Stimulus Spending On Geothermal Helps Environmental Conservation

geothermal-in-new-zealand-anniebAlthough much maligned in some circles, the federal government's spending to stimulate the economy is not only producing jobs and improving the nation's infrastructure, it's helping to shift the use of energy from non-renewable sources to sustainable sources, including geothermal.

In particular, a total of 7.875 gigawatts of geothermal energy projects have already been funded through stimulus spending. The U.S. Recovery Act, for example, delivers a federal grant in the amount of 30% of the capital cost of qualified geothermal projects. So far, these grants total some $363 million, with more to come in the future.

One such promising opportunity is Google's reported discovery of geothermal sources in West Virginia that could be developed to produce about 19 GW of energy.

In the present, according to the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), 31 new geothermal projects are now under way just in California and Nevada, and more projects have been started in fifteen other states, including Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Experts estimate these projects will produce energy at the equivalent cost of only 3-5 cents per kilowatt hour (even less after tax incentives are figured into the price). That compares favorably with U.S. average prices of 12.01 cents for residential customers, 10.7 cents for commercial users, and 7.31 cents for industrial power consumers, as reported by the U.S. Energy Administration.

Funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act are enabling the U.S. Department of Energy  to support the Nevada Geothermal Power Company (NGP) in some of its planned geothermal energy projects. This includes a 49.5 MW geothermal power plant located at Blue Mountain, with development costs estimated at $98.5 million.

The DOE is also steps away from guaranteeing a loan to US Geothermal, Inc., for construction of a 22 MW geothermal power plant, which would be the first commercial geothermal power plant in Oregon. While geothermal power plants generally use underground reservoirs of hot water or steam to directly drive an electrical generator, this new project will extract more of the energy from its geothermal sources, improving its efficiency and increasing the plant's total power output.

Although solar and wind energy capture popular attention more easily, geothermal sources of energy are likely to form an important part of the renewable/sustainable energy mix in the U.S. and around the world. A study conducted by MIT, for example, found that geothermal energy has the potential to supply 10% of the energy demand in the U.S. within four decades. Geothermal offers so much promise because it has important advantages over solar and wind power: not only does it operate 24 hours a day, it requires no fuel and produces no atmospheric emissions. Those are among the reasons that countries like Iceland are already extensively exploiting geothermal energy, and will continue to develop even more geothermal in the future.

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Photo credit:  annieb