Fort Nelson First Nation’s Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project

Fort Nelson First Nation’s Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project

Fort Nelson First Nation’s Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project

By Katherine Maas

On April 5, 2024, Andrea Warren and Taylor Behn-Tsakoza delivered a one-hour Lunch & Learn presentation for WE-CAN describing the Fort Nelson First Nation’s Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project. (You can view a video recording of the full presentation here.) Andrea is Tu De-Kah Geothermal’s media and communication specialist, and Taylor is its community liaison coordinator. Together with Training and Employment Coordinator Cyndi Bonn, they form the Tu Deh-Kah Team.

The Tu De-Kah Geothermal project is located in Fort Nelson, in northeast British Columbia. We typically hear of geothermal energy being used for district heating for homes and other buildings, because this is how it has been used in Canada historically, but the Tu Deh-Kah project will be using it to produce electricity. When completed, in late 2027 or early 2028, the project will provide electric power to the Fort Nelson area, which is not currently connected to the BC Hydro integrated grid.

At present, the community is largely dependent upon the North River Mid Stream Gas Plant for its electric power. The gas plant is also one of the biggest CO2 emitters in the province, so when the geothermal project goes live, it will eliminate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.


How geothermal energy works

Geothermal energy is extracted from hot magma lying miles below the earth’s surface. Most extraction occurs in areas near tectonic plate boundaries and requires access to water, as well as pathways or cracks in the subterranean rock that allow fluid to be brought to the surface. When such conditions are met, a well can be drilled, and steam is captured and used to drive the turbines that generate electricity. Geothermal energy is pollution free, and virtually limitless – the magma below the earth’s surface contains 50,000 times as much energy as all the fossil fuel energy in the world. In addition to being sustainable, geothermal is more reliable than wind or solar, which cannot be generated unless the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Geothermal works all the time.

Geothermal energy is not well explored in Canada in part because drilling is very expensive. The Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project is one of the first in the country to explore a commercial scale geothermal development. The project is located at the Clarke Lake natural gas field, where many gas wells were drilled in the late 1950s and early 1960s. While the natural gas in the wells has now been depleted, the data points on the well locations have been extremely useful in getting the geothermal project started quickly: it told them where to drill. In some cases it has also been possible to save the expense of drilling by using an existing well-head.

There are only specific pockets in the world where it is practical to extract geothermal energy for production of electricity, and the Tu De-Kah Geothermal energy project happens to be sitting on one of them – they have the needed heat, water, and the porous rock needed to enable water to flow through the rock, where it is heated by magma, used to generate electricity, and then cooled to be pumped back down the well.

Details about the Tu De-Kah Geothermal Energy Project

The Tu De-Kah Project is 100% owned and run by the Fort Nelson First Nation. When the geothermal facility goes live, it will provide 7-15 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the entire Fort Nelson region. The government is very eager to see this project built, with over $50M in financial support coming from the federal and provincial governments. It is estimated a total of $100M will be required to complete the project. The Tu De-Kah will work with the Infrastructure Bank of Canada to complete the financing.

The Tu De-Kah Project is currently in phase 4 of a 7-phase project. The first 3 phases were completed quickly because of the project’s location on a depleted gas field. The design work for surface facilities is being completed by Versaidez & Associates, based out of San Francisco, and they are hoping to start the drilling phase in early to mid-2025.

Beyond providing power to the region, the project will provide job opportunities for community members, many of whom have worked in the oil and gas industry and who have been negatively impacted by the oil and gas industry downturn. A lot of the work needed to launch this geothermal project requires skills and competencies remarkably similar to those used in the oil and gas industry. The new jobs being created will be very important to the local economy.

Other exciting opportunities may also be created in the wake of the geothermal development. Tu De-Kah team envisages building commercial-sized greenhouses that will be heated by geothermal energy and that can be used to provide local, reliable produce to the community. Fort Nelson is a remote, isolated community where fresh foods can be expensive and in limited supply. Tu De-Kah team is also considering building a Japanese-style onsen (hot springs bath) spa and potentially even aquaculture.

The Tu De-Kah team wants to develop the geothermal project in a way that aligns with community culture and values. Building relationships and partnerships and educating local people about the benefits of the geothermal project has been key to the success of the project so far. It has been important to educate and engage with the community about the security the project will provide in the area. Repurposing the oil and gas assets, expertise, and workforce allows the project to get support from the community and is bringing a new sense of purpose to workers in the area.

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1 Comment

  1. Susan Eyre

    Awesome recycling of defunct oil wells for longtime reliable geothermal care of communities energy requirements. Inspiring!!!!!!


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