Mount Meager in southwestern B.C. hasn’t erupted in 2,400 years, but it is considered Canada’s only active volcano.
The high alpine site in the Garibaldi volcanic belt near Whistler is a focal point for research into geothermal energy potential, where superheated water can be brought up from deep underground for electric power production, then returned.
After B.C. Hydro and geothermal companies drilled exploratory wells in recent years that found potential for energy production, a team from the Geological Survey of Canada has reported its findings from the first major field study.
The federal research isn’t designed to lead to a geothermal power plant at South Meager Creek, says Dr. Steve Grasby, project leader for the Geological Survey of Canada. The region already has run-of-river power projects online at Whistler-Blackcomb and on the Upper Lillooet River north of Pemberton, connected to the B.C. Hydro grid.
It’s to refine geological mapping and seismic measuring techniques that could be used across much of the province, in the Anahim, Wells Gray-Clearwater and Stikine volcanic belts. These volcano regions have been mostly dormant for 12,000 years, but have geothermal potential.
With work begun in the 1970s, Mt. Meager is the most studied geothermal hot spot in Canada, where initial wells have identified reservoirs at 250 degrees as shallow as one kilometre below the surface.
“We’re interested in looking at geothermal potential across the country, and part of the reason for that is it is a renewable energy resource,” Grasby said in a video presentation of last summer’s field work May 7. “Compared to other resources such as solar power or wind power, geothermal has the advantage of being a base load power supply. So that means it is always there when you need it.”
The project had 34 researchers in the rugged region in the summer of 2019, living in tents and exploring by helicopter and on foot. Hot springs are one sign of geothermal potential, with heated water finding its own way to the surface, and research focused on identifying the likeliest places to drill.
Preliminary results indicate that one well in an area of high rock fracturing that allows water to escape could produce between six and 13 megawatts, running for more than 30 years.
In 2014, geothermal was touted as an alternative to the Site C dam on the Peace River, but then-energy minister Bill Bennett said it was not considered well enough developed to replace the 1,100 megawatts of steady supply that project will produce.