Report: Strong U.S. Geothermal Growth Continues

Geothermal power projects in the U.S. continue to gain steam, a new report from the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) shows. Between August 2008 and March 2009, the number of new projects jumped 25% while overall production potential surged 35%.

The report, “U.S. Geothermal Power Production and Development Update, March 2009” (PDF), identified a total of 126 confirmed and unconfirmed projects that had begun development after August 2008; these could put 5,500 MW of new geothermal power online.

The report also notes that since August 2008—when the organization’s last report was released—the number of states producing geothermal power has increased from seven to eight, the newest of which Wyoming, with a 250-kW demonstration project. New projects are being developed in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.

Kara Slack, the report’s author, said in a press release that the growing interest had been spurred by new leasing by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM, which held geothermal lease sales in December 2008, sold 194,410 acres of land for almost $6.2 million.

As of March 2009, the U.S. had 3,040.27 MW of online geothermal energy, the report said. The nation leads the world in geothermal power production and continues to be one of the principal countries increasing its use of geothermal resources.

Capacity remains concentrated in California, which, with the recent addition of the 50-MW North Brawley power plant, increased its installed capacity to about 2,605 MW. Nevada, with 58 confirmed projects, has the most production under development. California is second with 27 projects, followed by Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Alaska the report said.

Existing projects were reported to be quickly moving into the later stages of development, permitting, and construction. “If federal and state governments give them the support and priority they need, most of these projects could be on line in a few years,” said Karl Gawell, executive director of GEA.

Gawell had in February stated that the financial crisis could stall new geothermal project development, because “financing for new projects has been difficult to obtain, and when available, very expensive.” He said that the sector would benefit from the economic stimulus bill, which includes a range of provisions to support expanded geothermal energy use.

Among the most important provisions, according to the GEA, is the extension of the production tax credit for new geothermal power plants through 2013. The bill also allows developers to take a 30% investment credit instead and create a cash grant program to support projects that cannot utilize a tax credit in the current market.

Added to this, the legislation tags $400 million to support the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) geothermal research, development, demonstration, and deployment efforts.

Last week, the DOE announced the release of two funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) for up to $84 million to support the development of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). EGS makes use of available geothermal resources to heat engineered reservoirs, which can then be tapped to produce electricity. The benefit of this technology over conventional systems is that it would allow power generation in a broad variety of geographic locations—not just at easily accessible geothermal water resources.

The FOAs will explore two specific areas: (1) component research and development/analysis and (2) support for EGS demonstration projects. The first FOA seeks advanced technology to address important aspects of engineered geothermal reservoir creation, management, and utilization. The DOE will make 20 to 30 awards for a total value of up to $35 million under this FOA. The second FOA seeks domestic projects in a variety of geologic formations that will quantitatively demonstrate and validate reservoir creation techniques that sustain sufficient fluid flow and heat extraction rates for five to seven years and that produce at least 5 MW per year per project.  Five to 10 awards for up to $49 million will be made under this announcement.

Sources: GEA, DOE

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