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Monday, February 19, 2007

Get Steamed: Congress Should Restore Geothermal R&D Funding

[An editorial from the Salt Lake Tribune:]

They don't require the damming of free-flowing rivers. They don't emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. They don't produce nuclear waste, create the potential for a disastrous accident or pose a terrorist threat.

Geothermal power plants, by tapping the underground heat of the Earth and converting it to electricity, provide one of the cleanest, safest sources of renewable energy. And Utah is a prime location for geothermal energy development.

We're sitting on a gold mine, folks, a gold mine of hot water, steam, magma and super-heated bedrock. Some day, if we're willing to make the investment in research and development to allow it to be tapped in a profitable manner, geothermal energy could contribute mightily to our nation's energy supply.

And while the Bush administration acknowledged that fact by extending production tax credits for geothermal power plants through 2008, it is attempting to eliminate geothermal research funding for the second year in a row. The budget cut equates to $25 million, just a drop in the $2.9 trillion budget bucket for fiscal 2008. Last year, Congress had the sense to restore the funding, and we're hoping for a repeat performance.

The administration has its reasons, none of them valid. Craig Stevens, chief spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy, says geothermal energy production is a "mature technology," and the power industry
Advertisement should be able to take it from here.

Yet geothermal power plants provide just a fraction, less than 1 percent, of the nation's electricity. That doesn't sound like a mature industry to us. Plants, wells and pipelines are expensive to build. It can cost $110 million for a 50-megawatt plant to serve 50,000 people. And they're expensive to operate. Corrosive water can foul turbines, reservoirs must be managed, sludge must be disposed of.

More research is needed to make the process profitable, and the DOE's Geothermal Technologies Program has a lot of toes in the water. Federal researchers have been working hard to help solve the industry's problems, from plant operations to site exploration. Karl Galwell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association, said the research dollars will pay dividends.

We agree. Researchers are sure to hit some gushers. If Congress fails to restore the research funding, we should all be steamed.

Geothermal power plants provide one of the cleanest, safest sources of renewable energy on Earth.

Well said

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