Well, I’m at it again, sounding like a broken record, maybe, but it’s a song I have to play. My latest Clean Break column asks why Canada, and particularly Alberta, is still paying no attention to the potential of its geothermal resources while, south of the border, stimulus money is seeing geothermal power projects sprouting up and thousands of jobs being created. No, I’m not saying that geothermal power plants are going to replace the oil patch, but there’s no reason why the skills and technologies in the oil patch can’t lead to a boom in geothermal development in Alberta, and help the province wean off coal in the process.
It’s interesting, I didn’t include this in my column, but when I asked Alison Thompson, chair of the Canadian Geothermal Association and vice-president of Magma Energy, why the major oil and gas companies are avoiding geothermal power, she answered in two words: “Skills shortage.” Because there is no government policy supporting geothermal in Canada, no roadmap, no awareness within the bureaucracy of its potential, and no price on carbon that would force companies to look at alternatives, there’s also no desire to take skilled workers from the oil patch — such as reservoir engineers — and throw them onto a geothermal project. Thompson, who used to work at both Nexen and Suncor and co-led a two-year oil industry research effort called GeoPowering in the Oil Sands, said the oil companies know geothermal is a proven technology. They just need the right nudge. “At a certain point somebody needs to rise above the excuses and just do it.”
Which brings me back to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ridiculous comment about how passage of the Climate Change Accountability Act would have hurt the economy and killed jobs. Geothermal power is a prime example of where skills in Alberta are transportable to a different sector that can help the province achieve emission reductions. There is so much potential for collaboration between the oil patch and geothermal developers yet so little interest in going down that path. It’s simply mindboggling.