Written by U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador
Idaho is rich in geothermal energy, a clean and reliable source with great long-term potential. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that the energy content of America’s geothermal resource is equivalent to a staggering 30,000-year supply.
Of course all the natural heat under Earth’s surface can’t be reached, but DOE says geothermal has the potential to power to up to 100 million American homes. Geothermal is especially valuable because it provides baseload electricity more reliable than other renewables, like solar and wind.
Ninety percent of the commercially viable geothermal resources exist on federal lands, mostly in western states. But because of regulatory hurdles, the resource hasn’t reached its potential. That’s why I have introduced H.R. 4568, the Enhancing Geothermal Production on Federal Lands Act, which passed the House Natural Resources Committee on a bipartisan voice vote this week.
My bill will accelerate production by clearing away unnecessary and duplicative environmental review during exploration. Waiting times for regulatory approval of exploratory wells would be reduced from about 10 months to two months by granting a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act for small test holes. Similar provisions are already working in oil and gas exploration.
The bill also permits coproduction of geothermal resources on lands leased for oil and gas; requires the government to identify priority areas for geothermal development; and authorizes noncompetitive, fair market value leasing by an existing leaseholder on adjoining lands. The leasing provision is drawn from H.R. 4252, introduced by my colleague, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.
The Idaho National Lab has long been a leader in geothermal research. The INL helped develop the Raft River area in the 1970s, pioneering the concept of binary power cycles that is now the worldwide standard for plant efficiency. Today, INL continues to work on next-generation geothermal technology.
Another geothermal leader in Idaho is U.S. Geothermal Inc. of Boise, which sells electricity to Idaho Power Co. from a $60 million plant at Raft River and a $130 million plant near Vale, Ore. The company also operates in Nevada and California.
Douglas Glaspey, interim CEO of U.S. Geothermal, says H.R. 4568 will “provide a catalyst for growth in the geothermal industry.” The Geothermal Energy Association says the bill will allow the industry “to deploy more megawatts on public lands, creating new jobs and royalty revenues for our local states and counties.”
At a November Natural Resources Committee hearing, U.S. Geothermal’s permitting and lands manager, Scott Nichols, testified that some wells undergo as many as seven environmental analyses. After test drilling under my bill, Nichols said at least two environmental analyses still will be required in order to safeguard the environment.
I’ve been working on this issue since my first year in Congress, 2011. An earlier version of the legislation passed the House with bipartisan support in 2012. We are now poised to unleash geothermal development by removing overly burdensome regulations, without sacrificing environmental protections.
Regulatory relief has been overlooked as a major accomplishment of Congress and the Trump Administration in 2017. This latest step will stimulate economic growth in both Idaho and the nation. It also will strengthen national security by reducing our reliance on foreign energy. The time has come to spur development of home-grown, abundant, and clean geothermal energy for generations to come.
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