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Alternative to diesel
Proposed geothermal plant could supply all of Fort Liard's electricity needs

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, September 29, 2011

If a geothermal project that's in the works is successful, Fort Liard could be off diesel-generated electricity within two years.

Acho Dene Koe First Nation and Borealis GeoPower of Calgary are working together to develop a geothermal demonstration project. The project includes the construction of a geothermal plant that would create enough electricity to meet all of the community's needs, said Craig Dunn, Borealis GeoPower's chief geologist.

"We've known about a heat resource in the North for decades now because of oil and gas drilling," Dunn said.

Dunn said he's been looking at opportunities in the North for a number of years and watching the cost of diesel. Approximately two years ago Borealis went to Ottawa and met with representatives from Natural Resources Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. While discussing Northern communities that are most suitable for geothermal projects Fort Liard was suggested.

Borealis met with Acho Dene Koe First Nation and got its permission to apply to Natural Resources Canada's Clean Energy Fund. The company has been approved for between $10 and 20 million in funding for the project.

The project has an estimated cost of $15 million, said Dunn. The amount of money received from the fund will depend on matching funds from other sources.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is providing matching funds for the projects feasibility stage which is scheduled to last until March 2012.

This stage will include the design of the project and permitting. Borealis is also in negotiations with the Northwest Territories Power Corporation for the balance of the funds and for it to eventually take over ownership and operation of the plant, said Dunn.

The second stage will be the drilling and construction of the geothermal plant.

Fort Liard is a prime location for the project in part because of its long history of oil and gas development. There are approximately 50 wells within a 50-kilometre radius of the community, said Dunn. This means there is a lot of data about sub-surface temperatures.

At four to 4.5 kilometres oil and gas companies were hitting a water reservoir with temperatures of 180 C, he said. For the plant, Borealis hopes to drill to approximately four kilometres to reach the hot water reservoir.

The system will be pressurized to drive water to the surface and the heat will power a binary electricity-genrating turbine. The water, then cooled to between 70 C to 75 C, will be reinjected back into the reservoir. The Fort Liard base camp at the edge of the community has been chosen as a potential site for the geothermal plant.

"Our goal is actually to supply the community with all their electrical needs and have some to spare," said Dunn.

The community requires approximately 600 kilowatts at any given time. If everything goes according to plan, the plant will be operational by late 2013 or 2014. It would be the only geothermal plant of its kind in the territory, said Dunn.

Chief Harry Deneron of Acho Dene Koe First Nation said the project will benefit Fort Liard as well as other communities in the North.

If the project succeeds in Fort Liard, other communities will be able to follow its example, he said.

"I hope that it works out for everybody," said Deneron.

Having watched oil and gas developments take place around the community Deneron said he's long been interested in the heat at the bottom of the wells.

"We're not talking about lukewarm, were talking about very high heat," he said.

Deneron said he always wondered how the heat could be used and is glad Borealis has partnered with the First Nation to develop the project. Deneron is also interested in the potential third stage of the project.

Because the water will still be at 70 C to 75 C after it leaves the plant, it could be used to heat a greenhouse or other community buildings before being pumped back underground.

"There's grid potential," said Deneron.

For his part, Dunn said he's excited about the opportunity to make a remote Northern community run completely on renewable energy.

The goal is to help multiple communities get alternative energy sources and hopefully Fort Liard will have the bragging rights of being first, he said.

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