How Will New Research and Development Act Affect the Geothermal Industry?

I’ve read that Congress has passed a new US $100 million program for geothermal research. I have been working on some new ideas for the huge geopressured resource in the Gulf and would like to get support. Who do I contact about helping my geothermal project? — Russell, Laporte, Texas

Russell, thanks for keeping up on these policy issues and for your interest in geothermal projects. You’re right. In December Congress passed the Advanced Geothermal Energy Research and Development Act as part of H.R. 6. It authorizes US $100 million annually for research programs, and industry developers and investors alike are excited about the potential new opportunities.

The new law authorized the Department of Energy (DOE) to support the design and demonstration of advanced approaches to tap the huge geopressured resource in the Gulf, as well as development of new technology across the range of geothermal resource needs, including:

        • cost-shared exploratory drilling,
        • development of new exploration technologies,
        • demonstrations of geothermal power production from oil and gas fields,
        • research into environmental improvements for geothermal systems, and
        • enhanced geothermal system research and development.

It asks DOE to consider expanding its geothermal program to include research using geothermal systems for carbon sequestration, mineral recovery, hydrogen production, recovery of oil shale and tar sands, and other advanced geothermal technologies. It also directs DOE to establish a national center for geothermal technology transfer.  

That’s quite an exciting and expansive research program. Congress has provided DOE with a bold new vision of public-private partnerships and federal research and information initiatives that could help bring substantial new geothermal energy sources online to meet national energy needs.  

But unfortunately, it’s not clear whether DOE is planning to follow the law. While Congress appropriated $20 million for DOE geothermal research in FY 2008, the Department is planning to spend virtually all of these funds only on long-term research into enhanced geothermal systems (EGS), ignoring the other initiatives. For the FY 2009 budget, the Administration has requested US $30 million for geothermal research. But again, all of it is directed toward EGS research.

The Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) has urged Congress to fully fund the new advanced research initiative included in H.R. 6 and to direct DOE to begin implementing legislation creating a new advanced geothermal research program passed by Congress in December. Also, a dozen Senators wrote Secretary Bodman urging DOE to “begin the immediate implementation of the new advanced research program.” But I don’t believe they have yet received a reply.

While DOE has a new legal mandate for geothermal research, there appears to be a continuing struggle going on between DOE and Congress about the direction of the program.  

So, while you should contact DOE about your ideas, you should also let your Congressman and Senators know that you have ideas for projects that could benefit your state and the country. You can also urge them to support efforts to secure full funding and implementation of the new geothermal research initiative.

To contact DOE or your member of Congress, follow the links provided below.

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Karl has been the Executive Director of the Geothermal Energy Association since 1997. He was formerly Director of Government Affairs for the American Wind Energy Association and has held senior positions at the National Wildlife Federation and The Wilderness Society. He worked in several positions in the U.S. Congress, including Associate Staff of the House Appropriations Committee and Legislative Assistant to Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn).

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