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White House Seeks to Cut Geothermal Research Funds


By Bernie Woodall
Reuters
March 14, 2007


The Bush administration wants to eliminate federal support for
geothermal power just as many U.S. states are looking to cut
greenhouse gas emissions and raise renewable power output.

The Leathers geothermal power plant in Calipatria,
California in an undated photo courtesy of the
Department of Energy. The Bush administration wants to
eliminate federal support for geothermal power just as
many U.S. states are looking to cut greenhouse gas
emissions and raise renewable power output. (Department
of Energy/Handout/Reuters)

The move has angered scientists who say there is enough hot
water underground to meet all U.S. electricity needs without
greenhouse gas emissions.

"The Department of Energy has not requested funds for
geothermal research in our fiscal-year 2008 budget," said
Christina Kielich, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy.
"Geothermal is a mature technology. Our focus is on
breakthrough energy research and development."

The administration of George W. Bush has made renewable energy
a priority as it seeks to wean the United States off foreign
oil, but it emphasizes use of biofuels like ethanol and
biodiesel for vehicles and nuclear research for electricity.
"In spite of its enormous potential, the geothermal option for
the United States has been largely ignored," a recent study
led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said.

Last year, the DOE requested no funding for geothermal for the
2007 fiscal year, after funding averaged about $26 million
over the previous six years, but Congress restored $5 million.
This year, the DOE's $24.3 billion budget request includes a
38 percent federal spending increase for nuclear power, but
nothing for geothermal.

Advocates say they hope Congress can restore at least $25
million in funding to keep geothermal research on track.
"It's too early to pick our resources. We need them all," said
Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy
Association.

New geothermal power projects by 2050 could provide 100,000
megawatts of electricity -- enough to power about 80 million
U.S. homes, or as much as U.S. nuclear power plants make
today, the MIT study said.

But U.S. geothermal development will need $300 million to $400
million over 15 years to make this type of power competitive
versus other forms of power generation, the study said.

The big hurdle for geothermal power is finding out where the
hot water is and developing better ways to drill for it.
Geothermal power plants use steam or water from underground to
turn turbines to create electricity.

Recreational hot springs across the United States are examples
of where geothermal is easy to access. To be a viable power
generator, hot water a mile or more underground has to be
developed, said Gawell of the Geothermal Energy Association.

Leland "Roy" Mink, who until last October was geothermal
program director at the DOE, said he thinks the White House's
waning interest in geothermal is a mistake. He said he left
the DOE when he saw the Department was cutting funding.

"It's far from a mature technology," said Mink, who is now
working on a project in Idaho. "There's a lot to do. For
starters, we need to develop drill bits that last longer. It's
a hostile environment down there."

While its industry is largely undeveloped, the United States
is still the largest producer of geothermal electricity in the
world. U.S. geothermal power generation in 2005 was 0.36
percent of national power generation and geothermal capacity
is rated at 2,828 megawatts, with almost all in California,
according to the Geothermal Energy Association.

 

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