Currently most of Alberta’s electricity is produced by 18 coal-fired generating plants. With the NDP government focused on retiring 12 of those plants by 2018, Hinton is going to have to find new ways to power its homes. Wasting no time, council has already started focusing on a new alternative: geothermic reserves.
Jonathan Banks, Research Associate from the University of Alberta, brought back findings from a deep-dive analysis, examining areas within a 50km radius of Hinton for potential geothermic reserves. The results were promising.
“There’s over 500 meters of geothermal production all over 120 degrees about 25km up the road from here,” he says.
Using data from wells that reach up to 4,000 meters deep, he says they’ve found three reserves from Obed, Swan Hills and Leduc strong enough to provide geothermic energy. Of the three. Swan Hills reserve is the greatest and Obed is the least.
However, Banks added that there’s enough geothermic energy being produced from Obed to solely provide power to the town.
“Within that 50 km radius, there’s about 2.5 gigawatts of thermal energy … and approaching 200 megawatts of electrical capacity … just within 50km from here.”
He says a single family home consumes around 1.2 kilowatts of energy, totalling 12 megawatts of electricity needed annually.
Councillor Matthew Young questions why geothermic power is a resource that should be invested in. Banks says that coal won’t be around forever, and the effects of coal are more negative than positive.
“There will be economic consequences for that. Whether or not the economic or natural and environmental consequences come first, it’s hard to say,” he responds.
Banks adds that with the government “aggressively” phasing out the coal industry, jobs are going to be lost. He says it’s time to start planning for the future.
“It seems to me that now is the time to plan for our next generation’s economy,” he says.
However, Banks notes there’s not enough geothermal energy to completely replace coal. He adds that geothermal energy could support and fuel other industries.
In January another report will be delivered to the town with further research into the costs and viability of the geothermal reserves. Banks asked administration to provide information on power companies used within the town to help further the study.
Councillor Stuart Taylor looks at the report and asked why town facilities aren’t included in the study.
“It seems like we should be repurposing this project to direct it more towards things that the town could benefit, because the town is paying for this,” he says.
Councillor Glen Barrow says that Taylor’s findings were a “good catch”.
“I guess showing us what it can do, but in terms of a full schematic and estimate, I agree with you,” he says.
Taylor points out that the report focuses on greenhouses and timber yards as potential uses for the geothermal energy, which he says seems odd.
“But we don’t specifically mention the town’s buildings, which seems kind of odd to me,” he says.
Banks says the study would be amended to focus more on the town’s facilities.
Councillor Albert Ostashek asks if the schematic drawings were high level, showing what the resource could be used for.
Banks responds that the schematic drawings were designed to provide more information to council as they make decisions on how to move forward.
“I would support these schematic drawings then, as a method for choice of examples of how this resource could be used, and get people thinking about how they could put this to use,” Ostashek says.
Mayor Rob Mackin says discussions surrounding geothermal energy originally began to determine whether there is a possibility of using it.
Councillor Barrow says he would accept the drawings, but would like to see some town facilities included in the interim report.
Councillor Ryan Maguhn agrees that it would be valuable information, adding that it would be best suited for standing committee. Councillors agreed to bring back for discussion schematic and cost information for town buildings and other potential opportunities at a future standing committee meeting.