The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is conducting a Dec. 19 competitive lease sale for geothermal energy development on 61 parcels totaling nearly 200,000 acres in Utah, Oregon and Idaho. The event will be held in Salt Lake City to lease 47 parcels in western and southwestern Utah, totaling 146,339 acres; 11 parcels in Oregon, totaling 41,362 acres; and three parcels in south central Idaho, totaling 8,676 acres.

Idaho’s first geothermal plant, Raft River, began operation this year.
Photo: Ormat Technologies Inc.
Idaho’s first geothermal plant, Raft River, began operation this year.

Utah has only two geothermal powerplants, totaling 47 MW, but it has 1,440 MW of developable potential, reports the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Boise-based U.S. Geothermal’s 13-MW Raft River plant, Idaho’s first geothermal plant, began commercial service in January, and there are no plants in Oregon.

“I think the time is right for this type of development over the long term, with growing concerns over climate change and clean-energy technologies,” says Robert Blackett, a geothermal specialist with the Utah Geological Survey. “The renewable energy resources being developed in Utah are being sold at premium prices to places like California that mandate clean energy technology.”

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Boulder, Colo., reports there are approximately 150,000 MW of identified and unidentified shallow geothermal resources, enough to meet approximately one-third of U.S. electrical demand. Yet only 2,936 MW of installed geothermal capacity operates in six western states.

“With renewable portfolio standards, there has been a tremendous interest in geothermal. I would suspect that opening up that area would indeed open it up to work,” says Al Knapp, principal of Crosswired LLC, a Kansas City-based energy consultant. “I suspect there is a substantial amount of untapped [geothermal] resources. Geothermal is much more constant and much more reliable, unless you have a major earthquake. It’s not as finicky as whether the winds blows or the sun shines.”