Energy future: geothermal


Calling it "a model for working together to make decisions about our energy future," Department of Interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne yesterday unveiled the agency's plan to open 190 million federally-managed acres to geothermal energy development. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest System, the land sprawls across 12 Western states and represents 90 percent of the country's geothermal resources. The initiative could increase geothermal electrical capacity by a factor of 10.

Kempthorne said the plan, called the Final Geothermal Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, "benefited greatly from the involvement of both governmental and non-governmental stakeholders," including states, local communities, industry and environmental groups.

About half the current production of geothermally-produced electricity in the U.S. -- some 16,000 gigawatt-hours generated in 2005 -- comes from federal lands.  Twenty-nine geothermal power plans now operate on BLM lands in California, Nevada, and Utah with a total capacity of 1,250 megawatts -- enough to power more than 1 million homes.

Under the new PEIS, lands already withdrawn or closed to geothermal leasing will continue to be off limits. The National Park system, including Yellowstone, are unavailable for leasing. The PEIS also excludes wilderness areas and wilderness study areas, and allows the BLM discretion in closing Areas of Environmental Concern and parts of the National Landscape Conservation System.

The final version of the plan can be viewed in the Federal Register starting on Friday, October 24.

For more information on geothermal energy in the West, see HCN's story, Power from the underground.