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State Legislature Hearing: Why Isn't California Using More Geothermal?

Geothermal potential was the subject of a joint committee hearing in California on April 3 led by State Senator Ben Hueso, D-40th Senate District, and Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, D-46th Assembly District. As the hearing began, Senator Hueso, who is Chair of the Senate Select Committee on California’s Energy Independents, and Assemblyman Pérez, Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on the Renewable Energy Economy in rural California, each expressed their interest in understanding why the state is not using more of its untapped geothermal resources. Of particular interest for California lawmakers, industry, and consumers alike are the areas near the Salton Sea familiar to the geothermal industry for their immense potential for power development.

The first panel of witnesses included California Energy Commission Commissioner David Hochschild; Executive Director of Independent Energy Producers Association Jan Smutny-Jones; and Executive Director of the Geothermal Energy Association Karl Gawell, each discussing the values that geothermal brings as well as challenges to further development in the state. Gawell provided testimony on the potential for expanded geothermal energy production, referencing the “State of Geothermal Energy in California” status report recently published by the GEA. California is no stranger to the industry, with about 2,700 MW of nameplate capacity already installed. However, this figure represents only about half of the identified resources. “Geothermal power can be a key to achieving an expanded post 33% renewable power portfolio at the lowest total cost,” Gawell said.

In the second panel, Imperial Irrigation District’s General Manager, Kevin Kelley, discussed the plans for a major Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative that would address both environmental and renewable energy needs of the state, noting that time is of the essence to prevent further decline of the sea. The plan would develop over 1,000 MW of geothermal power and build important transmission links to connect the Valley with other parts of California. California Independent System Operator’s Vice President, Karen Edson, and Energy Division Director for California Public Utilities Division Edward Randolph, also were called upon to testify.

Several geothermal company representatives were present at the hearing and commented on the California market afterward. “Enel Green Power North America is supportive of legislation that furthers geothermal expansion in California,” said Page, Vice President at Enel Green Power North America.

“CalEnergy is eager to be a part of the California legislature’s renewed objective to recognize the unique values and attributes of geothermal generation within the renewable energy mix to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions along with an increase in the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard,” said Keller, Director of Development, Transmission & Land Assets for CalEnergy. “The extraordinary geothermal resource of the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area is well suited for such a build-out to help accomplish both of these goals. CalEnergy is prepared and stands ready to lead the efficient development of this extensive geothermal field.”

“We commend Senator Hueso and Assemblymember Pérez for their persistence in spurring geothermal development in California,” said Bethel, Public Relations Manager at Ormat. “With conversation focused heavily on integration costs and transmission alternatives, the CPUC’s announcement of a modified RPS Calculator illustrates that the initiative to promote proper valuation in the renewables sector continues to gain traction and we look forward to reviewing the proposal once released. With renewed focus on extending the RAM to include larger projects and an expanded area, as well as the potential of qualifying geothermal’s technology attributes separately in future procurement directives, the hearing was a big step in the right direction for geothermal growth in California.”

The Geothermal Resources Council was present and submitted a resolution, similar to one adopted by the GEA Board previously, that endorses the IID’s Salton Sea Restoration Initiative. Both Senator Hueso and Assemblyman Perez expressed their intent to continue pressing forward to resolve issues and questions raised at the hearing. A Webcast of the hearing and other materials are available on the State Senate site.

This article was originally published on the GEA's Geothermal Energy Weekly and was republished with permission.

Lead image: California via Shutterstock

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