Yukon Energy cranks up search for geothermal heat source

Yukon Energy Corp. will spend about $285,000 this year to try to find an affordable source of geothermal power, the utility says.

Yukon Energy Corp. will spend about $285,000 this year to try to find an affordable source of geothermal power, the utility says.

The utility is contributing the money towards a research project to study the Yukon's geothermal potential.

The Yukon Cold Climate Innovation Centre is pitching in $125,000, while the City of Whitehorse has also signed on as a partner in the project.

"We are looking for really hot water; 400-degree hot water. And from an electricity point of view, these [geothermal] wells are two, three kilometres deep into the earth. So that's expensive," Yukon Energy president David Morrison said Friday.

"So there's a whole series of things you want to do before you start drilling wells all over the place, and we could be building something as soon as a few years … if we get the right data and we get the right evidence that we've got something worth pursuing."

Morrison said there could be potential geothermal sources significant enough to produce up to 1,500 megawatts of electricity.

The search for geothermal sources has become especially relevant in recent weeks, as a cold snap has put extra loads on Yukon Energy's hydroelectricity grids.

All-time high

For example, Morrison said the utility's Dawson-Mayo hydro grid hit an all-time record high last week of 5.1 megawatts.

"There's no new industrial loads in that area," he said. "The capacity of the Mayo plant is five megawatts, and we've never been anywhere near that."

While the Yukon does have hot springs — surface expressions of hot water — Morrison said the research will find out where those hot springs come from.

"It might be miles and miles away from where it's expressed itself by coming to the surface," he said.

The research project will use remote sensing satellite imagery and infrared thermal sensors to find possible geothermal sites. Geologists have already been conducting preliminary research to pinpoint those sites, Morrison said.

Morrison said drilling could start as early as this summer. If researchers can find the right pocket of geothermal heat, he said construction of wells could begin within two years.