Ottawa investing $1.3 million to tap into N.S. geothermal energy

Ottawa is investing $1.3-million in a geothermal energy project that will help rural and Mi'kmaw communities pursue and develop geothermal energy-based projects.  (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)
Ottawa is investing $1.3-million in a geothermal energy project that will help rural and Mi'kmaw communities pursue and develop geothermal energy-based projects. (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)

The federal government wants to unlock Nova Scotia's geothermal energy potential as it looks to reach its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

On Wednesday, Ottawa said it will spend $1.3 million on a new program known as Community Geothermal Resource Capacity Assessment and Training or GeoCAT.

The initiative is designed to help rural and Mi'kmaw communities pursue and develop geothermal energy-based projects.

Net Zero Atlantic will run the program and use the funds to hire Mi'kmaw and non-Indigenous employees and project managers and also pay for elders honorariums and venue rentals.

Russell Dmytriw, director of research for Net Zero Atlantic, said the project involves sharing knowledge on how renewable energy works and where it can be located.

Geothermal projects use a variety of methods to harness heat from beneath the earth's surface to produce electricity or direct heating.

"We've got some understanding of what makes projects economic, what makes them un-economic, so the training will be based on that information. But really the bulk of the work is understanding what the communities want and what they're interested in developing and, in addition, what infrastructure is available to support different kinds of projects. So it's a sort of a learn- learn experience."

Dmytriw said the GeoCAT program will allow people living in communities to gain the knowledge they need to advocate for their own energy projects. They can then teach others how such projects can be achieved.

Sydney–Victoria MP Jaime Battiste said the federal spending is part of Canada's transition to a low-carbon economy.

"There's no question that we have to take greater action, when it comes to climate change," said Battiste.

"We know that there's a long road ahead for us as a country and we know we have to make the investments in order to get there."

Membertou Chief Terry Paul said his community uses geothermal energy to power its hockey rink and school.

The renewable energy projects have resulted in savings of roughly 75 per cent on energy costs for the two buildings.

"There's the proof," Paul said. "The greener we can keep our community, the better it can be for the next seven generations."

Paul said Mi'kmaw community leads for the project include the Unama'ki Institute of Natural Resources and the Confederacy of Mainland Mi'kmaq.

He said Membertou will likely incorporate geothermal energy into more of its future building.

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