Geothermal sustainability closer than ever in British Columbia

Valemount hopes to become Canada’s first geothermal village

Valemount Marina

January 2016 in front of the Valemount Marina, a few kilometres north of the original hot springs, the ice on the reservoir was easily a foot thick, but the round spot pictured was open with warm water. Village residents know that there are micro springs along the reservoir. — Photo: Korie Marshall

With the transition of forestry to larger mills—or replaced altogether by renewable energy—the forestry town of Valemount, British Columbia, has taken a hit. Over the past 10 years, community members have been working towards positive changes that diversify their economy and create a sustainable community. Recently, the Valemount Geothermal Society was founded within the community, and is helping the village’s goals become a reality.

The Village of Valemount has been working with Borealis Geothermal—the company with the exploration permit for the area—on the project. “We need to diversify our economy and local community,” said Korie Marshall, the president of the Valemount Geothermal Society. “In the past, we’ve been reliant on forestry. With the closure of mills and the changing of the whole forestry industry, we lost a lot of jobs and a lot of opportunities.”

The location of Valemount is another problem—it’s just too remote. Valemount is at the very end of an electricity distribution line that begins in Kamloops. The community often loses power from a problem in the line. “We don’t have natural gas available in this area, so our options are electricity, propane, or a lot of people use wood heat,” Marshall said. “If we had another source of heat—the geothermal heat—it would lower the demand from other sources.” Aside from the problem of power, new jobs are too far away for residents to reasonably commute.

Valemount’s potential geothermal power could not only provide the heat that this British Columbia town needs, but more jobs through tourism. “Over the past 10 years we dove into tourism,” Marshall said. “I think the potential of geothermal could also play into tourism.”

How would geothermal heat help with a remote town’s tourism? By rebuilding their long-lost hot spring and opening it to the public. “We know that resource is still there, and we know it was a big draw for people in the past,” said Marshall.

However, the rebuilt hot pool doesn’t stand alone in Valemount’s vision for the harnessed geothermal heat. Small businesses could benefit from the same heat system, as well as a planned greenhouse. “The idea is to attract smaller industries that can operate next to each other,” said Marshall. “The extension for geothermal would be potentially having them linked to the same heating system.” For example, a local brewery has positioned themselves as first in line. To further the sustainable connection, the brewery’s waste could be used to fertilize the planned greenhouse.

This drawing is from the Valemount Geothermal Society's visioning sessions of summer 2016, showing the Industrial park on the right and the village on the left, linked by trails or transportation around the marsh.

This drawing is from the Valemount Geothermal Society's visioning sessions of summer 2016, showing the industrial park on the right and the village on the left, linked by trails or transportation around the marsh. — Photo: Korie Marshall

Closer to town the Valemount Geothermal Society and Borealis Geothermal hope to build an industrial park. “Through our visioning sessions with the society, we imagine not just potential for individual businesses, but more trails through the geothermal industrial park. It wouldn’t look like the industrial park, but would be an extension of the trail systems in our marsh area and around our community. We imagine it to be very holistic.”

It terms of environmental impact, aside from drilling the holes, the impact is almost nil. “It’s a very small footprint environmentally,” said Marshall. “There’s no emissions whatsoever.” Plus, “geothermal is base-load energy, so that means it’s always on,” which makes it a more appealing option than other sources of renewable energy.

The Valemount Geothermal Society is trying to keep communication open between Borealis Geothermal and the village, as well as the First Nations community of the area. To this point, all parties are on board for securing the prosperity of the community, as well as the use of sustainable resources. A shift to become Canada’s first geothermal village would provide the town with not only power, but jobs.

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