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Don Pettit: 21st Century energy in the Peace region

Peace region solar, wind, and geothermal are tragically being ignored by powers that be
BearMountainWind
Big or small, the Peace River region is rich in the new 21st Century energies of wind, solar, and geothermal. Above: Bear Mountain Wind Park near Dawson Creek (102 MW).

donThe Peace River region is defined by the watershed, or bioregion, of the Peace River. This is one of the continent’s great rivers, stretching some 1,900 kilometres from beginning to end and draining an area the size of California.

The Peace was the last region in North America to be homesteaded. At the turn of the last century, many thousands came here, attracted at first by the region’s rich agricultural potential, and later by other resources: forestry, coal, oil, gas, and hydroelectricity.

The Peace is also rich in the new 21st Century resources of wind, solar, and geothermal energies. But unlike the old 20th Century resources, these new energies are non-polluting, unlimited, and distributed across the region so that many communities and individuals can directly benefit from them.

Hydro electricity in question

Hydro electricity has traditionally been considered a green and renewable resource, but this has been called into question this century. Conventional hydropower requires a very large dam and an immense water reservoir for energy storage, destroying the world’s most productive ecosystems: river valleys.

The WAC Bennett Dam, the first and largest dam on the Peace River, was constructed in the 1960s, with the Peace Canyon Dam added a few years later. Together they generate some 3,430 megawatts (MW), most of which is transmitted 800 kilometres, at significant loss, to population centres in the south.

The very controversial Site C dam now under construction will add about 1000 MW of hydropower to the provincial grid. Flooding another 80 kilometres of the Peace River valley, it will destroy one of the richest ecological regions in Canada’s north and will provide some of the most expensive power ever produced in the province.

With our growing concern about human-caused climate change, new studies show that methane, one of the most potent of greenhouse gases, is released in very significant quantities from the inevitable flooded vegetation, which also emits toxic mercury, contaminating fish and wildlife populations downstream. The decommissioning of these large dams to restore destroyed river valleys is becoming a new worldwide trend.

Wind power

The Peace region has been extensively surveyed for its wind power potential, and found to be one of the richest in North America, with some 10,000 MW of easily developable wind energy.

A local Peace region group of dedicated citizens, Peace Energy Renewable Energy Cooperative (PEC) based in Dawson Creek, first tapped this potential. Bear Mountain Wind Park was B.C.’s first commercial wind project at 102 MW, commissioned in 2009, featuring state-of-the-art 3 MW Enercon turbines.

Since then some 500 MW of wind have been installed in the region, near Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd. Another 1000 MW of wind were also ready to go, financed by private investors, at no cost to taxpayers. Enercon promised a blade and tower factory in the Peace region should 1000 MW of their turbines be installed. The wind industry in B.C. was poised for take off.

At that critical point, the B.C. government did an about face, cancelled their “calls for clean energy” effectively destroying the provincial wind industry, while announcing the controversial Site C dam and an aggressive move to frack gas and LNG.

Solar

The Peace is also rich in the newest and fastest-growing clean energy resource: sunlight. Like wind, the cost of solar has fallen dramatically over the last few decades, and is poised to become the dominant and least expensive energy source on the planet within just 30 years.

Again, the development of this resource in the Peace has been spearheaded by PEC. The largest municipal solar facility in the province was completed in 2018 for the District of Hudson’s Hope. Nine large solar arrays now power many of the District’s facilities, saving them some $70,000 a year in electrical bills for at least 30 years and setting them apart as a leader in clean energy.

PEC has also designed and installed about one MW of grid-tied solar for homes in the bioregion, reducing or eliminating electrical bills for homeowners. Both BC Hydro and the Alberta free-market grid welcome grid-tied solar. 

Geothermal

B.C.’s first grid-scale geothermal project was just announced for the Fort Nelson area. This federally funded facility will use abandoned oil and gas wells to generate clean geothermal energy from the heat of the Earth itself. 

Unlike wind and solar, which are intermittent, geothermal can provide continuous, reliable base-load power. Like solar and wind, the Peace region’s geothermal potential is immense and untapped.

Which resources are developed and when will continue to be determined by government and corporate policies at the highest level, negotiated behind closed doors.

Even as we face an accelerating climate and health crisis, the unlimited 21st Century energies of Peace region solar, wind, and geothermal are tragically being largely ignored by the powers that be.


Don Pettit is a community columnist living in Dawson Creek and Executive Director of the Peace Energy Cooperative.