June 08, 2011

N.W. Senators Support Geothermal Changes

Bipartisan measure aids renewable energy exploration efforts

Washington, D.C . - With one of the biggest barriers to geothermal energy production being the risky and inefficient process of searching for "hot spots" capable of producing recoverable energy, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has introduced legislation to make it easier for developers to lease federal land adjacent to proven geothermal "hot spots." Geothermal energy is a sustainable energy resource that captures natural heat from the Earth to create electricity.

Sponsored by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the Geothermal Production Expansion Act will allow for the non-competitive leasing of a very limited amount of federal land at fair market value to aid the expansion of already identified geothermal resources without the delay of competitive leasing and without the risk of opening up the property to speculative bidders who have no actual interest developing the property.

 "A successful national energy policy should be shaped like a financial portfolio made up of many different energy sources," Crapo said.  "Idaho has long been an innovative leader in the use of geothermal energy.  It heats our state capital and a major university, and the geothermal industry is flourishing with the heat sources from Idaho's wells."

 "Reliable and lower-cost energy is the backbone of any successful economy and must be expanded to meet future needs.  In Idaho and much of the west, geothermal energy is a largely untapped source of clean energy. This bill encourages its development and expansion by removing a layer of red tape that holds up production at geothermal facilities," said Risch.  

"This bill can help to reduce one of the biggest barriers to geothermal energy production by greatly increasing the chances that the costs of exploration into geothermal energy are met with actual production," Wyden said. "By opening up leasing next to proven geothermal hot spots to those developers already legitimately developing the resource, we can get more geothermal energy from those projects and help lower the cost of getting that energy out of the ground."  

"Geothermal energy is a reliable, affordable and renewable source of energy - precisely the type of investment we should be making to move our energy portfolio into the 21 st century," Merkley said. "This bill helps to facilitate the expansion of geothermal energy production.  We need low-cost, home-grown, non-polluting energy and this bill would help us achieve it right here in Oregon."

Geothermal energy exploration can be a costly and inefficient process and it is that financial uncertainty that has been a barrier to increased use of geothermal energy as a replacement for fossil fuels. The Geothermal Production Expansion Act makes it easier for the federal government to lease to legitimate geothermal energy producers on lands adjacent to those already proven to be "hot spots."   This makes it more likely to increase geothermal energy production with less up-front cost. Lessees are limited to no more than 640 acres per lease and must pay fair market value for the lease as determined by the Department of Interior. The bill also increases the annual rental payments for the newly acquired land to ensure that the taxpayers get a fair return for leasing the land this way.