Geothermal Energy Grows 26% in 2009

The April 2010 US Geothermal Power Production and Development Update showed 26% growth in new projects under development in the United States in the past year, with 188 projects underway in 15 states which could produce as much as 7,875 MW of new electric power.

“Geothermal power can be a critical part of the answer to global warming”

When completed, these projects will add over 7,000 MW of baseload power capacity; enough to provide electricity for 7.6 million people, or 20% of California’s total power needs, and roughly equivalent to the total power used in California from coal-fired power plants. "Geothermal power can be a critical part of the answer to global warming," according to GEA’s Executive Director, Karl Gawell. "For example, California could achieve its 2020 goal for global warming emissions reductions just by keeping energy demand level and replacing its coal-fired generation with geothermal," he asserted.

Nevada continued to be the leading state for new geothermal energy, with over 3,000 MW under development. The fastest growing geothermal power states were Utah which quadrupled its geothermal power under development, New Mexico which tripled, Idaho which doubled, and Oregon which reported a 50% increase. In addition, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas all reported their first geothermal projects compared with a year earlier.

“These geothermal power projects will create substantial sources of new employment across the country,” said GEA Executive Director Karl Gawell. “Not only are we seeing more and more development and hiring in places with a long history of geothermal like Nevada and California, but for the first time these jobs are being created in the Gulf Coast, in states such as Louisiana and Mississippi. Along with a huge number of new construction jobs, geothermal power also creates many permanent positions that can never be outsourced.” Together, the direct, indirect and induced employment created by these projects is estimated by GEA to be 29,750 permanent jobs and 112,000 person-years of construction and manufacturing employment.” According to GEA, the projects under development will represent capital investment of more than $35 billion when completed.

New geothermal power projects are in progress in fifteen states from the Pacific to the Gulf Coast. GEA identified new projects in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. In addition to large utility scale power projects, the survey continued to show expanding interest in small power systems (under 1MW) with projects in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Oregon and Wyoming.

"The federal stimulus, tax incentives, and strong state renewable standards continue to fuel the growth in geothermal power," said Gawell. "Many geothermal developers are building several projects in the US, and the cash grant provides them an effective incentive that quickly reduces their debt — an important fact in the present economic recession." GEA noted that all of the geothermal power projects coming on line in 2009 utilized the new federal tax grant provisions authorized in the stimulus bill. In addition, four of the top five states with geothermal power under development have substantial renewable standards. Those states in order of geothermal development and their state renewable requirement are: 1) Nevada (25%), 2) California (33%), 3) Utah (20%), 4) Idaho (none), and 5) Oregon (25%).

The report also documents federal stimulus funding in the geothermal industry, which will result in over $600 million of research into new technology at 135 projects in 25 states over the next two years. “Stimulus funding will support geothermal development in states where geothermal technology presents vast new opportunities,” notes Dan Jennejohn, the author of the report. DOE stimulus funding has been targeted to support development of enhanced geothermal systems technology, new drilling and exploration techniques, geothermal power production from oil and gas wells, and other industry needs.

“In our survey last fall, we were concerned that the progress of new projects appeared to be stalling due to financing and permitting problems,” Jennejohn noted. “Now, along with a number of new projects, we are seeing projects continue rapid development indicating that growth is returning across the industry.”

The Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) is a trade association composed of U.S. companies who support the expanded use of geothermal energy and are developing geothermal resources worldwide for electrical power generation and direct-heat uses. GEA advocates for public policies that will promote the development and utilization of geothermal Resources, provides a forum for the industry to discuss issues and problems, encourages research and development to improve geothermal technologies, presents industry views to governmental organizations, provides assistance for the export of geothermal goods and services, compiles statistical data about the geothermal industry, and conducts education and outreach projects.