Churchill County officials are expressing their disappointment the U.S. Department of Energy didn’t select Nevada for a research site to advance the study of geothermal energy.
According to the DOE, a group associated with the University of Utah will receive $140 million in continued funding during the next five years for geothermal research and development as part of the FORGE (Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy) project.
The selected site near Milford, Utah, will be dedicated to research on enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) or manmade geothermal reservoirs.
“Enhanced geothermal systems are the future of geothermal energy, and critical investments in EGS will help advance American leadership in clean energy innovation,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in a press release. “Funding efforts toward the next frontier in geothermal energy technologies will help diversify the United States’ domestic energy portfolio, enhance our energy access, and increase our energy security.”
Josh Nordquist, Ormat’s manager for U.S. Resource Operations, also updated the FORGE project at April’s Churchill Economic Development Authority breakfast meeting, saying the EGS field lab “produces energy by injecting and circulating water through fractured rock, then withdrawing the hot water and using it to supply a geothermal power plant.”
Sandia National Laboratories worked on the Fallon project, which is the Ormat site located south of the Naval Air Station Fallon runway toward Macari Lane.
Churchill County Commission Chairman Pete Olsen said he doesn’t understand the DOE’s thought process.
“We’re the No. 2 county in the nation for geothermal production,” Olsen said. “It doesn’t make sense we didn’t get the project.”
Olsen said $140 million was invested to show the county’s location near the air station was the ideal place to establish FORGE.
Paul Thomsen, Ormat Technology’s executive director, told business leaders at the April breakfast that, within and near Churchill County, 11 projects are in the development stage and four are in operation.
The 86 MW McGinness plant east of Fallon in Lander County and the 41 MW Don Campbell plant in Mineral County are in operation along with two developments, Don A. Campbell 3 and Rhodes Marsh. The McGinness Hills 3 in Lander County is under construction.
CEDA Executive Director Nathan Strong said he was disappointed with the decision considering the Churchill County site had a history of geothermal production and the area is much closer to a major university and international airport.
“We had a fabulous team for the Fallon FORGE project,” Strong said. “Renewable energy has its footprints in Churchill County.”
Nevertheless, Strong said the area will “forge” ahead on its own and continue to support geothermal development and production.
Fallon Mayor Ken Tedford also expressed his disappointment.
“I was very surprised, very disheartened by the decision,” he said.
Tedford thanked Sandia National Laboratories and Ormat for their hard work in developing the Fallon site. Tedford noted, though, the University of Utah was behind their state’s project from the president on down.
Both Ormat and county officials were optimistic during the past two years the DOE would look at the area’s involvement with geothermal energy and development.
“I thought we were more ahead of what Utah had offered,” he added.
Nordquist said Nevada and California have had success in producing geothermal energy, and he refers to Churchill County as the center of geothermal production.
The Fallon site showed it has plenty of room and infrastructure to support the EGS, and the Governor’s Office for Economic Development (GOED) also contributed $1 million toward the study.
Nordquist said the NAS Fallon site met all FORGE selection criteria and is an excellent study area for the EGS with temperatures at about 400-500 degrees Fahrenheit at depths to about 8,000 feet.
If Fallon had received approval as the finalist, Nordquist said the area would’ve hosted a worldwide research facility, been the focal point of geothermal research, had businesses that would benefit from the research lab and provided educational and employment opportunities for local students.
According to additional information from the DOE, FORGE will be a laboratory where scientists and researchers can learn how to engineer these manmade systems.
“The geothermal community will gain a fundamental understanding of the key mechanisms controlling EGS success; develop, test, and improve new techniques in an ideal EGS environment; and rapidly disseminate technical data and communicate to the public,” the DOE said. “Exceptional, creative, and responsible technological innovation, such as that taking place at FORGE, is not only necessary to bring EGS to technical maturity but is also a critical step on America’s path to energy security and global geothermal energy leadership.”
History of the project
Nordquist said the idea for a research lab for geothermal sites began about six years ago. The study looked at 10 sites around the West but narrowed the list down to Fallon and Milford.
DOE, with the support of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), awarded funding to the two teams after the first phase of research to evaluate potential EGS underground research sites. In 2015, CEDA previously said the DOE narrowed its list to five sites and then to two sites in September 2016.
Nordquist said the Navy and Ormat performed a lot of research on this site.
“It’s been teamwork from all parties involved,” he previously said. “It’s 100 percent transparent. This is a U.S. project, not Ormat or the Navy.”
Before leaving office in January 2017, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid worked with local officials to have Fallon selected as a study site.
“Nevada will be the perfect location for the Department of Energy’s new Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal (FORGE) laboratory,” Reid said at the time.
Reid said the nation’s lab for advancing geothermal energy belongs in Nevada and would further establish Nevada as a leader in renewable energy. He added Enhanced Geothermal Systems were the next frontier in clean energy, and they were an enormous opportunity for the Silver State’s economic growth.