Geothermal grants on the way, says Ontario energy minister

Some see geothermal as the future of home heating in Ontario. But with a pricetag that's twice as much as some of the other options, it likely won't happen without some help from the government.

Experts say there are about 30,000 Ontario homes and businesses on geothermal

Jason Neva, who lives in the Whitefish area of Greater Sudbury, demonstrates the geothermal system he put in his home at a cost of $23,000. (Erik White/CBC)

On first glance, Jason Neva's basement doesn't look much different.

But on closer inspection, you see the pipes carrying hot water into and around his house on the Vermillion River in the Whitefish area of Greater Sudbury.

Neva put in a geothermal system a few years ago, when the provincial government was offering $10,000 to help him with the $23,000 bill for burying the water pipes that harvest heat from the ground in his front yard.

"Mainly for the environmental reasons at the time, the payback seemed to be quite apparent," says Neva, who installs solar panels for a living and has 40 on his property.

Heating system paid for itself in eight years 

His neighbour Skye Little is also on geothermal, although his system pumps water from the Vermillion.

Little switched from oil to geothermal nine years ago and his father soon followed suit, obsessively crunching the numbers on a spread sheet ever since.

"Our research has shown it works and it's paid itself off in just a little under eight years," says Little, who also uses the system to heat and cool his home-based printing and sign business.

His system cost about $28,000, including new ductwork. But he says he likely wouldn't have gone for it without the government grants available at the time.

"One of the main reasons was having the $10,000 government grant," says Little.

Jason Neva's geothermal system includes in-floor heating, which means a lot of tubes carrying hotwater running all over his home. (Erik White/CBC)

Contractors in the north say demand for geothermal has really dropped off in recent years along with the grant money.

Energy Minister and Sudbury MPP Glenn Thibeault says they are "rapidly" getting a new grant program ready for roll out.

"You know that's something that the cap and trade dollars will be used for to help people with fuel switching and to help them put better windows and insulation into their homes," says Thibeault.

Estimates say there could be as many as 2 billion of those cap and trade dollars every year, but it's not known yet how many will flow into the pockets of home owners.

Prospects good for supply companies

Stan Marco, who owns a geothermal supply company in southern and sits on the board of the Ontario Geothermal Association says incentives would definitely help.

But he says people would also be prompted to switch if the price of electricity, which geothermal systems use to run the pump, comes closer to natural gas.

"I think you're going to see the two, again as they have in the past, come much much closer together at which point it becomes cheaper to use a geothermal system," Marco says.