|Geothermal Energy Could Power All of California|
Alt Dot Energy
February 10, 2009
Today, there are only about 50,000 acres of federal geothermal leases in
production across the USA which support about 1,200 MW of power capacity. In
California, geothermal energy produces more power in than wind and solar
combined, comprising almost 5% of the stateís electricity. But for the past two
decades, there were 10 million acres of public land in California with
geothermal potential that were off-limits due to bureaucratic oversight that are
now becoming available for leasing.
So, how much geothermal energy potential could there be on these 10 million acres?
If ten percent of the land now open to leasing is eventually developed with
similar yields to existing leases, geothermal production would increase 2000%.
That is equivalent to roughly 243,000 MW, or roughly enough to power the whole
state of California. This is just from the lands in California ó the
Programmatic Geothermal Environmental Impact Study (PGEIS) also made decisions
for 11 other western states. And, while that sounds like a lot of land to give
over development, geothermal power only uses a tiny fraction of each lease for
So why arenít more projects moving forward in California?
The quick and simple answer is that leases and permits are simply not being
issued. Even when a lease is given, there are examples where after almost two
years they are still waiting for a drilling permit to be issued. This includes
leases that are within an existing geothermal field.
Another problem is continued delays in decision-making. At one geothermal site
the delay is due to off-road vehicle users. Despite completion of a full EIS,
development at one new site in Southern California, the project is not
proceeding because leases have yet to be issued, because of opposition to the
project from recreational off-road vehicle users who like to drive their
four-wheel-drive vehicles around the area. The irony here is that
While these two examples might just seem to be the kind of problems typical when
working on public lands, they are just the tip of the iceberg. In a state where
federal and state lands play a significant role, most of the public lands have
effectively been off limits for decades because the land-use plans of federal
agencies simply didnít consider geothermal energy when they were prepared.
Before a lease can be issued on public lands the land-use plan for the area has
to have adequately considered geothermal leasing and made a decision that the
lands could be open to leasing. Also, the land-use plan has to have an adequate
and up-to-date environmental analysis (EA or EIS) supporting it. Because BLM
(and the FS) simply have not done their homework in the land-use plans prepared
over the past 25 years, most areas in California have been de facto closed to
geothermal leasing and development.
That is why in 2007 and 2008 the BLM and Forest Service prepared a Programmatic
Geothermal EIS (PGEIS) to address this history of neglect. Now, as part of their
Record of Decision (ROD) on this document, the Department of the Interior is
amending plans in California and other western states to either allow leasing or
close lands to leasing on the basis of the results of their analysis. For
California, the ROD proposes to amend land-use plans in 11 California BLM
planning areas to open 10 million acres to possible geothermal leasing. At the
same time, the ROD will close 5 million acres in these 11 BLM planning areas to
If someone cannot obtain a lease to develop a geothermal project, there is
simply no incentive to explore for or develop new resources. Now, the BLM has in
place the plans and environmental documents necessary to make a decision if
someone nominates BLM lands for competitive leasing. But for the past two
decades, 10 million acres of public land in California with geothermal potential
were off-limits due to bureaucratic oversight.
Congress and the new administration have set some high goals for expanding
renewable energy production, including geothermal energy. What they need to
address now is the mess of federal and state policies that while trying to
support renewable energy projects, have actually stifled them. Timely decisions
regarding leasing and permitting must be enacted urgently as they are
fundamental to achieving expanded geothermal energy production in California and
the western USA.
Some of the companies in the geothermal and recovered energy power business in
the western USA are Ormat Technologies Inc. (NYSE:ORA), U.S. Geothermal Inc.
(AMEX:HTM), Raser Technologies, Inc. (NYSE:RZ) and Nevada Geothermal Power Inc.