US government guarantees for innovative geothermal energy project

DOE has granted loan guarantees for nearly $97 million for the 23 MW Neal Hot Springs project, which could be the first binary power system in commercial service.

The Department of Energy finalized a $96.8 million loan guarantee, supported by the Recovery Act, for U.S. Geothermal, Inc.’s project to build a major geothermal power project in southeastern Oregon. The company estimates the project, known as Neal Hot Springs, will create 150 construction jobs, more than a dozen permanent jobs and many more supply chain jobs across several states, including Texas, California and Ohio.

As Secretary Chu said, "The Neal Hot Springs project will provide clean renewable energy directly from our nation’s vast natural resources while simultaneously creating jobs and helping to promote energy independence."

Developed by Geothermal Inc., the project involves the construction of a 23 MW plant using the binary power system technology developed in the 90s, but never applied to commercial facilities.

Binary power plant systems use thermal energy from the water extracted from the subsurface to heat a secondary fluid with low boiling point which powers the turbines when it evaporates. At Neal Hot Springs, the geothermal fluid is pumped at a pressure far higher than the so-called "critical pressure". This allows the secondary fluid to gain more power in a more progressive manner. Thus plant efficiency is expected to increase by at least 20%.

The new loan guarantee is included in a broader plan enacted by the Obama administration to promote clean energy, which has so far allocated nearly $18 billion (13 billion euros) as loan guarantees for 19 projects using different technologies throughout the USA.