New U.S. legislatorial effort to help streamline geothermal permitting

New U.S. legislatorial effort to help streamline geothermal permitting McGinness Hills geothermal power plant, Jersey Valley, Nevada (source: flickr/ BLM Nevada, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 26 Sep 2021

New legislation effort made in the U.S. that aims to streamline the federal permitting process for geothermal project development on federal land.

In honor of Clean Energy Week,U.S. Senator Jim Risch and Congressman Russ Fulcher (both R-Idaho) this week introduced bicameral legislation to streamline the discovery and permitting process for geothermal energy projects. The Enhancing Geothermal Production on Federal Lands Act will bring geothermal to parity with oil and gas exploration on public lands.

“Geothermal energy holds great potential in Idaho and across the West, but unfortunately, the geothermal permitting process is drowning in red tape,” said Risch. “This bill with my friend and colleague, Russ, will streamline current processes so that this clean, reliable and low-cost energy source can be fully realized.”

“I am excited to be introducing this bill alongside my Idaho colleague Senator Jim Risch,” said Fulcher. “Federal regulations should not discourage geothermal exploration in Idaho, and this bill has been designed to alleviate the currently long and burdensome processes  opening up new opportunities to harness this clean energy in our state and across the country.”

“As we work to reduce emissions, it’s important that we take advantage of every homegrown clean energy source-including geothermal power,” said Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Executive Director Heather Reams. “Thank you to Congressman Fulcher, Senator Risch, and Ranking Member Westerman for their leadership in introducing this bill, which will implement a more efficient and cost-effective process to explore for geothermal energy so America can develop more clean baseload generation, here at home, ensuring a more sustainable, reliable electric grid.”

“The Enhancing Geothermal Production on Federal Lands Act will streamline the federal permitting process, unleashing the nation’s geothermal potential,” said Paul Thomsen, Vice President, Ormat Technologies & Chairman, Geothermal Rising Policy Committee. “This bill will allow Idaho to continue as a leader in geothermal production and further develop its indigenous renewable resources.”

Background: With 90 percent of viable geothermal resources located on federally managed lands, almost all geothermal projects are subject to the NEPA review process. Currently, most geothermal exploration wells require an Environmental Assessment (EA) to be filed before exploration begins. This EA process for geothermal projects averages 10 months, meaning interested parties must wait nearly a year to determine if a viable geothermal resource even exists.

The Enhancing Geothermal Production on Federal Lands Act will alleviate this burdensome process by:

  • Creating a limited categorical exclusion for geothermal exploration activities on federal lands so that companies can mitigate the risk of investing the high up-front capital costs that geothermal development requires.
    • The categorical exclusion mirrors the categorical exclusion currently available to oil and gas exploration wells.
  • Requiring the Secretary of the Interior to identify priority areas for geothermal development on federal lands within 5 years of the enactment of the bill.

Note: With the unclear situation on legislatorial efforts and their likeliness of success we normally refrain from commenting on legislation drafts in the U.S., but the interesting part here is the seemingly constructive approach to tackle a lengthy permitting process, a key issue for current geothermal development on federal land in the U.S.

Source:  Website of Senator James E. Risch