Nevada, California, Oregon top geothermal potential list
RENO — The U.S. government on Monday identified 35 sites in the West as having the greatest potential for quick development of geothermal power.
In issuing the study, officials acknowledged that the energy alternative using superheated water from below the earth’s surface to power generators has been neglected for the past decade.
Ten sites in Nevada, nine in California and seven in Oregon are among those the Interior and Energy departments identified as holding the most immediate promise, federal officials said. New Mexico, Utah and Washington each have three priority sites.
The study is the result of an increased emphasis on geothermal potential on federal lands — primarily Western lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. It’s part of a broader effort to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign energy, said Rebecca Watson, assistant interior secretary for land and minerals management.
“In the 1990s, as energy prices fell, there was a lack of interest at the federal level and a lack of interest among the private sector,” Watson told reporters during a teleconference from New Mexico.
“So geothermal development did not proceed at the pace one would have hoped. We’ve had to play somewhat of a catch-up to alert the private sector we are up and open for business,” she said.
The new report, “opportunities for Near-Term Geothermal Development on Public Lands in the Western United States,” was prepared by the Interior Department’s BLM and the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Forty-eight percent of all geothermal power produced in the United States comes from federal lands, Watson said, and the new review concentrates on six states with the most potential in the West.
The federal government’s last comprehensive look at geothermal potential was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1978, Watson said.
The new study found many of the barriers to development of geothermal power are similar to those facing development of oil and natural gas, including an absence of transmission lines to move the energy from largely rural areas to urban centers, Watson said.
The biggest barrier appears to be a lack of money to do the required environmental analysis and resource management plans, Watson said.
Two-thirds of the 35 priority sites have been reviewed or are at some stage of environmental analysis under existing BLM land use plans, she said. Watson said she’ll examine the remaining third to see if there is a way to speed the process.
In addition to identifying barriers, Watson said the report is intended to “get necessary information to the private sector to encourage them to focus efforts where we think is the greatest potential.”
Nevada, California and Oregon are leading sources of geothermal energy because of their numerous mountain ranges, each bordered by underground faults.
“People generally had an idea that Nevada is really good for geothermal, but this brings it down to a very focused location” using satellite mapping, Watson said.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has criticized the Bush administration for failing to support his proposals for tax incentives for geothermal development.
“I have been saying for years that Nevada is the Saudi Arabia of geothermal energy and I am pleased that the Interior and Energy Departments have reinforced that claim,” he said Monday.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton said during a visit to a geothermal plant near Reno last summer that geothermal power accounts for about 17 percent of the nation’s renewable energy — including solar and wind power — but only about three-tenths of 1 percent of the total U.S. energy supply.
Watson said geothermal leases on BLM managed land increased from 282 in 2001 to 400 in 2002. Installed capacity has increased from 500 megawatts in 1973 to 2,300 megawatts last summer.
Such development won’t be without conflict, Watson said.
“When it comes to energy development, whether it is renewables or non-renewables, you are always going to have some level of controversy,” she said. “I don’t think the fact it is a ‘green’ energy source will make it immune to that.”
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