Clean Power

Published on June 6th, 2013 | by Silvio Marcacci


DOE Launches Geothermal Regulatory Roadmap For Project Developers

June 6th, 2013 by  

Traveling through the complex system of federal and state regulations to secure project approvals is one of the biggest challenges facing geothermal power developers – but not if they’ve got a map outlining every twist and turn.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has done just that by creating an online geothermal regulatory roadmap to help project developers anticipate and meet  government regulatory requirements and streamline deployment of new geothermal capacity.

If all goes as planned, DOE’s roadmap will facilitate collaboration between federal and state agencies, speed up the review process for proposed projects, and increase efficient and responsible regulatory evaluation.

One-Stop-Shopping For Project Developers

Industry stakeholders identified the lengthy permitting timeline facing potential projects as a major barrier to expanding geothermal generation in a 2011 DOE report. Considering the potential of geothermal energy as an emission-free baseload power source, DOE wisely decided it was time to take action.

DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) partnered with the Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and US Forest Service to convene permitting officials from all levels of government. This work group identified regulatory wrong turns and dead ends, and formed the basis for roadmap development.

The roadmap features flowcharts addressing all potential federal and state regulatory requirements for developing new geothermal power – from developing land use and leasing plans, to drilling exploratory wells, and building an actual power plant.

Links to permit applications, government regulations and policies, and supporting documents are also contained within the resource, providing one-stop-shopping for virtually any type of project located in most of America’s geothermal hotspots.

First Stop On The Way To A Geothermal Future

While DOE’s roadmap doesn’t include stops in every state, it begins the journey by focusing on the ones with the largest geothermal potential. The first stage includes information on Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. Expanded information for Colorado and Texas is slated for completion during fiscal year 2013, and future expansion will include information down to the county level.

The geothermal regulatory roadmap is part of DOE’s plan to accelerate development of 30GW of new hydrothermal energy at a cost of 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) by 2020, lower the cost of enhanced geothermal to 6 cents/kWh by 2030, and speed development of 100GW of enhanced geothermal power by 2050.

Geothermal power plant

Geothermal power plant image via Shutterstock

If the roadmap works as planned, it could help geothermal grow exponentially as a share of America’s renewable energy future. 3,386MW of geothermal power is currently installed in the US, but roughly 5,500MW of new capacity is currently under development, and up to 2,600MW could come online in the next decade, according to the Geothermal Energy Association’s 2013 Annual Report.

That’s a lot of clean energy capacity – provided the geothermal project developers don’t get lost along the way.

For more information on the regulatory roadmap and an overview of the flowchart, narrative, and link features, check out this helpful NREL video:[youtube]

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

  • Erin

    After reviewing the flow charts provided on Open EI I am deeply impressed. The breadth of cross-departmental input and level of detail provided for each permit process is remarkable! From the perspective of an environmental regulatory specialist responsible for implementing regulatory action on behalf of geothermal developers, this is an excellent tool. I will pay closer attention regarding the time to completion for each permit process for the State of Hawaii and hopefully be able to provide feedback on timelines, which I notice has not received the level of attention that other areas have.

  • JamesWimberley

    It looks as if Secretary Moniz is serious about supporting geothermal, as he indicated in a recent statement you reported.
    The regulatory issue for geothermal can’t be solved the same way as for residential solar, viz, on a red tape bonfire. There are real seismic risks to evaluate (see the Basel incident, in the very early days of EGS), and hydrothermal resources are often found in environmentally sensitive areas. It’s vital to keep robust checks and avoid a backlash while streamlining the process.

    • Bob_Wallace

      We’re making progress on enhanced (hot rock) geothermal where no hydrothermal resources are necessary. Two small plants, one in Australia and one in the US, came on line this year.

      With enhanced geothermal all is needed are the hot rocks which can be sheered to permit lots of contact area for water. The water is supplied from the surface via a feeder hole and the hot water/steam comes up from one or more bored holes.

      This makes geothermal possible in incredibly larger areas than where one is limited to finding existing sources of underground hot water.

      We’re also making a lot of progress with minimizing seismic activity during sheering.

      • JamesWimberley

        EGS is a great, game-changing idea and I’ve blogged about it, but the world total for working pre-commercial pilot plants is SFIK four: Soultz (France), Landau (Germany), Habanero (Australia), Newberry (USA). The overwhelming majority of the geothermal generation in operation or under development is hydrothermal, including major investments in Kenya (the Rift Valley), in Indonesia, Japan, Central America – all tectonically active areas. Like you, I’m confident the geophysicists have mastered the induced seismicity problem; but it’s still right that developers should be required to demonstrate this to the communities concerned.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Two of those four just came on line. There is significant new interest in enhanced geothermal. And AltaRock’s ability to create multiple harvest zones in a single set of bores could be a game changer.

          And the fact that they used biodegradable materials to sheer the rock is also important.

          Our initial geothermal installations need to be done away from population centers. And we might find that we need to do them all in more remote areas. But that’s not a disaster. We seldom build a new hydro facility inside a city.

          • JamesWimberley

            It’ shard to keep a discussion going when we agree completely!

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