Steve Leone, Associate Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
February 10, 2012 | 17 Comments
By California standards, the Salton Sea is not prime real estate. For the geothermal industry, though, the region is a fertile area for growth.
A couple of hundred feet below sea level in the vast, dry expanse north of the Mexican border, the region sits atop the San Andreas Fault. Its geothermal potential is unsurpassed in the United States. Its mineral makeup, though, has long posed some challenges, leaving the development of that geothermal potential to a select few.
El Centro-based EnergySource is putting the finishing touches on the Salton Sea area’s first standalone geothermal plant in 20 years. The 49 MW Hudson Ranch I project is expected to come online by the end of the first quarter, and the company plans to start drilling for Hudson Ranch II, also 49 MW, at some point this summer.
The project, which will represent the first geothermal plant to come online in the U.S. since 2010, is employing the best available technologies previously used in the Salton Sea area, according to EnergySource President and CEO Dave Watson.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is how it plans to deal with the high levels of mineralization that defines the region. To overcome the hurdles, the company has teamed with Bay Area-based Simbol Materials, which will help extract minerals such as lithium, manganese and zinc, which the company could then export to battery developers. Those batteries, created partly from minerals extracted from the geothermal brine, could conceivably be used for battery storage for other renewable technologies.
The relationship between the two companies solidifies both as they strengthen their positions in the Salton Sea region. The region has up to 2 GW of long-term potential power generation, but so far existing plants represent a nameplate capacity of about 350 MW. So there is immense potential for growth, and perhaps the Hudson Ranch project will pave the way for more developments that manage to turn the high mineralization into a valuable resource.
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