The number of geothermal energy projects in the U.S. grew by 26% last year, to 188, as development of the alternative energy source spread from the western states to the Gulf Coast.
Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas reported their first geothermal projects in 2009, according to a new report from the Geothermal Energy Association in Washington, while Utah quadrupled the number of projects, New Mexico tripled them and Idaho doubled them. Other states with projects are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.
Nine states currently are generating electricity from geothermal energy.
In all, said the association, 15 states had 188 projects under way by the end of 2009 that will represent a capital investment of $35 billion when completed.
Geothermal energy comes from tapping the heat below the earth’s crust to generate electricity. It is considered a renewable energy that can replace fossil fuels in the fight against global warming.
In fact, said GEA executive director Karl Gawell, “California could achieve its 2020 goal for global warming emissions reductions just by keeping energy demand level and replacing its coal-fired generation with geothermal.”
The geothermal projects currently under way will add over 7,000 megawatts of baseload power capacity, the association said – equivalent to 20% of California’s total power needs and about equal to the power produced by California’s coal-fired generators.
Nevada remained the top state for new geothermal projects, with a capacity of 3,000 MW under development.
The association attributed the rapid growth to incentives from the federal economic stimulus program and from renewable energy standards enacted in numerous states. Four of the five top states with new projects under development – Nevada, California, Utah, and Oregon – have renewable energy standards of 20% or more. Idaho, however, which is in fourth place, has no renewable standards.
All of the new projects in 2009 utilized federal tax grants contained in the stimulus bill. In addition, the bill provides for more than $600 million for research into new technology at 135 projects in 25 states over the next two years.
The projects under development will create 100,000 construction jobs, the report said, and result in 30,000 permanent jobs that can never be outsourced.
The government support for geothermal energy is encouraging private investment and bank lending in the sector as well, GEA officials said.
By. Darrell Delamaide