Fast forward

Nevada is power-hungry for geothermal

Steven Seigal, right, of the Nevada Department of Wildlife chats with a National Geothermal Summit participant following a panel about public lands and geothermal development.

Steven Seigal, right, of the Nevada Department of Wildlife chats with a National Geothermal Summit participant following a panel about public lands and geothermal development.

Photo By kat kerlin

Geothermal wants to come out ahead—ahead of fossil fuels, yes, but also ahead of solar and wind. And the industry doesn’t want to lose its window of opportunity. That became apparent during the National Geothermal Summit held in Reno last week, attended by hundreds in the industry.

“A year ago, there was an incredible euphoria about renewables and Obama coming into office,” said panelist Keith Martin, a lawyer and policy lobbyist from Washington, D.C. “A year is a long time.”

The industry wants tax abatements, credits, incentives, and loan programs. It wants regulatory and permitting processes streamlined. It wants new transmission lines built to carry all of this geothermal energy to places that don’t have it. And it’d be nice if the sage grouse and conservationists would give them wide berth to do so. Proposals for these issues are in the works. Nevada, considered the fastest-developing state for geothermal energy, already has some of these incentives and is poised to benefit from others. The industry wants it fast, but it may not get it all.

“I don’t see transmission on the legislative agenda this year at all,” said Jonathan Weisgall of MidAmerican Company.

But let’s say it is on the national agenda. Private enterprise is stepping up to partly fund transmission lines that would connect renewable energy sources to energy users. NV Energy, for one, has a Renewable Transmission Initiative in the works. But what kind of government oversight should go along with these efforts to avoid a piecemeal approach to transmission?

Keynote speaker and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Jon Wellinghoff plugged FERC’s Order Number 1000, a complex proposal intended to prioritize transmission lines for renewable energy, streamline planning and clarify rules regarding who pays for what.

One popular solution is that whoever uses the energy should pay for it. If California, for example, wants Nevada’s renewable energy, California should pay for the transmission line, is one view. But would that financially penalize states with higher renewable portfolio standards? Should states that want more renewable energy have to fund the nation’s new transmission system because other states are content with coal and natural gas?

While the public supports the idea of renewable energy, it supports low prices even more. At what point does domestic development of energy—and the jobs that come with it—trump the importation of cheaper energy?

Meanwhile, an estimated 3,000 megawatts of geothermal energy sit beneath Nevada’s surface—nearly enough to power the state. And while progress never happens fast enough, it is happening.

“To date, no geothermal project in the state of Nevada has ever been denied,” said Steven Seigal of the Nevada Department of Wildlife. However, if the sage grouse, whose habitat overlaps much of the area thought to contain geothermal energy, were ever listed as an endangered species, as has been discussed, “I don’t think I could make that statement again,” he said. Wildlife habitat is just one of many issues the industry grapples with as it moves forward.

“That’s the trick we’re having to deal with,” said panelist Rich Halvey of Western Governor’s Association. “Coming to the recognition it is global, and everyone has something they want to get out of it.”