The BLM is identifying high-yield geothermal sites, with a view toward leasing those rights to corporations in the same way as oil and gas projects. The agency would like to see 110 plants up and running by 2015, generating 5,500 megawatts of energy.
The BLM has been scoping 11 western states including Colorado as part of an effort to identify and analyze the effects of geothermal development on public lands. The results of the scoping will be published in October in a Programmatic Environmental Impact Study encompassing over 248 million acres. There will be a public meeting in Denver on July 24, and the public comment period will close on Sept. 19; a record of decision is to follow in December.
“Where is the potential for the resource?” asked the BLM’s David Batts, who spoke to elected officials and staff from Montrose, San Miguel and Ouray counties on June 17 at a Tri-County meeting at the Ouray County Event Center. “Colorado is actually pretty cold. California and Nevada are where the really hot resources are.”
Ouray County Commissioner Keith Meinert, a retired oil executive, said he was informed at the Renewable Energy Forum and Expo in October that the Colorado Geological Society pegs Colorado’s geothermal electric potential as the fourth greatest in the U.S. But feasibility is dictated by location, and with operations conducted in the mountainous terrain of the Rockies, the numbers may not add up.
“Their mapping is still very preliminary,” Meinert told The Watch on June 24. “Until they dig deep wells, they won’t know what kind of resources they have.”
The key for geothermal energy development, according to Batts, is electrical generation that can best be sustained with a temperature of 160 degrees or higher. That, Batts said, is the industrial potential that would attract corporations interested in purchasing a lease and investing millions of dollars for drilling operations.
Another factor is the improvement in technology, which Batts said has enhanced the chances for geothermal operations to capture sufficient volumes.
The county commissioners have been exploring geothermal capability in Ouray County since 2007. “This county doesn’t have any known geologically significant or attractive hot spots. Rico is the closest. The only place where the industry is currently actively working is Mt. Princeton up by Salida,” Meinert said.