead of natural gas wouldn’t meet the 10 per cent rate of return needed for investment.
Loberg said grants and lower drilling costs could address some of the economic concerns to make geothermal projects feasible in the area.
The potential for geothermal development in Whitecourt and Woodlands County became evident through local oil-and-gas wells showing hot subsurface temperatures, according to the study.
“It (geothermal development) is something that previous reviews had found potential in, and we were identified as a potential hotspot,” Loberg told council.
Geothermal projects involve less land footprint and produce little greenhouse gas emissions, the study states.
Whitecourt and Woodlands had secured an Alberta Community Partnership grant to hire Borealis GeoPower in 2020 to complete the study, according to town administration.
The company finished the study in July 2021.
Whitecourt and Woodlands councillors reviewed the results during a Feb. 23 workshop, and the report is now available at whitecourt.ca/reports.
Loberg told council Monday that administration applied for a federal Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways Program (SREP) grant for further site investigation but was unsuccessful.
Abigail Lixfeld, a Natural Resources Canada senior director, wrote in a letter to the town that the program received 234 applications from across the country, and the program budget couldn’t accommodate all.
Coun. Braden Lanctot’s motion to accept the study was carried.
Study looks at serving three local areas
The study showed hot sedimentary aquifers were located below both the town and county.
Some reservoir temperatures reached as high as 140 C, Loberg told council Monday.
The three areas within Woodlands County with the highest energy demand are the Town of Whitecourt, a Woodlands area west of town and another southwest of town, according to Borealis GeoPower.
There are eight formations (hot sedimentary aquifers) at differing depths that could serve these areas that the study explored. Some, like the Nisku Formation (which has depths of 2.1 to 2.25 kilometres), are located underneath all of Woodlands County.
Other formations can be found in certain local areas. The Gilwood Sandstone is beneath the Whitecourt area at depths of 2.65 to 2.75 km while the Swan Hills Formation can be found in southwest Woodlands and north of Whitecourt, and reaches 123 C in places.
Of the three areas, the study found a geothermal heating project is most economically viable in Whitecourt.
This is due to its high demand and potential to access seven of eight formations the study explored, with temperatures in Whitecourt’s targets varying from 45 to 120 C.
For example, the Viking Sandstone, which is shallower (1,250 metres) and cooler (45 to 57 C) than the other formations, could be used for direct use heat in the town and nearby business parks, according to Borealis GeoPower.
Southwest Woodlands County around Highway 32 has greater heat of 54 to 125 C that could “serve higher temperature industrial purposes,” Borealis GeoPower states.
The area west of town doesn’t currently have great heat demand, Borealis GeoPower notes.
However, the study states it may see greater energy demand due to the possible development of a business park, with the area having potential for electricity generation.
Other formations looked at included the Nordegg formation in western Woodlands County that could also be used as a direct use heat reservoir, and the Eldon Sandstone on the northwest of Woodlands.
The Leduc Formation in the northeast and southwest of Woodlands County is distant from areas of high energy demand but has 111 C temperatures, the study notes.
The Village of Valemount and the combined efforts to resume the development of our Sustainaville project were commemorated by Laura Keil in her editorial, "What is Canada's energy vision?", for the Rocky Mountain Goat. Keil called the project "a brilliant idea" and invited the Canadian government to "show as much leadership on the geothermal file as they have on the [Trans-Mountain] pipeline, and support Canadians who are making a difference."