In order to help facilitate the environmental review process for geothermal production in Nevada as well as ten other western states, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced the Geothermal Exploration Act (GEO) to congress last month. This act serves to expedite the permitting process, cited as one of the “most significant barriers to geothermal power project development.” Since roughly 90 percent of potential geothermal energy resides on federal lands, bureaucratic hold ups and adherence to regulations can extend exploratory processes and cause a developer a lot of expense just to explore an area.
In order to understand regulatory processes, timelines, and potential red flags, the Geothermal Regulatory Roadmap (GRR) Team has been working with local, state, and federal agencies since April 2012 to develop a guide. This allowed insight into an environmental review process that Senator Heller called “grueling.” In 2011, the Geothermal Technologies Office, part of the Department of Energy, also identified the need for improving geothermal regulation, including streamlining the process for extending permits to parties interested in exploring federal lands for geothermal potential. Reasons varied for the recommendation, but mainly centered on the expense stakeholders incurred not from the development of geothermal energy, but in the exploration process itself. According to the Senator, companies are forced to comply with lengthy environmental review processes simply to test the viability of a resource, despite lack of disturbance to the site. This review process can take anywhere from 18-24 months, which could serve to be a major deterrent to development of the geothermal resources abundant in the west.
The DOE’s goals, which fall in line with President Obama’s Executive Order to Improve Performance of Federal Permitting and Review of Infrastructure Projects, are to reduce cost and risk for geothermal developers. Drilling wells for exploration and development is expensive and when projects are held up near the beginning of the process, the probability of financial instability increases. The GRR team held workshops where interested parties discussed concerns and potential solutions. The final meeting was held in Reno on October 2nd where findings were presented and next steps were discussed. These steps included decreasing projects risks, engaging with all stakeholders in developing solutions, and facilitating collaboration among agencies.
Geothermal energy presents a lot of potential for Nevada as well as other western states and could significantly add to the electric power generating capacity in the United States.
The U.S Geological Survey this year assessed that full development of conventional systems alone could expand geothermal power production by approximately 260 percent of what’s currently available.
Heller believes that, “at a time when Nevada is playing a major role in the United States’ ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, the last thing our geothermal entrepreneurs need is unnecessary bureaucratic red tape.” This, he says, is why he introduced the GEO Act. “The legislation will simplify the review process for initial exploration activities and give developers the tools they need to unleash Nevada’s abundant geothermal potential.”