Policies at the federal and state level will continue to support geothermal development. The federal tax credit continues through January 1, 2014, and state climate and renewable laws continue to promote the purchase of clean, geothermal power. Most recently, the Senate Energy Committee passed the Geothermal Technology and Expansion Act of 2011, which would create a federal loan program for geothermal exploration drilling. The Senate Energy Committee also passed the Geothermal Production Expansion Act of 2011, which will expedite the leasing and development of geothermal resources on federal land. California continues to press forward with its climate law, AB 32, and geothermal energy is expected to play a key role in meeting its goals.
Some planned projects are hybrids, with Enel Green Power North America planning to integrate a 24 MW solar PV array with its existing 60 MW geothermal plant in Churchill County, Nev.
Other companies are building small modular units offsite for later installation. ElectraTherm completed one such project this year in Louisiana, generating power from brine water produced during oil and gas development. This was the first commercial application of geothermal to an existing oilfield site, and Blodgett says the technology could be applied to hundreds of oil wells.
In the coming year, Blodgett says U.S. companies will continue to take on geothermal projects overseas, especially in Japan, Indonesia, Australia and Kenya. But here in the U.S., she says Congress often overlooks geothermal energy. The industry is watching closely to see if a production tax credit of 2.2 cents per kWh will expire at the end of 2013 as planned, or if lawmakers will extend the incentive.
Projects that could squeak in before the PTC expires include Ormat Technologies’ Tuscarora and McGinness Hills plants in Nevada, US Geothermal’s 23 MW Neal Hot Springs project in eastern Oregon, Gradient Resources’ Patua, Nev., installation, and EnergySource’s Hudson Ranch, Calif., project.
According to CleanTech Capital GMBH, the U.S. ranks number one in geothermal energy production and is one of the top countries for geothermal growth. Worldwide, it say, 24 countries on six continents have geothermal power installed, with a total 10,715 MW of capacity. But with a combination of currently available technology and methods under development, geothermal has the potential to supply 300,000 MW, CleanTech says.
Geothermal energy works out as less expensive than solar energy and wind power if one factors in the cost of the storage systems that enable solar power and wind energy to be relied on 24 hours a day, according to Dallas Kachan, managing partner of cleantech research and advisory firm Kachan & Co., writing for Environmental Leader.
The U.S. geothermal energy industry will start 2012 with billions in planned investments, according to Leslie Blodgett of the Geothermal Energy Association.
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.