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Sen. Bingaman: 'The Only Losers in the Clean Energy Race Will Be Those Who Do Not Compete'

Representing several months' coordination on the part of representatives from U.S. and foreign geothermal companies, government officials, and many experts and individuals in the geothermal community, the GEA's International Geothermal Showcase in Washington, DC on May 23 was a concrete indication of the rising interest in facilitating the use of geothermal energy on every continent except Antarctica. A common theme of the day was that countries around the world are open for business and many governments are taking competitive strides in developing framework for successful geothermal ventures.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) provided the keynote address. Mr. Bingaman (pictured center right, speaking with Jonathan Weisgall of MidAmerican Energy and GEA Executive Committee) recently introduced the Clean Energy Standard that has been struggling for support in Congress despite analysis that the measure would drive innovation and investment in a range of clean energy sources.

Bingaman remarked on the status of the U.S. in the global energy market to an audience of over 270 participants: “We need to develop clean energy technologies for the economic benefits that their development will create here at home. As the developing world increases its appetite for energy in the coming decades, there will be a multi-trillion dollar market for clean energy technology. The only losers in the clean energy race will be those who do not compete. Unfortunately, although the U.S. remains one of the greatest sources of innovation in the world, it is not clear if we will reap the benefits of that innovation or even that we will retain the advantage we have over others in that innovation, as our competitors are making a compelling case to investors and entrepreneurs that it is simply good business to develop there, rather than develop here.”

GEA Executive Director Karl Gawell concurred: “It is critical that U.S. policymakers act immediately to keep the United States competitive with the rest of the world,” he said.

The panels throughout the day were organized into regions of the world and in this way were able to highlight the unique characteristics of geothermal energy in places like East Africa, where high cost of diesel and unreliability of hydro are some of the needs that make clean, baseload geothermal a top choice
given the high potential of resources in that part of the world.

Latin America was also well represented at the event. In 2002 Nicaragua instituted regulation of the exploration and development of geothermal resources by private companies. “Right now the policy of the [Nicaraguan] government is wide open to develop geothermal energy,” said Ernesto Martinez Tiffer, President of the National Electric Company of Nicaragua. Tiffer added that through partnership, Reno, Nev.-based company Ram Power “solved the problems” local developers were facing in tapping the San Jacinto geothermal resource. This past December, Ram Power brought 36 MW of geothermal capacity online at the resource and expects to bring an additional 36 MW online by the end of this year. Ram Power is also conducting exploration of the Casita San Cristobal geothermal resource in northwest Nicaragua, and also has projects in California, Nevada, and Canada.

The exportability of geothermal energy was hailed as one of its best aspects by several experts, including Halley Dickey, Director Geothermal Business Development of TAS Energy, headquartered in Houston, Tex. Dickey remarked: “We’re exporting modular systems to companies around the world, we have three projects in Turkey, and we’re exporting services and expertise as well. We build the entire plant here in the U.S. and export it abroad.” TAS Energy was the winner of the 2011 GEA Honors award for Technological Advancement, and has geothermal projects on six continents; recent projects are in Oregon, California, Nevada, and overseas, including Turkey.

ElectraTherm, another U.S. company manufacturing and exporting goods in the geothermal market, targets Europe thanks to favorable policies such as feed-in tariffs and higher electric rates, according to CEO John Fox. The company is planning an installation in Romania in June. ElectraTherm continues to work in the U.S. as well by proving technology through a recent co-production project in Mississippi, a project funded through a Department of Energy initiative.

The Showcase was attended by government and industry leaders representing 27 countries, including Belgium, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Djibouti, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nevis, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Pakistan, the Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore, St. Vincent & Grenadines, Tanzania, Turkey, the United States, and the West Indies.

This article was originally published in Geothermal Energy Weekly and was republished with permission.

Image: Littleman via Shutterstock

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Leslie is located in Washington DC at the Office of the Geothermal Energy Association and serves on the Renewable Energy World North America Conference and Expo committee.

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