Technology, rising electric prices create geothermal boom in Nevada
Advancing technology, rising electric prices and the growing emphasis on developing renewable power sources have combined to create a boom in applications for geothermal and wind projects in Nevada.
Officials at the Bureau of Land Management say companies which were surrendering licenses just a few years ago are now putting in applications.
“In the last two years, we’ve received about 175 applications covering about 300,000 acres,” said Rich Hoops, who coordinates the BLM’s Nevada geothermal leasing program.
By comparison, existing leases total only 135 and cover just 170,000 acres of federal land.
In addition, Hoops said the agency is preparing a competitive sale for lands with higher geothermal potential totaling nearly 200,000 more acres.
“We’re talking about a substantial increase,” he said.
Hoops said the boom is also good for the state, which receives half the royalties collected from the leases.
And geothermal isn’t the only focus of power companies coming to Nevada.
“Wind is the other major commodity we’re looking at,” Hoops said. “We’ve got opportunities for a significant amount of development.”
He said technology has improved greatly over recent years, especially in wind generation where turbines can now create power with winds blowing just 8 miles an hour. He said developments have been made to protect birds from the moving blades and that the turbines are now much quieter than they were.
Public Utilities Commission Chairman Don Soderberg said he expects the utilities commission to approve a major wind generating project, the Shoshone Wind Farm at the Nevada Test Site, in about a week. That project will produce a peak of 85 megawatts of power.
Soderberg said that, like the land management agency, the state is seeing an increase in applications. As part of the process of developing a plant, generating companies must get a license to sell the power they produce.
“It’s actually pretty exciting,” he said adding that there are plans for another wind farm south of Las Vegas at a place called Table Mountain. “We may be in the envious position down the road a few years where we exceed the renewables caps.”
The Nevada Legislature last year enacted legislation requiring an increasing portion of the electric power used by Nevada utilities to come from renewable sources.
But Soderberg said many of the companies showing interest in Nevada wind and geothermal resources aren’t doing it to meet the quota but because technology is making it competitive with traditional generating methods.
BLM State Director Bob Abbey said in a recent report that the exploration and interest in renewable resources is also increasing demands for right-of-way permits for transmission lines. He said the agency has 75 applications for rights of way right now.
Hoops said Nevada has been in the geothermal business for years. He said there are a dozen existing generating plants in the state generating about 200 megawatts of power.
Nine of the 12 are on federal land and, together, they account for more than 165 megawatts.
He said technology is also helping expand geothermal opportunities.
“In the 1980s, they probably needed temperatures of 350 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Now it’s down to 250 and it won’t be long before they’re in the lower 200s,” he said.
“The big advantage of geothermal is that it’s a 24/7 commodity,” he said. “Utilities can count on it for base load.”
He said the agency issues leases for geothermal power sites and “right-of-way” permits for wind farms and transmission lines. Since BLM manages some 46 million acres of Nevada, officials expect to be heavily involved in what Hoops says seems to be a growth industry for the state.