Geothermal market poised to erupt

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Wind and solar power have been growing rapidly in the U.S.

, but the next few years will see geothermal power awaken from its dormant state to become the fastest growing renewable resource.

The federal government is driving much of the renewed interest in geothermal through loans, research funding, and streamlining the permitting process.

President Obama recently announced $350 million investment in geothermal energy, as reported by the Environment News Service. "The program we're announcing will help accelerate this process, here, and across America. This will create more jobs, it will create more businesses, and more affordable electricity for the American people," said Obama.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service are working together to streamline permitting for new geothermal projects on federal lands. The BLM has also opened four new offices in the west, where most of the geothermal power is located.

Geothermal has the advantages over wind in that it doesn't great alter the visible landscape, and power generation is much more consistent than intermittent wind power. However, wind power generation in the U.S. nearly doubled between 2005 to 2007, while geothermal power has been stagnant, producing slightly less power in 2007 than in 1997.

In 2001, we produced twice as much geothermal power as wind, but now it's half of wind power.

The companies that produce renewable power will greatly benefit from the government's financial support. U.S. Geothermal just announced that the DOE is reviewing its application for an $85 million loan to build a geothermal plant Neal Hot Springs project in eastern Oregon.

Geothermal company Raser Technologies is using the momentum to obtain money to grow. The company registered with the SEC to offer securities to raise up to $150 million.

The expansion of geothermal won't happen overnight as research is needed to improve the technology so that it can be cost competitive in more locations. As part of the geothermal energy package, the Obama administration has allocated $80 million for research. Also, it can take up to several years to site, receive the necessary permits, and build the power plants. So look for things to really heat up in 2011.


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