Big plans for geothermal energy
October 22, 2008
Vast stretches of federal land in the West would be open to geothermal
energy development under a plan released by U.S. Interior Secretary
Dirk Kempthorne on Wednesday.
The plan identifies 190 million acres nearly twice the size of
California that would be available for geothermal leasing in 12
Western states. The document, which is expected to be finalized in
December, essentially clarifies which public lands are open to
geothermal prospecting and which are not.
"Geothermal energy will play a key role in powering America's energy
future," Kempthorne said in a news release, "and 90% of our nation's
geothermal resources are found on federal land."
Federal spokesmen said the proposal does not open lands previously
closed to geothermal development but would speed leasing by laying the
groundwork for environmental reviews of individual projects.
California leads the nation in producing geothermal energy and is
expected to continue to do so as interest in alternative energy spurs
more development. Six long-established fields, including the most
productive in the world, are operating on U.S. Bureau of Land
Management holdings in Northern California and in Inyo, Mono and
Of the 190 million acres available for leasing under the Interior
proposal, 118 million are managed by the BLM and 79 million by the
U.S. Forest Service. All National Park Service lands, as well as
wilderness and wilderness study areas and national monuments, would be
All of Nevada, much of Idaho and Oregon and good chunks of California,
Colorado and New Mexico have geothermal potential, based on heat flow
maps. Heat from Earth's interior escapes in cracks and fissures in the
crust that frequently follow fault networks. The Great Basin, which
includes most of Nevada, is slowly pulling itself apart and California
is riddled with fault lines, making them hot spots of geothermal
Jack G. Peterson, national project manager for the leasing plan, said
it is not known how much of the identified acreage will actually yield
viable production fields.
In theory, enough energy to supply 12 million homes could eventually
be produced under the leasing plan, according to the Interior
Although geothermal facilities have a smaller footprint than solar or
wind fields, they would leave their mark on the land much like oil and
gas development with roads, pipelines, power plants and transmission
Daniel Patterson, Southwest director of Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility, said geothermal energy holds potential.
"But we still have to consider, are our public lands there to be
turned into energy farms? Or should we be investing in rooftop solar?"