Unanimous votes and agreeable conversation for Whitecourt and Woodlands Councils

On December 17, 2021, the councils from Whitecourt and Woodlands County sat down for the first meeting of the Joint Liaison Committee since the election. The committee includes three councillors from each Council and their CAOs. There were three items on the agenda for the group to discuss, including the Regional Business Park Feasibility Study and the Geothermal Development Feasibility Study.

Both municipalities had been working together on the projects. In 2018, they received an Alberta Community Partnership (ACP) grant for a Regional Business Park Feasibility Study. The following year, B&A Planning, in partnership with Nichols Applied Management and McElhanney, was contracted to complete the study, split into three parts.

The first part was the Market & Competitiveness Analysis which both Councils learned about in January 2020. The analysis looked at the existing and future market potential within the region. It also gave a competitive analysis of other municipalities. The second part was the Land Suitability Assessment, presented in July 2020, which reviewed site criteria. It provided potential locations for the accommodation of future industrial growth. The final part, introduced in December 2020, was the Industrial Land Strategy, including a marketing tool to help advance the Regional Business Park.

Since over a year has passed since the study wrapped and with new councillors on both Councils, Whitecourt Administration, led by CAO Peter Smyl, proposed a joint meeting where B&A Planning could recap the study along with an overview of the next steps.

Woodlands County Councillor Alan Deane liked the idea. “I look around the table, and I see myself as one of two new faces, and I would certainly welcome the opportunity to get a better understanding of the program. I would support this.” His Woodlands colleague Councillor Kusch queried the cost of another meeting. “Just making sure the grant funding is still available for this next meeting or is it something that would be additional?”

CAO Smyl explained that it would be covered if it were virtual. “If Council wants them to be in person, there would be additional cost. I would imagine roughly around two thousand for travel and for them to come up to present.” Whitecourt Councillor Derek Schlosser followed along with Councillor Kusch’s question. “I’m not certain it’s required that they are here as long as they can present, then that’s totally fine. We can still do this (motioning to being together in the same space) if we choose. It’s just that they would be presenting virtually and taking questions. I don’t see a difference if it’s going to save us two grand. Seems to make sense to me.”

Councillor Deane said he agreed 100 percent. “If something came up during that virtual presentation that was hard to understand, and we decided we needed a follow-up meeting and that it should be in person, then we can make that decision at that time.” The motion made by Councillor Schlosser to hold the joint meeting passed unanimously.

The second and similar item on the agenda, the Geothermal Development Feasibility Study, was up next. As per the Request For Decision (RFD) provided, “Borealis GeoPower was retained in November 2020 to complete a Geothermal Development Feasibility Study for the Town of Whitecourt and Woodlands County. The goal of the study was to determine the viability of a geothermal heat and/or electricity project in and around the Town of Whitecourt and Woodlands County,” read the RFD.

The study gave a more comprehensive and detailed review of the information available in the area. “The study was structured to identify relevant historic data, potentially viable resources, and inform on regulatory, economic and technological pathways towards development. It provides resource mapping and geothermal analysis for our area and also discusses a number of important issues related to any geothermal development, notably permitting, project development, schedule, and costs. A generalized economic analysis for developing a geothermal direct heat project has also been calculated as part of the project,” explained the RFD.

Thanks to an Alberta Community Partnership (ACP) Grant awarded to both municipalities in 2020, the Geothermal Development Feasibility Study was 100 percent funded. The grant funded up to $125,000, and the study used up $101,400, leaving behind $23,600 in unused ACP funds. “Administration took advantage of an opportunity through the Building Capacity with the Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways Program (SREP) and submitted a grant application for detailed site investigation based on the findings from the recently completed Geothermal Development Feasibility Study. The SREP is a federal grant and would see 100% of the project costs covered,” detailed the RFD.

Should it be successful, the application proposed is for a $200,000 project to complete “detailed investigation of up to four subsurface targets/drilling locations capable of serving the Whitecourt and Woodlands region with geothermal heat. These investigations will estimate the flow potential of the targets and will further evaluate the economics of future development. If the results of the detailed site investigations are positive, work could then be done to design and conduct a geothermal drilling campaign,” concluded the RFD.

Whitecourt Mayor Tom Pickard said the same presentation virtually would work for him. “Also, the notion for us to get together and spend someone else’s money is always something that I can see being favourable, especially the 100 percent grant-funded.” The motion to schedule a joint presentation for both Councils to listen to the Geothermal Development Feasibility Study consultant virtually passed unanimously.

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