Geothermal electric power is "good for America," according to a recent paper by the Geothermal Energy Association. The energy source is "abundant" in the U.S. and brings many benefits to the economy, including increased tax revenues and long-term, high-paying jobs, and helps shore up the power grid as well, the GEA said.
In the paper, "U.S. Geothermal Electric Power Sector: Good for America’s Energy System and Economy," which the GEA presented to the Trump administration, the industry trade group touted the domestic benefits of geothermal and provided recommendations on policy and regulatory changes that would advance the sector moving forward.
The GEA called the U.S. a world leader in utility-scale geothermal production, but claimed that the industry is falling behind because of uneven market subsidies, federal regulations that have hampered development and a lack of investment in related technology.
Geothermal energy "does not enjoy the subsidies and tax credits other energy resources do, yet its unsubsidized levelized cost of energy is still lower or comparable to most energy sources, including natural gas, nuclear and other renewable resources," the paper said.
The group maintained that geothermal energy can provide many benefits to the power grid that intermittent power sources cannot, because it is known to be a baseload generation technology. Developments in geothermal production make it possible to "provide ancillary and on-demand services, such as load-following or energy imbalance services, spinning reserves, non-spinning reserves, and replacement or supplemental reserves," the group added.
The GEA said such services help load serving entities avoid additional costs from purchasing and then balancing intermittent resources with storage or new transmission, adding that "flexible projects are operating in three states with several more planned, based on demand."
The geothermal fleet in the U.S. also acts as a natural hedge against fuel price volatility, making it an "ideal" long-term energy source for ratepayers connected to the grid, the group said. However, over 30 GW of domestic geothermal capacity comprised of 83 active projects that total over 1,250 MW is "stuck in development limbo."
Through continued development of innovative enhanced geothermal systems, or EGS, technologies, progress can be made, according to the GEA, which cited demonstration and exploration projects in several states, including Texas, Idaho, North Dakota, Louisiana, Montana, Mississippi and Wyoming.
The paper also cited a 2013 project in Churchill County, Nev., that installed an EGS system at the Desert Peak 2 geothermal project, boosting production by 38%. "With continued development of EGS technologies, nearly every state could have cost-effective geothermal within the next 10-15 years," the paper predicted.
GEA also pointed to an estimate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology that the U.S. has 100 GWe in cost-competitive EGS capacity that could be developed over the next 50 years.
But in order to progress, the group advised that several things must happen, including risk mitigation in drilling and exploration, public-private cost sharing partnerships for exploration, parity in tax incentives to ensure fair competition in the market and a more efficient cost-effective NEPA permitting process to expedite exploration on public lands.
"Time is money," the GEA said. "Geothermal needs timely decisionmaking from federal agencies to accelerate leasing of public lands and permitting for drilling and exploration, development and construction."
Additionally, long-term tax incentives for development of the energy source would value geothermal's "baseload and flexible attributes, its system reliability factor and its ability to deliver affordable clean power to American homes and businesses," the paper said.
"We hope the new Administration will recognize the benefits of geothermal energy," GEA Executive Director Karl Gawell said in a statement. "Their leadership in addressing some of the daunting obstacles facing geothermal development could mean positive change for the industry."
Despite the downturn in investment on a dollar basis, the U.S. is projected to add 24 GW of operational renewable capacity in 2016, topping additions across fuel-types for the third straight year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Scheduled renewable additions in 2017 could come in at 22 GW.