U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Geothermal Technologies Office

Interior Department to Open 190 Million Acres to Geothermal Power

October 29, 2008


Photo of an industrial complex in a desert setting, with mountains in the background. The complex consists of several small buildings and a jumbled tangle of large industrial pipes and other equipment. Behind the complex are three square structures, each holding four cooling towers, which are emitting slight wisps of steam.

The Interior Department plans to offer more than 190 million acres of federal lands for geothermal leasing, potentially resulting in a tripling of U.S. geothermal power capacity by 2015. Enlarge this image.
Credit: J.L. Renner, INL

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced last week that it plans to make more than 190 million acres of federal land in 12 western states available for geothermal energy development. DOI's Final Geothermal Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) identifies 118 million acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and 79 million acres of National Forest System lands that could be opened to future geothermal leasing, potentially leading to 5,540 megawatts (MW) of new geothermal power capacity by 2015. The PEIS excludes wilderness areas, wilderness study areas, and national parks. It will amend 122 BLM land use plans to allow for geothermal development, while allowing the Forest Service the discretion of evaluating geothermal leasing and considering whether to amend its land use plans. The document also includes site-specific environmental analyses for 19 pending geothermal lease applications for seven sites in Alaska, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. The plan will take effect via a Record of Decision, which will not be issued until the governors of the 12 states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming—are able to review the document and resolve any conflicts with state plans, programs, or policies. See the DOI press release and the full Final Geothermal PEIS.

The Interior Department's estimates of potential geothermal power production may actually be low, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). In late September, the USGS released its first assessment of geothermal resources in more than 30 years. The study found that identified geothermal resources in the West could produce 9,057 MW of power, while another 30,033 MW of power could be generated from conventional geothermal resources that have not yet been discovered. The use of Enhanced Geothermal Systems, which involves creating or expanding a geothermal resource through the high-pressure injection of a fluid, opens another 517,800 MW to potential development. For comparison, the U.S. currently has an installed geothermal power capacity of about 2,500 MW. One example of a company willing to explore new resources is Ormat Technologies, Inc., which has secured 15 of the 16 tracts offered for lease on Mount Spurr, Alaska, an active volcanic region about 75 miles west of Anchorage. Ormat is also working with DOE on a project to produce geothermal power using hot water from a producing oil well. Ormat recently validated the feasibility of the technology at the Rocky Mountain Oil Test Center near Casper, Wyoming. See the USGS press release and report and the Ormat press releases on Mount Spurr and the power production at an oil field.

In recent weeks, geothermal power development in Utah has hit several milestones. Raser Technologies, Inc. announced last week that it has completed major construction of its Thermo geothermal plant, the first commercial geothermal power plant built in Utah in more than two decades. The 10-megawatt facility combined 50 modular, low-temperature PureCycle power units from UTC Power, allowing power plant construction in just a few months. Utah is also slated to host a new 100-megawatt geothermal power plant, to be located on lands owned by the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation. LotusWorks, an Irish company, will work with Meridian Clean Fuels and the tribal-owned Shoshone Renaissance, LLC to develop the plant. Drilling has begun for the first 32-megawatt phase of the project, which is scheduled for completion in mid-2010, followed in successive years by the second and third phases of the project. The Shoshone Renaissance plant will likely be the first geothermal power project located on tribal lands in the United States. Power from the first two phases will be sold to Riverside Public Utilities in Riverside, California. See the press releases from Raser, LotusWorks (PDF 36 KB), and Riverside Public Utilities. Download Adobe Reader.