Epoch Energy Development presented a pre-feasibility report project update to council on Feb. 7 about the proposed Hinton geothermal district energy system.
While geothermal heating and district energy systems are nothing new, the combination would be a first in Canada.
Based on the preliminary research, Hinton has over 100 wells within it’s vicinity to select from. Ideal wells will have water in them over 120 C, and due to the town’s location it is a great place to look.
TM Gunderson, director and CFO of Epoch, explained that because the town is so close to the foothills, the water is very deep and also very hot.
Although most of the current data to this point is taken from existing well projects in the area, the ideal situation for the project is different than what oil and gas companies are looking for.
“What we’re trying to get is what the oil and gas companies have avoided. They want to hit dry gas and they want to blow through the water zones as fast as they can. We’re looking for those water zones,” said Gunderson. “We’re not looking for a wide-open chasm, this is more like marbles in a bathtub.”
Coun. Matthew Young expressed the concerns of some of his neighbours about potential impact on the water table, and Gunderson explained to council that these wells operate far below the water table.
“The water tables are, from my understanding, less than 400 metres deep,” said Gunderson. “One of the wells we’re looking at is 5,200 metres deep.”
This project, he continued, is a deep geothermal project, utilizing wells deeper than 3,000 metres. There are two possible systems being proposed, one using one well to pump water up and down, and another using twinned wells — one to pump up and one to inject down. In either case, it is a closed system and only water is being exchanged said Gunderson.
The chosen wells would be located within six kilomtres from the town centre, ideally within two kilomtres.
Water from the wells would be pumped to a substation, similar to a surge tank, where additional transmission pipes would travel to each building in the system.
Each building would be equipped with a heat exchanger tied into the boiler system to allow the heat to be distributed within the buildings.
The buildings currently being included in the study account for around 65,000 GJ per year. To put that in perspective, the average home uses 100 GJ per year.
“The competitive advantage to the community would be that you can have a base cost of geothermal heat and companies can forecast what their heat costs will be for the next 20 years,” says Gunderson. “That’s a great competitive advantage to this town.”
The question at the end of the end of the day for council was how will this save the town money. Lisa Mueller, CEO and president of Epoch, explained that while the energy market is guaranteed to fluctuate over time, a district heating system provides predictable heating costs.
“There will be changes in ideology and carbon policy, but when you build geothermal you are always on the right side of any change in carbon tax or carbon levy because you will always be on the right side of the market,” said Mueller.
“Green will never be penalized.”
With the proposed system design, there are options to expand the project as demand rises.
Additional heat sources like biomass or sewer gas can be tapped into at a later date to add to the system.
A substation can also be added to the opposite end of the system to help backfeed the town as required, Gunderson said.
The cost to pipe heat from the source wells varies from $300,000 per kilometre to $700,000 per kilometre according to Gunderson.
The complete feasibility report is scheduled to be completed for the end of March and will include cost estimates to build the facilities required and retrofit existing buildings.