Re-awakening interest in geothermal energy in Alaska?

Re-awakening interest in geothermal energy in Alaska? Mount Spurr, Alaska (source: USGS, wikimedia commons)
Alexander Richter 22 May 2021

With a concrete project under development at Unalaska and increased interest in development at Mount Spurr, geothermal gets more attention in Alaska.

There is awakening interest in geothermal development in the State of Alaska. Apart from the planned geothermal project in Unalaska, and a recent non competitive license issued at Mount Spurr, there seems to be going on a bit more, as reported locally.

There are reportedly two companies looking concretely on tapping the geothermal potential at Mount Spurr in the state. They are awaiting a final approval from the state to then be able for exploration activities on the south side of Mount Spurr.

The companies are GeoAlaska and Raser Power Systems. The story of geothermal at Mount Spurr goes back to the 1980s when the first geothermal lease sale was held. The challenge has been to concretely identify where the resources are located. Mount Spurr is an active volcano with no concrete surface expressions.

Ormat Technologies had a lease and tried to locate resources, but handed the leases back when it could not locate the resources.

City view of Unalaska, Alaska (source: flickr/ umnak, creative commons)

There is concrete interest by the administration of Governor Mike Dunleavy to increase the sizes of allowable leasing for geothermal exploration by new legislation being introduced.

Alaska is a rather interesting location for geothermal. Sitting on the lines of the Pacific Ring of Fire, having active volcanoes and high energy costs, geothermal energy is an interesting option. Challenge often seem to be the remote locations, and the scale of the often rather small communities. But with power prices often beyond $0.30/ kWh, geothermal is a very attractive option, last but not least in the opportunity of pairing it with heat use.

How well this works is shown by the small geothermal power plant and heating at Chena Hot Springs. The operator and master mind behind that project/ plant is now also the driver behind the planned development in Unalaska.

Gwen Holdmann, Director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power in Fairbanks, Alaska was involved in the development of the Chena Hot Springs project and been a great advocate for geothermal energy in the state. Another big advocate for geothermal development in Alaska is Senator Lisa Murkowski.

In the local article, Gwen Holdmann describes regulatory hurdles for development, among others through restrictions imposed by the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

In any way, any concrete potentially serious development might be still years away.

Source: Alaska Public