Greens propose motion to level playing field for geothermal energy production

The following motion will be put to an on-line vote of Green Party of Alberta members starting on April 20.  Members will receive formal notice of this motion and the URL they can use for voting on it.

The purpose of the motion is not to give geothermal electricity production preference over other clean, renewables, but to make it possible for geothermal generation to compete fairly with other comparable sources, such as solar and wind.

Public policy category:  Energy

Motion:  That the Green Party of Alberta supports the introduction of laws and regulations that would create a level playing field for geothermal energy, both for heating and for generation of electricity.  In particular, the GPA supports creation of a licensing system for geothermal wells.

The GPA Policy context:

The GPA already has policy supporting the development of clean, renewable energy sources in the province.  For example, the following existing GPA policies are relevant:

  • The Green Party would set a goal of a 50% renewably powered grid by 2030.  It would provide economic incentives for the transition through a combination of carbon taxes, feed-in tariffs, tax incentives, and regulation.
  • The Green Party of Alberta would re-envision the Alberta electricity grid to give preference to decentralized power minimizing the need for long-distance transport from large, centralized power plants.

Concise statement of arguments pro and con proposed policy:

Geothermal energy could make a significant contribution to our province’s need to reduce GHG emissions and provide Albertans’ with clean, renewable heating and electrical energy.

As to electricity generation, geothermal can provide base-load energy because its productivity is constant and does not vary with the weather or time of day as do wind and solar.  Geothermal can combine with other clean renewable sources of energy to substantially replace the production and consumption of hydrocarbons in the province.

While geothermal is no panacea – nothing is – it could be the best energy source in some parts of the province and for some purposes:

  • According to the International Renewable Energy Agency in 2014, “geothermal energy produced at good sites is still the cheapest way to generate electricity.”
  • According to a study done by the Alberta Department of Energy in 2014, “[G]eothermal may well become an important source of electricity for Alberta … geothermal has significant potential to supply far more than Alberta’s current needs.”

Development of geothermal energy industries would create employment for many of the people in the trades and professions who have lost work in the oil and gas sector.   For example, there are geologists, drilling and reservoir engineers, heat-transfer experts, and a whole host of people in the trades who could be employed in a thriving geothermal sector.

Development of geothermal energy industries could enhance Alberta’s agriculture sector, for example, by providing clean heat for greenhouses.  In this way it could help reinvigorate rural Alberta and in particular some of the small communities which will lose jobs as coal-fired electricity plants in the province shut down.

Alberta could become a global centre of excellence for innovation, knowledge and technology development in geothermal.  If we get on it quickly in a serious way, we could become one of the world leaders in this area and thus be able to export our geothermal expertise and technology.

Some geothermal projects could be developed using orphaned wells, thus reducing the financial and environmental liabilities presented by these presently abandoned wells.

But in order for geothermal to be able to play these useful roles, certain changes in the province’s legal and regulatory regime are needed.  At present the most serious deficiency is the lack of a permitting system for geothermal wells.  Oil and gas companies can apply to the Alberta Energy Regulator for licenses guaranteeing certain exclusive rights to oil and gas discovered as a result of their drilling.  However, no such system exists for geothermal wells.  What’s required is not rocket science but it is urgently needed.  It is widely recognized that having an “effective, efficient and fair [regulatory] system” is the “most critical issue any geothermal regime must address.” (Grant van Hal, “Legal Obstacles to the Development of Geothermal Energy in Alberta,” Canadian Institute of Resources Law, Occasional Paper # 42, December 2013: http://dspace.ucalgary.ca/jspui/retrieve/39528/GeothermalOP42w.pdf)

There are no serious arguments against providing the needed legal framework so that geothermal can compete with other technologies on a fair basis.

For more information on geothermal energy see the web site of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association: http://www.cangea.ca/

The above motion was submitted by: GPA members Mark Hambridge and Janet Keeping

 

 

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