Geothermal Industry Stares Down DOE Budget Cuts

The House Energy and Water Appropriation’s Subcommittee “Chairman’s Mark” could “devastate geothermal power’s growth,” the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) said last week. The Subcommittee proposal made available on its website would terminate DOE’s geothermal research program.

“While the public is looking for Congress to find solutions to our growing national energy crisis, the House Energy and Water Subcommittee is planning to take a knife to a key renewable energy technology,” said Karl Gawell, GEA’s Executive Director. Despite cutting geothermal research to zero, the Chairman’s Mark would boost spending some $546 million over the President’s budget request in other areas, and gives the Department of Energy (DOE) $24.373 billion for all of its programs next year. DOE historically has had five renewable resource programs — wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and hydropower. If the Chairman’s Mark succeeds, two out of the five renewable energy resources would have no research program at DOE next year — geothermal and hydropower. Meanwhile, DOE’s energy programs would be heavily tilted toward subsidizing coal and nuclear power development. Last month, GEA reported that geothermal resources could supply the U.S. with more than 30,000 MW of power by 2025. This would meet 6 percent of today’s total U.S. electricity needs, and is roughly equal to optimistic projections for wind energy over the same period. But geothermal power would have the advantage of being available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. GEA estimates that closing down DOE research programs would cut this projected contribution in half. “By undercutting technology development this move could cost the U.S. 70,000 permanent jobs and $35 billion in new investment,” Gawell added. The DOE geothermal research program has been funded at slightly over $20 million a year, and external reports by the National Research Council and Western Governors Association Geothermal Task Force have called for higher spending on geothermal research. Even the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has rated the program above average in effectiveness. “Cutting the geothermal research program is shortsighted and reverses the direction Congress set just last year when it passed the Energy Policy Act,” GEA stated. The Energy Policy Act called for expanded renewable energy research, including DOE’s geothermal research efforts.
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