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Stimulus Bill Has Put Almost 8 GW of Geothermal Energy on US Grid

The geothermal industry has begun an unprecedented expansion starting this year, as a record 7, 875 MW of geothermal projects broke ground, the Geothermal Market Update reports this week.

While the pre-deadline dash to break ground on new US solar projects has been getting all the coverage these last few months, the similarly deadline-driven geothermal projects have been able to break ground on time.

This means that many more of them qualify to receive a Federal grant of 30% of investment cost from the stimulus bill, for a total of $363 million in onetime US Recovery Act funding for geothermal energy. The stimulus funding will continue to be a significant driver of US geothermal development through 2011.

The funding itself is an anomaly. Geothermal has long been the Rodney Dangerfield of clean energy, and received absolutely no funding at all during the Bush administration.

But the fast-track renewables development nationwide under the stimulus bill has changed that forever.

Once on the grid, this 8 GW expansion of renewable energy will benefit the US for decades into the future. Once established, geothermal projects can deliver steady energy supplies at 3-5 cents a kilowatt hour. – after the tax incentives that save 1.9 cents a kwh. The higher (than natural gas) cost of the initial investment has been the expensive part of geothermal power.

Between California and Nevada alone, 31 geothermal projects broke ground this year and will see most of their construction happen through 2011.

While fifteen states have projects beginning, just five states account for most of the resurgence. Only one out of the five, Idaho, lacks the renewable energy standards that help drive the development of renewable energy that their utilities must procure by 2020. Of the top four, California requires 33% of renewable energy (and that is excluding hydro and nuclear), Nevada and Oregon require 25%, and Utah 20% by 2020.

Smaller projects are starting in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Most of the Southern states missed the boat, but Google funded a look recently at one of them, and discovered an absolutely staggering 19 GW of potential geothermal in West Virginia.

By comparison with an average-sized power plant at 250 MW, many of these geothermal power plants are small, with many ranging from just 10 MW to 70 MW. But taken all together, they will collectively add 7,875 MW – or 8 GW – of new clean and renewable geothermal power to the grid.

Image: Trey Ratcliff
Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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Written By

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.


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