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Geothermal, G-E-O-T-H-E-R-M-A-L, Geothermal

by onemuleteam
One Mule Team (blog), March 14, 2008

Lower Granite Dam impounds water some forty miles to the Idaho/Washington border. This site used to have fishing reports . . . and it will again soon but being the weekend warrior that I am I have to fill the fishing void with conservation news and policy posts. Regular readers might be aware of the pissing match I had with one anonymous BPA employee whose comment on the Snake River dams was "Its (sic) the OCEAN, STUPID!" That made my day. We emailed back and forth.

Somehow, things went further up the BPA chain (though it is unclear if it was coincidence that two BPA employees found this site on the same day) because I got comments from a BPA employee whose eloquence in stating his position somehow exceeded even that of his colleague's though he did not achieve the brevity of his coworker. The second gentleman, Mr. Stier has made it clear that he is expressing his personal views. What is less clear is how those views differ from those of his employer. Anyway, I had to wonder how they found this site. Were they at work thinking to themselves "I wonder what positive press the four lower Snake River dams are getting today. I know, I'll Google it!" In any event, I feel the need to respond to the suggestion that I have not offered any solution for replacement of the baseload capacity of the four lower Snake River dams.

One alternative I have suggested is development of geothermal resources:

"Geothermal power (from the Greek words geo, meaning earth, and therme, meaning heat) is energy generated by heat stored beneath the Earth's surface or the collection of absorbed heat in the atmosphere and oceans. Geothermal energy offers a number of advantages over traditional fossil fuel based sources . . . . From an environmental standpoint, the energy harnessed is clean and safe for the surrounding environment.[4] It is also sustainable because the hot water used in the geothermal process can be re-injected into the ground to produce more steam. In addition, geothermal power plants are unaffected by changing weather conditions.[5] Geothermal power plants work continually, day and night, making them base load power plants. From an economic view, geothermal energy is extremely price competitive in some areas and reduces reliance on fossil fuels and their inherent price unpredictability.[6] It also offers a degree of scalability: a large geothermal plant can power entire cities while smaller power plants can supply more remote sites such as rural villages. . . .[7]Dry steam and flash steam power plants also emit low levels of carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, and sulfur, although at roughly 5% of the levels emitted by fossil fuel power plants.[7] However, geothermal plants can be built with emissions-controlling systems that can inject these gases back into the earth, thereby reducing carbon emissions to less than 0.1% of those from fossil fuel power plants.[9]"

That all sounds pretty good but how much is there and could it be used to replace the power generated by those four Snake River dams? I checked out the Western Governor's Association's Geothermal Task Force Report. Here are some highlights:

In other news, Nevada is on track to quadruple it's geothermal power production within 3-5 years meaning that geothermal will supply 25% of that state's power. Nice work Nevada!

Too often these types of issues are presented as jobs vs the environment. That isn't the case. Building a new energy infrastructure in the western states will create jobs and help recover salmon runs. What's so wrong with that?

March 16, 2008 at 9:33 am
Jeff Stier Jeff Stier: Senior Policy Advisor at Bonneville Power Administration

Dude -- there's definitely a place for geothermal, but you need to know that a geothermal plant is a major industrial installation. And geothermal sites are often in remote, pristine and really cool places. Like the Alvord desert in E. Oregon or Newberry Crater in Central Oregon (two sites that developers are trying to get into). Developing the site requires buiding major road systems and high voltage transmission lines (with associated transmission corridors). The plants themselve look exactly like large factories -- becaue they are large factories -- energy factories.

I guess the point is that this is not the silver bullet. There is no energy source that does not have negative environmental consequences. Wind farms are not attractive to most folks and they kill birds and bats. Photovoltaic generation depends on an industrial process that has a lot of associated pollution. Et cetera., et cetera, and so forth.

So geothermal has some promise -- but in my experience, 90% of the proposals for a geothermal plant that I have seen are in places that would make me want to lay down in front of a Caterpillar tractor to save.

On a related subject -- I spent some time this morning writing a reponse to the pig pile that has taken place on your DeFazio (and Stier) related posts. For some reason, when I sent it, it didn't send. So I lost a pile of brilliance. I'll try again when I have the time and energy.

March 16, 2008 at 9:37 am
Jeff Stier Jeff Stier: Senior Policy Advisor at Bonneville Power Administration

And one other thing since you mention things "going up the BPA chain." I am not BPA. I am Jeff Stier. I do not speak for BPA. I am actually expressing my own personal views!!!

I responded to your DeFazio posts because Peter is a friend and I agree with him on the issue you raised. More on that tomorrow, perhaps.

March 16, 2008 at 11:36 am

I am looking forward to being convinced. I think we have found at least a little common ground--I agree with you--there is no silver bullet. Also, many places would not be appropriate for geothermal energy though some places would be. I also agree that there is no energy source that is pollution free. That much is plainly true. I am not looking for silver bullets. I know we disagree on this issue but keep in mind that doesn't mean that I don't understand that a geothermal facility is a major industrial undertaking. I wasn't picturing skipping barefoot through a verdant field that is magically powering the entire Northwest!

As far as the BPA chain goes, it seemed a little unusual to have two BPA employees commenting on my site on the same day--one of them a VP. I will make sure that it is in the record that you are expressing your personal views though they do dovetail pretty nicely with the BPA party line, no?

March 20, 2008 at 5:33 pm
Go Green Eugene Oregon Judge Redden calls latest federal Columbia Salmon plan inadequate This issue is particularly contentious as energy demand in the region continues to expand, and hydropower capacity offsets fossil fuel-based electricity generation. Though the choice between healthy salmon stocks and clean electricity is a false choice. Oregon is well on its way to becoming a leader in Solar, Wind and geothermal power generation. [...]

Geothermal, G-E-O-T-H-E-R-M-A-L, Geothermal
One Mule Team (blog), March 14, 2008

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