A proposed $70 million geothermal energy plant will have to be put on hold until after certain water and sewer decisions have been made, the City Council voted on Monday.
This comes despite City staff's recommendation that the council allow them to begin the search for prospective partners, and two councillors who also voted against it.
"For me, water security, sewers, roads and sewers trump this geothermal plant," said Councillor Charlie Parslow. "When we've dealt with the water and sewer, that will be the time to focus on geothermal. I want us to focus on water security and sewage."
Last August, the City approved a study to see whether or not the City could exploit heat generated underground, or geothermal, as a source of energy. This project would develop a combined heat and electrical power project for the area.
Borealis Geopower was assigned the project, and gave its findings last September.
The study found that Dawson Creek region has "promising geothermal potential."
According to Borealis' report, Dawson Creek has the three things needed for a geothermal energy source – a heat source deep in the ground, something to absorb the heat (like water), and an environment that allows the transfer of the thing to absorb the heat to the surface for use.
Using historical oil and gas wells drilled in the area, the study found that it could provide adequate temperatures to generate emissions free, green energy worth $9.3 million annually, when sold to BC Hydro.
The project could cost $70 million paid over three years, the report states.
However, these costs would be made up in the money made when the city sells this energy, and present a rate of return between eight and 11 per cent.
The heat generated could also heat the city's internal buildings.
In order to begin this project, the City would have to find a partner for the funding. Dawson Creek City staff recommended that the City go forward with this project and look for possible partners.
However, this met with opposition from some councillors. Councillor Charlie Parslow started a motion in City Council to stop this from happening.
While Parslow said he was "intrigued" by geothermal energy's possibilities, he felt that there were bigger concerns that council needed to address first.
Currently, the City is debating how to resolve their water security issue, either through a reservoir or a more expensive pipeline. The City also faces upwards of $5 million in sewer fixes to prevent certain homes from leaking up.
"I was alarmed at the costs (of the geothermal plant), I was also alarmed by the costs of piping water from the Peace (River)," said Parslow. "We've got many, many costly issues to deal with this in community… people are very concerned about those core infrastructures, and I don't want energy to be diverted from those things, or funds."
Parslow added that council should instead look for partners for their water security measures, as well.
He asked that they instead vote to receive the measure as information, but to direct staff to hold off on this decision until after the sewer water decisions.
Others also felt the same way.
"I think now is not the best time," said Councillor Shaely Wilbur. "I think time would be better spent searching for partners for our water. We have greater issues, this is not one of them."
However, others felt differently.
Councillor Sue Kenny said that she felt the cost savings for this could pay for a waterline to the Peace Region that council is considered.
"I think we should always be moving forward in sustainability," said Kenny.
"I don't see any harm any harm in discussions and moving forward with partners," added Councillor Cheryl Shuman. "Time is of the essence, and why tie our hands up with water and sewer issues? That could take years and years."
In the end, Councillors Kenny and Shuman voted against Parslow's motion, with the four remaining councillors voting in favour.
Mayor Mike Bernier said that council's move not to move forward with the geothermal plant was "disappointing in some respects."
"It's an opportunity to explore new sources of energy."
He voted against the measure.
The City's chief administrative officer, Jim Chute, said later that he could see why some councillors wanted the bylaw was amended.
"It wasn't the intent of administration that seeking partnerships will tie the city to investments in any way," said Chute. "I understand if there was any element of misunderstanding to the council on that, there may be in the community as well…this is no surprise."
With the exception of the feasibility study, no City funding has been used to pay for any type of work on a geothermal plant.
The vote was made at Monday's council meeting.