Thursday, October 23, 2008

Interior Launches Geothermal Energy Initiative With 190 Million Acres

Oct 22: Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced a plan to make more than 190 million acres of Federal land in 12 western states available for development of geothermal energy resources, an initiative that could increase electric generation capacity from geothermal resources ten times over. Kempthorne said, “Geothermal energy will play a key role in powering America’s energy future and 90 percent of our nation’s geothermal resources are found on Federal lands. Facilitating their leasing and development under environmentally sound regulations is crucial to supplying the secure, clean energy American homes and businesses need.”

Under the development scenario outlined in the plan -- known as the Final Geothermal Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) -- the initiative could produce 5,540 megawatts of new electric generation capacity from geothermal resources by 2015. That’s enough to meet the power needs of 5.5 million homes. The plan also estimates an additional 6,600 megawatts by 2025 for a total of 12,100 megawatts -- enough to power more than 12 million homes. When put into action by a Record of Decision (ROD), the plan would identify about 118 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed public lands and 79 million acres of National Forest System lands for future geothermal leasing. It would provide a list of appropriate stipulations to be applied to leases and amend 122 BLM land use plans to allow for geothermal development.

Kempthorne noted the strong interest states, local communities, industry and environmental groups took in the development of this plan. He said, “This process has benefited greatly from the involvement of both governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, and from the clear direction Congress gave in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. It’s really a model for working together to make decisions about our energy future.” The U.S. is already the world leader in generating electricity using geothermal energy, with about 16,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity generated in 2005. Almost half of this production and 90 percent of U.S. geothermal resources occur on Federal lands.

Geothermal leasing revenues and royalties are shared with the States and counties where the leases are located, with 50 percent going to the State; 25 percent to the county and the remaining 25 percent to the Geothermal Royalty Fund of BLM for investing in further geothermal planning and development. Under Interior’s plan, future geothermal leasing will be subject to all existing laws, regulations and orders, as well as stipulations and terms and conditions. To protect special resource values, the plan identifies a comprehensive list of stipulations, conditions of approval and best management practices required for approval of future leases.

Lands withdrawn from, or administratively closed to geothermal leasing will remain so. For example, lands within a unit of the National Park System, such as Yellowstone National Park, will continue to be unavailable for leasing. The PEIS also excludes wilderness areas and wilderness study areas from analysis. It will allow discretionary closure of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern where the BLM determines that this is appropriate. The BLM may also implement discretionary closures of units of the National Landscape Conservation System.

In addition to laying the foundation for environmental analysis of future geothermal leasing, the plan also provides site-specific environmental analysis of 19 pending geothermal lease applications in seven geographic locations. These leases were filed before Jan. 1, 2005 for specific lands in Alaska, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington managed by the Forest Service or BLM. Decisions on the issuance of these 19 leases could proceed as soon as the Record of Decision is signed which is planned for December 2008. BLM and the U.S. Forest Service will publish the final version of a plan in the Federal Register on Friday, October 24, 2008.

The governors of the 12 states in the plan’s project area (AK, NV, UT, AZ, WY, ID, NM, MT, CO, WA, OR, & CA) will each have the opportunity to review the final document to ensure consistency with state plans, programs, and policies. BLM will wait until the end of the Governor’s consistency review period before signing and issuing the Record of Decision approving the land use plan amendments. Any inconsistencies will be resolved before a Record of Decision is issued. A total of 29 geothermal power plants currently operate on BLM lands in California, Nevada and Utah, with a total generating capacity of 1,250 megawatts.

Access a release from DOI (click here). Access the Geothermal PEIS website for complete information and link to the final PEIS (click here). [*Energy]