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Three Geothermal Bills Look to Speed Up US Development

On Tuesday, July 29, there were two hearings in U.S. Congress subcommittees that are significant to the geothermal industry. A House subcommittee discussed three bills, with two specifically relating to geothermal development, while a Senate subcommittee looked at permitting needs.

U.S. Geothermal Permitting and Lands Manager Scott Nichols and BLM Renewable Energy Team Leader Ray Brady on the morning of legislative hearings that could affect geothermal development. Photo: GEA

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources (of the Committee on Natural Resources) covered three bills. In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn referred at length to current setbacks for geothermal that could be improved with legislation. “The geothermal NEPA review process requires over 175 document sets for each project,” the Chairman explained. “This is not 175 required documents — but document sets — which equates to hundreds or even thousands of pages of documents for one project. These requirements are significant setbacks and lead to extremely long delays in geothermal production.”

The Subcommittee also released a visual timeline which documents the disparate treatment geothermal projects face compared to wind and solar. “It’s shocking that federal agencies treat geothermal projects so harshly under NEPA,” notes Karl Gawell, GEA’s Executive Director. “This means that heavy-handed NEPA requirements are tipping the scales against geothermal energy.”

“The “Geothermal Energy on Federal Lands Act” [H.R. 1363] will streamline the NEPA process for a geothermal test project which will allow a geothermal project to quickly move forward if resources are found. Permitting this simple project which disturbs only a small amount of ground, often in areas where activity is already taking place, can take up to 10 months but is often held up for more than a year. Streamlining this permitting process will allow geothermal resources to be expeditiously discovered and utilized,” Chairman Lamborn said. “The “Geothermal Production Expansion Act” [H.R. 2004] would allow for non-competitive geothermal leasing on federal land adjacent to private lands that are primary resources for geothermal energy.”

The third bill discussed at the hearing was H.R. 596, or “Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act of 2013,” which aims to promote the development of renewable energy on public lands.

Scott Nichols (pictured), representing company U.S. Geothermal, testified at the hearing. In his prepared statement, he says, “U.S. Geothermal and the Geothermal Energy Association strongly support House Bill 2004, the Geothermal Production Expansion Act of 2013. Very simply, H.R. 2004 allows a developer that has taken the high risk of exploration and invested significant capital in the discovery of a commercial geothermal resource, the ability to add up to 640 acres of adjoining, lands administered by the Federal government lands so that exploration and development of the geothermal resource can advance without exposing the project to the high cost of delay and speculative bidding.”

The Geothermal Energy Association provided a written statement for record about geothermal energy, with details on the background, current markets, resource potential, and current barriers:

“Geothermal is a largely untapped resource which holds significant promise to be part of our nation’s future energy mix. To do so, we will need to reduce the long lead-time and risks associated with geothermal project development,” according to the GEA statement. “GEA supports both HR 1363 and HR 2004. Both seek to address the uncertainty involved in developing geothermal resources and by reducing risk and reducing lead times will help achieve the potential of geothermal energy. In addition, we encourage the Committee to examine provisions in related bills that would support exploration drilling and facilitate co-production of geothermal power from oil and gas leases.”

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing looked at “Breaking the Logjam at BLM: Examining Ways to More Efficiently Process Permits for Energy Production on Federal Lands.”

Nichols provided testimony at this hearing as well. His comments (see energy.senate.gov, PDF) support “action requiring agencies to rigidly define NEPA implementation and federal regulations.” He writes, “Documentation has become more important than good science … [I]t is incumbent upon our elected leadership to mandate the regulatory changes that will provide flexibility for renewable energy developments that also provide streamlined, measurable, performance-based requirements for our federal resource managers to work within.”

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

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