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Diving Deep for Geothermal Energy Finds Acceptance and Political Heat on Surface

One of the potential success stories of clean energy development on private and federal lands in the West involves NV Energy, which announced in February that it will purchase 32 megawatts of renewable energy from a planned Central Nevada geothermal plant. The Ram Power Corporation is developing the Clayton Valley Geothermal Project, which is scheduled to begin construction in 2012. It is one of five geothermal leases that Ram Power has acquired from the Bureau of Land Management in Esmeralda County, Nevada where the developer hopes to generate as much as 160 megawatts of electricity.

Talk about clean energy that is capable of generating baseload power without climate changing emissions and at prices competitive with wind or coal. But geothermal development is slow going. Projects are expensive, and often located in places off the high-transmission path. And in some states rich in geothermal resources, Hawaii in particular, the high temperature resources are either located in sensitive environments or close enough to existing communities that people just don’t want to go there. So Hawaii still burns a lot of oil for its electricity, though the state is moving aggressively to succeed in clean energy development.

Nevada, which produces 300 mw of geothermal power annually, is the number two geothermal energy producer in the country, behind California. It has more future geothermal energy in the planning stages than any other state, potentially 200 mw to come between 2012 and 2014. Ormat Technologies, which has gained $13 million in Energy Departme...r in Nevada’s Independence Valley. Construction could start in 2012. It also has bought into a geothermal project in Elko County, which it will develop in phases, the first of which calls for generating 16 mw.

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