Feature

What Geothermal Development Could Mean for Sussex

Source: Flickr / Idaho National Laboratory

The Picadilly mine site near Sussex that suspended operations over a year ago could soon become a new source of energy and economic growth for the area.

As part of the Greater Sussex Hampton Region Economic Response Plan released earlier this month, geothermal energy development at the site is one of several priorities for economic growth in the area.

According to the Response Plan, the mine’s infrastructure could be repurposed to provide geothermal-based heating and/or cooling for high-demand application at a lower cost compared to other sources. Bill Thompson, economic development coordinator for the Town of Sussex says PotashCorp is on board with exploring this possibility.

“There is a great big cavern down there that’s 7 km long and it’s filling with water at the rate of about 1,400 gallons a minute. Potash[Corp] has been pumping that water out and either trucking to it Saint John or piping it out towards the Bay of Fundy,” Thompson says. “Now that they have gone through an [Environmental Impact Assessment] with the province, they no longer have to pump it out. It’s filling, so we’re looking at what that reservoir has to offer from a heat perspective.”

The 7 km mine cavity could have the potential to service a number of application including greenhouses, warehouses, manufacturing facilities and accommodations. The mine area is serviced with natural gas, a CN rail line and three-phase power and ready access to Route 1. It’s a prime location, but first, the town and surrounding communities need to see if geothermal development is even feasible.

“We’ve filed applications to both the federal and provincial government to get the funds needed to do a technical feasibility study which is to have people with experience in geothermal look at our opportunity and give us their professional opinion about the potential of that site, how much energy could be extracted,” Thompson says.

If that goes will, they will then have to develop a business model to attract businesses to the area.

“The known main users of geothermal range A to Z … your greenhouses, warehouse, hatcheries. So after the technical feasibility study that tells us what we have, we will then do a business analysis to determine what are some of the best potential uses for the facility,” Thompson says. “If every step is positive, we will then we will go in and try to recruit people in the preferred sectors to site.”

According to the Response Plan, possibilities for users include a marijuana production facility, a Sussex-based greenhouse operation, a year-round produce production facilities and a large space warehouse or distribution facility.

Ivan Graham, president of the president of the Sussex and District Chamber of Commerce says the potential economic impact geothermal development could have is still unknown. But the Response Plan estimates a multi-million dollar increase of the area’s commercial tax base and roughly 100 to 200 new jobs.  

“I think as of right now, the full impact is completely unknown and we’re exploring that. But there is significant potential of giving industries a competitive advantage to locate here,” Graham says. “Depending on how attractive we can make that, it could be a key attraction for our area. Every industry we add is a bonus.”

Sussex wouldn’t be the first town in Atlantic Canada to develop geothermal heating in an old mine. The town of Springhill Nova Scotia has already done it.

With the other priorities cited in the plan being beefing up the area’s tourism, arts and culture and food production and processing sectors, Graham says geothermal development is just one part of the plan for economic growth.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle. It’s not the only piece by any trace of the imagination, but as of right now, it’s an unexplored piece of that puzzle,” he says. “I think we’re still in the aspects of saying ‘this could work. This has great potential, let’s start pursuing this and see what we can bring out of it.’”

The mine closure hit the town of Sussex and surrounding areas hard. Around 430 people lost their jobs, not the mention the other indirect impacts. But Graham says the town is moving forward.

“We’ve taken a hit. I’m not going to deny that in any way,” he says. “But I think that through the process and the potential here in the strategic development plan that the future is bright. We have some great entrepreneurs in our area. We have some great business leaders. I think we are going to continue to grow and diversify the economy. “