Saturday, January 05, 2008

Geothermal energy potential in Washington - YES Update

Washington, the state, is on the Pacific rim - where tectonic plates rub over each other and volcanos form. Volcanos - They have thermal energy, lots of it. "Geothermal" is the term for capturing energy occurring naturally underground and putting it to use. How much geothermal energy is being captured for us in Washington? None. How much potential is there? Lots. There are many hot springs. And volcanos. What does it cost to capture geothermal energy for use? Not much. The initial construction costs might be substantial, but the cost to operate is near zero. Lawrence Molloy writes in the Seattle Times
... Yet, Washington state has zero megawatts of geothermal. "It also has zero planned, proposed or within the plant-approval process, even though we have excellent potential," laments Susan Petty, one of the world's leading geothermal reservoir engineers. Petty, who is based in Seattle, points out there is no current hard data on the exact nature of the state's geothermal resources. But, working off 25-year-old geologic studies, it's reasonable to say we are among the top-10 states. Petty also notes Washington state is unprepared to respond or assist if a geothermal development permit were submitted today. This is a major oversight that must be addressed. Though nothing firm has materialized, there has been at least one early expression of interest. Gov. Christine Gregoire is committed to renewable energy, but faced strong opposition over the Horizon wind farm outside of Ellensburg because of its size and profile. That would not be an issue with geothermal: It has the smallest surface footprint among renewable forms of energy; less space than the Seattle Center grounds would be needed to produce the energy equivalent of 65 wind turbines along the ridgeline in Kittitas County. Geothermal in Washington state also would generate solid, respected jobs in parts of the state that are seeking to expand their employment bases.
But we have to consider all the costs:
Yet, we must not mislead ourselves into thinking geothermal is a clean and limitless energy (we did that with nuclear power in the 1950s). There are impacts. Water issues are the biggest concern, especially if developers work on the cheap and do not have the proper recovery technology. Carbon dioxide is produced, but the impacts are one-fifteenth to one-thirtieth those of natural gas, the cleanest of the abundant fuel sources currently in our portfolio. If geothermal is done correctly and respectfully — no development on sacred sites or in wilderness areas and national parks — we can bring hundreds of megawatts online in Washington state. The discussion needs to begin now with the tribes, utilities, environmentalists and state agencies.
Engineer Lawrence Molloy has worked on clean energy technologies around the Pacific Rim for more than a decade. He was a member of the Port of Seattle Commission from 2001 to 2005. Update - Commenter "anonymous" adds: See North of the Hot Zone web site for more information about geothermal in Washington. There will be a lunch-time brownbag presentation on January 17 in Seattle:
Who: Geothermal engineer Susan Petty & Lawrence Molloy will host this presentation and Q&A session When: Thursday, January 17th, Noon to 1:30pm Where: NW Energy Coalition Office - 811 1st Ave, Suite 305, Seattle


Anonymous said...

Just a quick clarification -- Molloy says, "Carbon dioxide is produced, but the impacts are one-fifteenth to one-thirtieth those of natural gas, the cleanest of the abundant fuel sources currently in our portfolio."

This modest CO2 production occurs only in the case of flash and dry steam geothermal resources, which are generally deemed "high temperature."

Most recent U.S. geothermal projects have lower temperatures and use binary-cycle technology, which emits NO CO2. This is because the gas-bearing geothermal fluids are confined to heat-exchange "plumbing" and returned to the ground after "mining" the water's heat, so that the gases don't escape.

Anonymous said...

Greater discussion on Washington State's Geothermal Potential can be found on the blog;

A brownbag on Geothermal in Washington State will be held Thurs Jan 17th downtown Seattle at the NW Energy Coalition Offices on Pioneer Square.

thanks for having a post about geothermal and Washington State.