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Alberta government introduces legislation to promote geothermal energy development

The Alberta legislature on Aug. 26, 2020. Eric Beck/Global News

Alberta MLAs returned to the legislature on Tuesday and the government introduced new legislation aimed at promoting geothermal energy development in the province.

In a news release, the government said Bill 36 — the Geothermal Resource Development Act — will lay out rules and guidelines for industry, establish the legislative authority for land use and liability management and protect landowners and mineral rights owners.

The government said it believes pursuing growth in geothermal energy will help to diversify the provincial economy and noted it believes “Alberta is uniquely positioned to attract investment in this emerging industry because of its geothermal resources, leadership in drilling technology and extensive oil and gas expertise.”

“Encouraging the development of low-emitting geothermal energy will play an important role in Alberta’s economic recovery by attracting investment and creating jobs in this emerging sector,” Energy Minister Sonya Savage said,

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“Through this legislation, we are establishing a clear path forward for geothermal projects, while ensuring the resource is developed responsibly and in the best interests of Albertans, including landowners.”

READ MORE: Trudeau pledges millions to geothermal energy project in Saskatchewan 

In a statement issued in response to the proposed legislation, Opposition Energy Critic Kathleen Ganley said she also believes geothermal energy could have a promising future in Alberta.

“Geothermal development holds great potential for Alberta’s energy future,” she said. “It is clean, renewable, and takes advantage of skills and expertise we have right here at home. Pursuing innovative projects and investing in growing geothermal development is critical for diversifying our economy.

“A regulatory framework is a step in the right direction; however, we’re reviewing the legislation to determine if the one put forward by the UCP is appropriate.”

READ MORE: Downtown Hinton could soon be heated by abandoned oil and gas wells 

The government said its geothermal legislation will be modelled around the Oil and Gas Conservation Act and give the Alberta Energy Regulator the authority to regulate the sector’s development.

“The legislation clarifies industry requirements, establishes the AER’s oversight authority and establishes government’s ability to receive revenues, such as royalties and fees, for geothermal development,” the government said.

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Geothermal energy uses natural heat that comes from the Earth for heating, cooling or generating electricity.

READ MORE: Alberta intends to clear hurdles for development of clean geothermal energy

Savage announced earlier this month that her government planned on introducing legislation to promote geothermal energy this fall.

Geothermal expert encouraged by move to help sector grow

Catherine Hickson is the CEO of Alberta No. 1, a pioneering geothermal operation in the province.

She said the initial geothermal projects in Alberta present major challenges for those undertaking them, and while she has yet to have a chance to read Bill 36, she welcomes news there will be a regulatory framework in place for the sector.

“I think it’s a very important piece of legislation in order to actually move the industry forward,” she told Global News. “(I have) been in the geothermal industry for almost 40 years and have tried to actually get projects going in Alberta in the past but with no success for various reasons… one of those reasons is a lack of legislation.

“So this is certainly welcome that the government is actually moving forward on something.”

Hickson said Alberta doesn’t harbour the kind of heat that you may see in a geothermal development in Iceland for example, but it has significant potential nonetheless.

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“What we have is called a sedimentary basin and that’s what people are wandering around on,” she said. “That’s… where our amazing hydrocarbon resource is found in and there is also heat associated with those hydrocarbon resources.

“Anybody in the petroleum industry has known that because there are many wells in Alberta which bring up hot water and that hot water is anywhere from a few tens of degrees (Celsius) to 100 degrees (Celsius).”

She said traditionally, geothermal heat is not valued as highly as oil and gas but it “is a viable and renewable energy source that we should be tapping.”

A photo of the Lightning Dock Geothermal Power Plant in New Mexico. Supplied by Catherine Hickson

Hickson indicated she believes if legislation is passed that provides a clearer path for projects to get approval, she could see it having a positive impact on the sector quite quickly.

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“Right now, any geothermal project which involves drilling, so conventional deep geothermal… we actually have to apply to the premier and ask for a Crown grant for a specific location,” she said. “That’s a long process and obviously the premier’s got other things to do.

“This basically provides a smooth and direct pathway to nominate and elect particular parcels of land and to go through a process which has a regulatory framework.”

Hickson said Alberta No. 1 is in the process of permitting right now and that there are other major projects on the go right now as well.

“Our project, which is south of Grande Prairie, we’re going to be spudding our first well in February,” she said. “That first well will give us a very good indication of what our temperatures and flows are in subsurface.”

Hickson said while there is the potential for producing geothermal power in Alberta, she believes the sector will focus on providing heat.

She noted that she hopes to see further support from the government to help the geothermal sector thrive, particularly in its early stages.

Watch below: Some Global News videos about geothermal energy.

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