Geothermal energy: What’s happening in California?

Lawmakers are looking at decisions in California that affect the geothermal industry.

California: Measure Addressing Geothermal at the Salton Sea Moves Forward
California: CEC to Look at Salton Sea Transmission Needs
California: Utilities Sponsor Study on Potential Increased RPS

California: Measure Addressing Geothermal at the Salton Sea Moves Forward
By Ben Matek, GEA staff ~ On January 13, bill A.B. 177 by Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez was heard in the Assembly Committee on Utilities & Commerce and was amended by a 9-4 vote. On January 18 it was again amended and approved by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee by a 5-1 vote. GEA has followed this bill for some time; the original bill lays out many of the provisions and guidelines for renewable energy development in California, such as its 33% RPS by 2020 requirement. The latest version amends provisions referring to the Salton Sea Area and specifically geothermal power development.

The Imperial Irrigation District announced in October it would seek 1700 MW of geothermal power as part of its Salton Sea restoration. The thought is that the new renewable energy development will help control detrimental air quality pollution from the newly exposed lake bed as the Salton Sea recedes. The Salton Sea area has been known for some time as a large geothermal resource, and it’s not a lack of knowledge about the geothermal resource that has delayed development in recent years.

A key barrier to geothermal power generation in Imperial Valley is a shortage of transmission capacity to carry it to other parts of the west. Thankfully, A.B. 177 includes language to “Consider methods to expedite transmission line development from the Imperial Irrigation District balancing authority area to utilities and regional independent system operators.” As developers in the region often explain, the slow permitting process is another key barrier for further development. So, more good news for geothermal power is language to “Analyze the feasibility of granting blanket permits to multiple geothermal project developments located near or under the existing Salton Sea.”

Click here for a related editorial Desert Sun ran this week called “Our Voice: Geothermal power must be part of the energy mix.”

California: CEC to Look at Salton Sea Transmission Needs
California Energy Commission (CEC) has issued a new Integrated Energy Policy Report. The report included positive discussion and initiatives for the advancement of geothermal heat pumps, while geothermal power generation was reported as a limited technology. But the CEC did provide discussion on looking at barriers to geothermal development in the Salton Sea area, including overcoming transmission issues. According to the report: “The Energy Commission will focus on planning for renewable energy development in the San Joaquin Valley and other areas of the state . . . the Energy Commission will continue to evaluate the barriers to renewable energy development at the Salton Sea. This evaluation includes, but is not limited to, the concerns of geothermal developers and the need for transmission in the Salton Sea area. As agency and stakeholder resources become available, it may be possible to initiate foundational work on renewable energy generation and associated transmission facility development.”

California: Utilities Sponsor Study on Potential Increased RPS
A new E3 report, “Investigating a Higher Renewables Portfolio Standard in California” (PDF) was commissioned by five top utilities in California and evaluates challenges, solutions, and consequences of potentially increasing California’s RPS beyond 33% by 2030. The study analyzes four alternative scenarios for achieving a 50% RPS by 2030, and findings showed that the best alternative was the “Diverse Scenario,” which included the most geothermal generation and the greatest renewable power diversity.

The study also shows that coordination is key. “Achievement of a higher RPS at least cost to electric customer will likely require implementation of a portfolio of integration solutions; timely implementation of these solutions is critical but would likely involve substantial challenges related to cost, feasibility, and siting,” according to the report. Utility sponsors were: Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, San Diego Gas & Electric Company, and Southern California Edison Company.

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