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BLM and USDA Issue Draft Plan Environmental Impact Statement for Large-Scale Geothermal Energy Development

In the next step toward efficient development of geothermal energy resources on Federal lands, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service (USFS) have issued a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for geothermal leasing in the western US, including Alaska.

Federal lands in the West and Alaska contain the largest potential geothermal resources in this country. With the strong interest and support of state and local governments and clear direction from Congress, we are taking the next step in an aggressive program to make these resources available for responsible development to help meet the Nation’s energy needs.

—BLM Director Jim Caswell

The draft PEIS considers 117 million acres of public lands and 75 million acres of national forests to be available for leasing. The Draft PEIS also evaluates another alternative based on public input gained during scoping that would limit geothermal leasing for electrical generation to areas near transmission lines.

The BLM administers geothermal leasing on the public lands it manages and on lands in the National Forest System, where the Forest Service is the surface management agency.

The lands could potentially host 110 new geothermal plants generating 5,500 MW of power by 2015. An additional 132 geothermal plants could produce another 6,600 MW of power by 2025. In addition, 270 communities could potentially draw on geothermal resources as a heating source.

The draft PEIS was open for public comment on 13 June, and it will remain open for 90 days after the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes its notice in the Federal Register on 20 June. The BLM will also hold public meetings in 13 cities throughout the region in July.

Approval of the PEIS will allow the BLM to modify its land use plans and to issue decisions on geothermal lease applications that are now pending. It will also help the Forest Service decide when to approve leases in national forests, although the Forest Service will require a separate environmental review process to amend its land use plans.

Geothermal energy production uses heat located naturally beneath the surface of the earth to generate electricity with little or no need to burn fuel. Geothermal energy currently accounts for 8.5% of renewable energy generation in the US.

Almost half of the nation’s geothermal energy production and about 90% of US geothermal resources occur on Federal lands. Currently, 29 geothermal power plants are operating under BLM authorization on Federal lands in California, Nevada and Utah. They have a total capacity of 1,250 MW and supply the needs of 1.2 million homes.

A comprehensive MIT-led study of the potential for geothermal energy within the United States published in 2007 concluded that Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) technology could supply a substantial portion of US electricity well into the future, probably at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact.

Overall, the DOE-funded panel concluded that EGS can likely deliver cumulative capacity of more than 100,000 MWe within 50 years with a modest, multi-year federal investment for RD&D. The panel estimated the total EGS resource base to be more than 13 million exajoules (EJ), with an estimated extractable portion to exceed 200,000 EJ—about 2,000 times the annual consumption of primary energy in the United States in 2005. (Earlier post.)




"with an estimated extractable portion to exceed 200,000 EJ—about 2,000 times the annual consumption of primary energy in the United States in 2005."

Wow! Another alternative we hear very little about. The major question remains how to distribute this energy if it is local to the southwest? Do transmission losses negate the economics? And can some of this energy be used to electrolyze H2O for an energy carrier?

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