The weekend saw the local Oregon press let loose with the news that the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries has issued three geothermal drilling permits so far in 2008 with another application in processing. These are the first geothermal permits seen in more than 10 years. Bob Houston, Oregon State Geologist says, “(these) signal a new push for geothermal power driven by increasing demand for clean renewable energy.”

Projects in the past have been floated, but this time the drills are turning downhole. The rising costs of other power sources and the improved technology allows plants to produce power from lower temperature geothermal reservoirs than before. The three new permits are spread over three companies. The U.S. Congressional failure to extend the tax breaks for renewable energy has clouded the financing, but not so much as to stop the companies from proceeding.

Newbery Crater Lease Map

The location most sought after is in the hot springs areas. The first is in eastern Oregon close to Bend in the Newberry Crater zone. Connecticut based Davenport Power has permitting for 2 wells and a contract with California’s Pacific Gas and Electric to sell 120 megawatts annually from the project.

US Geothermal Neal Hot Springs Site

The second is on private land west of Vale near the Idaho border at Neal Hot Springs. Here U.S. Geothermal of Boise has permitted for one well with three more planned should the first well’s results justify further investment. The design offers 26 megawatts of productive capacity.

Next is the Raser Technologies’ of Provo Utah (a great web site) plan for a 10-megawatt plant in Klamath County. The plan is expecting to start construction and complete in about 18 months. This project is in front of what the company seeks by leasing 73,000 acres from International Paper in Oregon for exploration and development.

On a smaller scale is the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls that is proposing a geothermal plant for the campus. The installation is scaled to cover the whole of the campus energy needs. It’s a project of the Institute’s Geo-Heat Center headed by John Lund. The plan is to drill late spring at a cost of $2.5 million with a plant for another $2.5 million. The well and plant would offset a current electric bill of $500,000 annually and would have excess power to sell, too.

Late in the 1970s Chevron hit hot water at Neal Hot Springs with a geyser 60 feet high that ran for six weeks. The thought at the time was the water was about 300 degrees at depth. That was too cool for dry steam.

Binary Geothermal System Schematic

But modern power plants designs use the hot water to heat another working fluid that turns to a vapor at lower temperatures. The working fluid in turn then drives a generator, cools and is reheated again in an endless recycling loop. The process is much the same as a heat pump or an air conditioner working in reverse.

Raser Technologies’ Richard Putman says, “Its not a matter of finding somebody to buy the power its how much they’re willing to pay for it.” Thus, the concern about the Congress dropping the ball on the renewable energy bill so not solidifying the economics where the investment and prices can be fixed is clear.

Davenport Power’s project is underway past 300 feet on the way to a projected depth of 10,000 feet. With an early stick at 294 feet, and the drill freed up the optimism is back. Davenport is exploring for hot water in rocks that have fractures, which would provide water volumes to drive power plants. The goal is to find steam, but hot water will do. At a 17-inch bore, the hole will be large enough to accommodate either result. The other facet of the drilling is the continuous testing of the rock fragments that come out.

They’re looking for temperatures and drilling rates. High temperatures are what the hunt is about and high drilling rates can mean fractured rock below. The cost could get to $7 million for a test well in this location and at these depths.

Oregon is one of the top locations for geothermal development. Ranked third by the Western Governor’s Association for geothermal sites that can be developed near term the renaissance is welcome. The Governor’s Association estimates that geothermal in sites like these could generate over 20% of Oregon’s power as soon as 2025.

With seemingly high fronted investment costs and no fuel expense, and very low operating costs geothermal offers quite an opportunity. The lessons learned in Oregon with a variety of hot reservoirs and temperatures will give more working experience about how geothermal might expand further. Lets hope they all find an abundance of hot water and steam.


1 Comment so far

  1. Tax » Bits Hit the Rock In Oregon Geothermal Plays on April 22, 2008 9:01 AM

    […] New Energy and Fuel wrote an interesting post today on Bits Hit the Rock In Oregon Geothermal PlaysHere’s a quick excerptThe U. S. Congressional failure to extend the tax breaks for renewable energy has clouded the financing, but not so much as to stop the companies from proceeding…. […]

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