Geothermal Industry Must Band Together to Stay Relevant

A renewable industry investment executive told geothermal industry leaders in Las Vegas Monday (Sept. 30) that slow growth and unfair renewable tax incentives threatened the future of geothermal power.

While the solar power sector is growing rapidly, the geothermal energy industry is “struggling to stay relevant,” Gregg Rotenberg, vice president of Chevron Renewable Energy Investment, told attendees at the Geothermal Resources Council (GRC) Annual Conference and Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) Geothermal Energy Expo.

He compared the solar industry to a Tesla electric car but said geothermal looks “more like a horse and buggy.”

In recent years, said Rotenberg, the federal government and local governments have been giving the solar industry some unfair advantages over the geothermal industry. For example, states often require investor-owned electric utilities to obtain a minimum portion or carve out of their renewable energy portfolio from solar. 

“How many states have a geothermal carve out?” Rotenberg asked. Few states provide this incentive for geothermal.

To get fairer tax laws and benefits, geothermal companies need to set aside their differences with competitors and join together to pursue common goals from government, Rotenberg said. 

“If we don’t find a way to at least level the playing field, I’m concerned there won’t be a geothermal industry,” Rotenberg said.

While geothermal development slows, in part due to its high risk, expense and long lead-times, the solar industry benefits from declining costs as more and more solar panels are installed, he said. 

But geothermal has its major advantages over other renewables technologies. Unlike wind and solar power, geothermal can provide continuous, baseload powern as a replacement for coal-fired power plants and nuclear generation, said Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association.

In addition, research has shown that geothermal plants can ramp up more quickly than power plants that burn natural gas and can be used to backup intermittent wind and solar power, Gawell said.

Though investment in geothermal is down, acknowledged Mark Taylor of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, geothermal is cyclical and there are signs of a new surge in development.

The GEA Geothermal Energy Expo and GRC Annual Conference continues through Wednesday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Read more geothermal news here.

Lead image: Geothermal plant via Shutterstock

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Freelance writer covering stories about electric utilities and energy companies in Southwestern U.S. markets.

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