Experts See Geothermal Resource
by Associated Press
IDAHO FALLS -- Experts believe power from subterranean hot water deposits around the state could play a major role in meeting the electricity demands Idaho's future growth will place on its hydropower system.
"It will be interesting to see what happens in Idaho in the next few years," said Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association trade organization based in Washington, D.C.
"The hydropower has been great for the state, but in recent years it's caused a lot of problems," Gawell said. "Idaho has found a need to develop a more diversified electricity base."
Idaho Power Co., the state's largest utility, has included 100 megawatts of geothermal power in its long-range energy management plan, recognizing what spokesman Russ Jones said will be persistent growth on a system limited in its capacity by water resources. That resource has been hit hard by five straight years of drought.
A company in southern Idaho believes it is ready to make sure Idaho Power gets that geothermal electricity.
Idatherm, based in Oakley, is looking for financing for its plan to harness deposits of 480-degree water in southern Bonneville and northern Bingham counties.
Carl Austin, the company's exploration manager, said six or more wells in the area would produce 100 megawatts, enough electricity to power the homes in the city of Idaho Falls and more.
The resource has gone undeveloped since a company drilling for oil in the area 30 years ago discovered the geothermal deposit.
Another geothermal project by U.S. Geothermal Inc. near Malta in southeastern Idaho is awaiting regulatory approval of its deal to sell any power to Idaho Power Co.
Based on surface studies, engineers believe there are as many as four other viable development sites in the state. Geothermal resources are already generating power in California, Nevada and Hawaii.
Jim Nelson, an agricultural economist at the University of Idaho, thinks geothermal resources, already used to heat much of the state government complex in Boise and nearby homes, have the potential to bring jobs and cash to rural parts of the state as well as provide an alternative to hydropower and electricity generated from coal, oil or natural gas.
"As growth takes place and we need more power," Nelson said, "it's going to have to come from somewhere else."
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