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Geothermal Heating Up With New Washington State Effort

Posted by Patrick Mazza at Aug 27, 2008 12:00 AM |

With interest in all forms of low-carbon energy surging, it was inevitable that geothermal would catch up. Now it has. Nearly 4,000 megawatts (MW) of new geothermal electric power plants are at some stage of study or development in the U.S., more than double the close to 3,000 MW already on line around the country.

With interest in all forms of low-carbon energy surging, it was inevitable that geothermal would catch up.  Now it has.  Nearly 4,000 megawatts (MW) of new geothermal electric power plants are at some stage of study or development in the U.S., more than double the close to 3,000 MW already on line around the country.
 
Most of the operating U.S. total centers on long-term development around the Geysers in California, with the rest in Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Idaho.  The Gem State, which has for many years served its state capitol building and much of downtown Boise with a district geothermal hot water system, only joined the list in January when the 11.5 MW Raft River plant opened.  Idaho has up to 326 MW at various stages, and Oregon is poised to begin generating geothermal power soon, with up to 322 MW under consideration. The latest report from Geothermal Energy Association contains the details.
 
But geothermal has been slow to take hold in Washington state.  Though north of the geothermal Persian Gulf underlaying the Great Basin country of Oregon, California and Nevada, the volcanic Washington Cascades are thought to possess significant geothermal potential. Washington’s resources have not been extensively explored. Nevertheless, the National Geothermal Resources Council says it could be more than 600 MW, double previous estimates.  Yet Washington has only one prospective plant under study with unspecified potential, a site in the Mt Baker area.

Lawrence Molloy is on a mission to turn that around and spur interest in realizing the state’s potential.  With a track record of vigorous advocacy for clean energy that spanned his term as Seattle Port Commissioner and beyond, Molloy in August 2007 initiated a dedicated effort to advance geothermal power in Washington State, and has now brought it into the Climate Solutions fold as Geothermal Washington.
 
Central to this effort is a blog, North of the Hot Zone, that carries the latest developments on geothermal in Washington and beyond. The blog includes a set of maps of geothermal potential. One of the newest entries reports on a major development, Snohomish PUD’s goal to generate 90 MW from Cascades geothermal by 2020.  Earlier in August, the utility convened a Geothermal Workshop to explore both geothermal power and local use of ground geoheat that was attended by 65.  State Sen. Adam Kline reported he plans to introduce a geothermal study bill next legislative session.  The study would seek to more specifically identify state potential and promising sites.

Geothermal has special value for Western Washington utilities seeking to meet clean energy goals.  Unlike wind power which is being developed east of the Cascades, geothermal potential exists closer to major population centers on the Westside.  So transmitting power is less of a challenge.  And geothermal is a steady 24/7 source of energy unlike wind, which is variable.  In fact, geothermal can be a highly valuable resource to smooth out valleys in wind generation. 

In coming years the Northwest’s rich geothermal potential will be increasingly tapped as the region turns to non-fossil sources of energy.  Lawrence Molloy and Geothermal Washington are making sure Washington gains its share.

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