Spotlight on Oregon's geothermal potential

State seen as having lots of untapped energy

On Tuesday, the Geothermal Energy Association will release its annual "state of the industry" report in Washington, D.C., and Oregon could figure prominently in the future of geothermal power in the West.

Geothermal power accounts for less than 4 percent of the nation's energy, but the geothermal industry says that's changing -- and Oregon is part of the picture.

In the past year, the report said, geothermal growth was up 5 percent nationwide, and plants are online in nine Western states -- including Oregon.

California is still the leader by far, with more geothermal capacity than any other state or country. Bill Glassley, who heads the California Geothermal Energy Collaborative, said Oregon could be a contender, too.

"The potential in Oregon is huge, and so little is developed," said Glassley. "They're talking about probably around 540 megawatts of electrical power generation that could be produced. That's a lot -- and that's just the identified resource."

Glassley said another 2,000 megawatts of untapped power is likely available in Oregon, and that hasn't even been explored.

Oregon's major challenge is that the geothermal resources are mostly in remote areas where transmission capability is limited, he added.

The GEA is touting new technologies for finding and using geothermal resources, which Glassley said could address the uncertainties that have held back major development to date.

"The upfront costs are high for exploration and drilling," he explained, "and the risks are high, in terms of not hitting the resource that you want when you punch a hole in the ground. So a lot of the research going forward right now is trying to reduce that upfront cost."

Some of the new methods are based on oil and gas drilling technology and come with concerns about their potential environmental impact.

However, Elise Brown, associate director of the California Geothermal Energy Collaborative, said geothermal power is one answer to critics' charges that renewable energy is unreliable when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine.

"One of the best things about geothermal is, it can replace a coal plant, operating as a baseload resource -- but it can also operate as a peaking plant," she said. "It can be built to serve the variability of solar and wind."

Oregon has more than a dozen geothermal projects online or in development, but less than 1 megawatt of power is being generated. California has more than 2,700 megawatts of installed geothermal capacity, and Nevada is the runner-up, with about 500 megawatts.

The GEA report will be posted after Tuesday's briefing at

Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service provided this report.

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