Geothermal Market Update: Steady Growth in 2009

The geothermal power development sector is waiting to hear an industry-specific investment allocation under President Obama’s plan to increase renewable energy, but at least one recent assessment, attributed to an Obama aide, has already indicated that geothermal and solar together could be funded to add 4,000 megawatts (MW) of new energy capacity, the Geothermal Energy Association, in Washington, recently reported.

“Clearly renewable energy now is a strong buzz word in the Obama administration, and geothermal is playing a strong role in that. The draft economic stimulus package apparently has something like US $440 million set aside for geothermal projects. So the outlook is fairly positive, but it is funding dependent,” says Richard Putnam, the treasurer of Provo-based Raser Technologies. ¬†

Potential Generation Estimates 

Over 100 confirmed and unconfirmed geothermal projects alone could add 4,000 MW of power capacity within a few years time, according to the latest survey by the GEA. A new survey, which should incorporate more projects inspired by the renewal of federal tax incentives, should be ready by February or March, according to Karl Gawell, the executive director of the association.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management says that a dozen Western states could generate 5,500 MW of geothermal energy from 110 plants by 2015, and that number could rise by another 6,600 MW by 2025, the agency reckons. One good sign from the outgoing Bush administration is that the federal government is sharing geothermal land lease revenues with states and county governments, which may inspire more government-owned or public-private partnership geothermal projects.

The GEA said that states received some US $27 million over the last two years and that counties received $9 million last year. The GEA also reported that BLM this year plans to open 111 million acres for geothermal leasing, along with 79 million acres in National Forests.

Apart from these predictions, the development of enhanced geothermal resources, or EGS, requiring the pumping of water into hot dry rock formations, could add 100,000 MW of power, according to a 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy. DOE has since awarded US $3.4 million to Ormat Technologies, of Reno, to demonstrate the viability of EGS.

Recent Project Announcements

A host of new project announcements in the United States and abroad have surfaced in the past few months. Nevada Geothermal Power’s NGP Blue Mountain unit has contracted Ormat Technologies to put a 49.5-MW geothermal power plant at Blue Mountain online by December 2009 with power sold to Nevada Power Co. under a 20-year PPA. Elsewhere in Nevada, Italy’s Enel has nearly completed two geothermal power plants with a combined capacity of 65 MW in Churchill County.

Western GeoPower Corp. is developing a US $165 million, 35 MW project at the Geysers, near Calistoga, California, with plans to sell the power to Northern California Power Agency.

And now that Raser Technologies’ 10-MW Thermo, Utah plant has begun production, the company is focusing on its Lightning Dock, New Mexico unit, which is expected to produce 10 MW this year and increase to 25 MW thereafter.

New Utility, Government Players Emerge

Among utilities that are charting geothermal reserve potential is Pineville, LA-based Cleco Corp.’s Cleco Power LLC. Cleco has forged a research and development agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research & Development Center to confirm the potential for geothermal energy in Cleco’s operating region, which is in various different regions of Louisiana.

Among municipalities and counties seeking to add geothermal-based generation to their power portfolio is Salt Lake City and county, which are being advised by Raser Technologies. The city hopes to promote a project among those that will get fast-track funding under President Obama’s new infrastructure spending plan.

Funding ReMix

Since the financial services market crash, geothermal developers have scrambled to secure new lines of funding, since the list of projects under development now is expected to require close to US $10 billion within a few years’ time.

Vancouver’s Magma Energy Corp., for example, recently raised US $26 million through a share offer to fund new projects and the expansion of its Fallon unit to 16 MW. And Raser Technologies has hired Calyon Securities (USA) Inc. to explore potential strategic relationships.

In Latin America, Ormat Technologies is being funded by Banco Centroamericano de Integracion Economica (BCIE) for the supply of the US $65 million Las Pailas geothermal plant in Costa Rica.

Non-U.S. Projects Abound

Outside of the United States, the Philippines’ Energy Development Corp. plans to become the largest producer of geothermal energy should it win its bids for the Tongonan and Palimpinon plants and others the government is seeking to add. Chevron Corp. is currently the largest producer in the world with 1,273 MW of geothermal energy, primarily located in the Philippines and Indonesia. Elsewhere in Asia, Japan’s Mitsubishi Materials and J-Power are planning a US $434 million geothermal power plant in Yuzawa, in the country’s northern Akita Prefecture.

In India, Tata Power is considering one or more geothermal plants in Gujarat, through a joint venture with the government.

Similarly, in Argentina, Copper King Mining Corp., together with Fellows Energy Ltd. recently announced plans to finance the Valle del Cura and Tuzgle-Tocomar geothermal projects, with a combined 300-MW capacity in the Andes region of Argentina.

Charles W. Thurston is a correspondent based in California.

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