Seven new geothermal projects and additions came online in three states in 2012, totaling 147.05 MW of gross capacity, according to the Geothermal Energy Association.
This represents the US’ second highest increase in geothermal power capacity over a calendar year since the production tax credit (PTC) was extended to geothermal in 2005, and a 5 percent percent increase over 2011 year-end data, the trade organization says.
Projects and new additions that came online in 2012 include:
- Energy Source’s 49.9 MW John L. Featherstone Plant in California
- Ormat’s 30 MW McGinness Hills project in Nevada
- US Geothermal’s 30.1 MW Neal Hot Springs project in Oregon
- US Geothermal’s 12.75 MW San Emidio I project in Nevada
- Ormat’s 18 MW Tuscarora project in Nevada
- Terra-Gen’s 6.2 MW Dixie Valley I project in Nevada
- ElectraTherm’s 0.1 MW Florida Canyon Mine project in Nevada
In addition to these seven projects, GEA says 13 geothermal companies have projects in stage 3 or 4 of development, some of which are expected to come online in 2013.
GEA says some additional highlights of US geothermal industry development in 2012 were:
- The first hybrid solar-geothermal project was commissioned by Enel Green Power at its Stillwater Geothermal Power Plant.
- The first co-production of geothermal power at a gold mine was commissioned by ElectraTherm at the Florida Canyon Mine in Nevada.
- The first in a decade high-temperature flash steam geothermal power plant was brought on-line in Southern California by Energy Source, the 49.9 MW John L. Featherstone Geothermal Power Plant.
- The first utility-scale geothermal power plant in Oregon was brought on-line at Neal Hot Springs by US. Geothermal.
The industry saw several technological advances in 2012, according to GEA. These include advances in enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) technology — the process of extracting heat from engineered reservoirs through fluid injection and rock stimulation. At the world’s largest series of geothermal plants, The Geysers in California, the US Department of Energy invested $6 million in EGS technology, which resulted in a 5 MW equivalent of geothermal steam at this Calpine-operated project, that is now on its way to commercial production.
DOE was also active at the Salton Sea geothermal plant operated by Simbol Materials. At this demonstration facility, Simbol is working to produce lithium, manganese and zinc from geothermal brines during the geothermal power process. The company plans to continue this work, which it says has the potential to produce enough lithium for 300,000-600,000 electric vehicle batteries per year, and to turn the United States into a major lithium producer.
Policy wise, Congress took action to help geothermal in 2012. The Senate Finance Committee’s Family and Business Tax Certainty Act would allow projects to lock in the federal tax credits once they are “under construction,” instead of current law’s approach, which requires them to be producing power by a specific date, and that date right now is Jan. 1, 2014.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the change on a bi-partisan vote, and it is actively under discussion in the lame duck session’s fiscal cliff negotiations. If it is adopted, GEA says it could spur strong growth in geothermal power for several years.