Monday, April 21, 2008

Oregon Geothermal Projects Heat Up

Enhanced geothermal energy involves drilling deeply into the Earth's crust to hot rocks, then injecting water in one hole and withdrawing steam from an adjacent hole--to drive a steam turbine powered electrical generator. The western US contains a large number of likely sites for both enhanced geothermal, and more conventional geothermal--which relies upon pre-existing pressurized hot water to steam geothermal processes.
The state Department of Geology and Mineral Industries this year issued three new permits for drilling geothermal wells, an early step in developing power plants that turn underground heat into electrical power. A fourth permit will probably be issued soon, said Bob Houston, a state geologist.

They are the first geothermal permits issued in Oregon in a decade or more, he said, and signal a new push for geothermal power driven by increasing demand for clean, renewable energy.

...At least three companies are planning geothermal power plants in Oregon, and one could be producing electricity in less than two years, officials said. The recent failure of Congress to extend tax breaks for renewable energy makes financing the plants more challenging but should not derail them entirely, officials said.

Interest so far is focused most closely on known hot spring areas in eastern Oregon:

The best-known site is Newberry Crater near Bend, where Connecticut-based Davenport Power just received permits to drill two exploratory wells. The company has signed a 20-year contract with California's Pacific Gas & Electric to sell 120 megawatts of power annually from the project, enough to light about 80,000 homes.

U.S. Geothermal of Boise recently received a permit to drill an exploratory well on private land at Neal Hot Springs, west of Vale near the Idaho border. If the first well verifies the hot-water reservoir the company expects, three more wells and a power plant estimated at 26 megawatts in size will follow, officials said.

Raser Technologies of Provo, Utah, plans construction of a 10-megawatt power plant in Klamath County, near the California border, in the next 18 months. The company also has leased 73,000 acres of land owned by International Paper in Oregon for potential geothermal development.

The Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls is proposing installation of a geothermal power plant that would make it the only college campus in the world completely powered by local renewable energy, according to John Lund, director of the Geo-Heat Center at OIT. ___Oregonian
In the short run, the more immediately profitable conventional geothermal processes will predominate. But as energy prices remain high on the world markets, the incentive to push forward to the "enhanced geothermal" or hot-rock technologies will become irresistible.



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