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Government hot on GeothermAl

By roy mink

Geothermal supporters concede that the technology first gained prominence and quickly flopped — when the U.S. faced its first energy crisis in the 1970s. In fact, the raft river site was touted as a solution in the 1970s and attracted $40 million in investment capital back in 1982. Ironically, it is those wells drilled back in 1982 that Kunz is now focusing the company’s efforts on developing.


... western states have identified.

. resources suitable for production of 13,000 megawatts.

.within the next 10 to 20 years.


Photo Courtesy of Doe

BACkGroUnd Work “the government did a vast amount of work on the geology in the 1970s,” said Kunz. “they put in 14 monitoring wells and built the original plant. the project was a success, but the production costs were high.” that first geothermal facility actually produced seven megawatts of power for about eight months, Kunz said. But the federal government’s decision in the early 1980s to privatize geothermal energy development helped doom the project, Kunz asserted, because the energy produced wasnt cost-competi- tive. the original plant was disassembled and sent to nevada, but the wells and the geological studies showing the potential of the energy source, remained. U.S. Geothermal acquired the rights about four years ago. “We recognized it as a tremendous resource,” said Kunz. “our business plan is to commercialize the existing well fields by building a new (geothermal) plant on top of the site.” ThE EarTh hoUSES a vast energy supply as geothermal heat — a domestic resource equivalent to at least a 20,000-year energy supply at our current rate of consumption — and it is being renewed. Geothermal energy is used in all 50 states, and it will make a great difference to our nation’s energy supplies. I am excited that additional geothermal energy plants are beginning to come on line as a result of better technology, favorable policies, and enhanced public awareness of the environmental benefits. The Department of Energy’s geothermal technologies program seeks to make geothermal energy the nation’s environmentally preferred baseload energy alternative. Big Geysers, a 75-megawatt geothermal power plant located in northern California. on the federal policy front, the 2005 Energy Policy act streamlined leasing requirements, which is expected to lower costs for potential developers. The law also mandated that the U.S. Geologic Survey conduct a detailed resource assessment, the first since 1978. This should enable developers to more accurately identify areas for potential geothermal resource development, leading to reduced exploration costs and risks. The act extended the production tax credit for geothermal Dr. Roy Mink is program manager at the U.S. Department of Energy geothermal technologies program. power facilities in place before Jan. 1, 2008, by two years. This will enhance cost-competitiveness. What will be different this time around at raft river? Kunz and others in the industry believe one key factor was the 2005 passage of the energy Policy act, which extended the full federal production tax credit, formerly limited to wind power plants, to geothermal facilities. the measure also authorized increased research funding by the Department of energy and provided funding to the Bureau of land management to address a backlog of geothermal leases and permits. the geothermal lease backlog is estimated to be 25 years. the current tax credit expires in December 2007, which means geothermal plants must be producing power by that time to be eligible. Industry watchers contend that doesnt provide much time for geothermal plants to get authorized and operational. an innovative, geothermal power plant was recently commissioned at Chena hot Springs in alaska, using equipment based on mass-produced chiller systems to generate electricity from geothermal water at 165 degrees Fahrenheit. another exciting opportunity involves the capture of energy in the copious hot water that flows from oil and gas wells in much of the Gulf Coast area, extending through Texas and oklahoma and on into Wyoming. Low- temperature power plants make this new application possible, with geologists and geophysicists estimating available resources for potential installations totaling about 5,000 megawatts in the near future. GooGle poWer SAvinGS Google wants the computer industry to help cut power use by servers, according to the Independent newspaper in the United Kingdom. a recent MIT analysis estimates that geothermal’s long-term potential is many times U.S. energy demand. according to the Western Governor’s association, the Western states have identified resources suitable for production of 13,000 megawatts within the next 10 to 20 years. of these, 5,600 megawatts are considered by industry to be viable for commercial development by 2015 at levelized busbar costs of about 5.3 to 7.9 cents per kilowatt-hour assuming commercial financing and the production tax credit. This estimate does not include the potential geothermal production from oil and gas wells, or the much greater potential of deeply buried hot rock. Google has managed to achieve significant power savings and is willing to share it with hardware makers. In raft river’s case, that new tax credit is expected to generate approximately $1.7 million annually when the plant goes online. the credit provides $19 per megawatt-hour produced during the next 10 years. that kind of windfall could make the difference between financial success and failure for geothermal Computes and servers waste as much as 40 percent of their energy, but Google scientists have reduced that waste to 10 per cent. These exciting new opportunities for geothermal energy will advance geothermal power generation so that it becomes an even greater contributor to the power infrastructure and economic well-being of the United States.

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