Largest U.S. Geothermal Plant Gains Approval

The California Energy Commission voted to license the Salton Sea Unit 6 Geothermal Power Project. If constructed as expected, the facility would use geothermal steam from the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area to produce 185 MW. The power plant would be the largest using geothermal steam to generate electricity in the United States.

Sacramento, California – December 19, 2003 [] “Licensing this power plant is an important step toward increasing both the geothermal and renewable power produced in California,” said Energy Commission Chairman William Keese. “The 185 MW plant increases California’s geothermal power production by more than 10 percent and moves us that much closer to the goal for renewable energy of 20 percent by 2010 that was identified in the Energy Commission’s Integrated Energy Policy Report.” The Salton Sea Unit 6 Geothermal Power Project, proposed by CE Obsidian Energy, will use the steam from geothermal brine, run through a three-pressure, high-efficiency condensing-steam turbine, to produce electricity. The Energy Commission staff has estimated that the project will avoid US$50 million a year in costs for fuel that would be used by a similarly-sized natural gas-fired facility, at the current price of natural gas. Most of the power will be sold through long term contract to the Imperial Irrigation District. The project is located at the southern end of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, approximately six miles north of Calipatria in Imperial County. The project site will encompass 80 acres of a 160-acre parcel owned by the applicant. For geothermal projects, the Energy Commission evaluates all aspects of the proposal. Permits for the geothermal production and injection wells will be issued by the Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. Imperial County will issue permits for the well pads and brine pipelines. The Energy Commission’s Final Decision will be used by both agencies as the environmental document for their permitting processes. The California Energy Commission has now licensed 43 power plants since 1999, totaling 17,312 MW, including both the Salton Sea Unit 6 Geothermal Project and the 670 MW Inland Empire Energy Center, which was also licensed today. Of those approved plants, 24 are now in operation, producing 8,311 MW. With the addition of 1,229 MW that were permitted locally, outside the Energy Commission process, California has added 9,540 MW of new generation since 1999. In addition, nine projects representing 5,159 MW are in active review in the Energy Commission’s licensing process.