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December 12, 2009

Obama's Geothermal Pipe Dream

The Obama Administration (with an assist from Professor Al "Millions of Degrees" Gore) trumpeted the benefits of green geothermal energy and then spent millions. What happened? The same thing that always happens when environmental zealots have to deal with the real world:

The company in charge of a California project to extract vast amounts of renewable energy from deep, hot bedrock has removed its drill rig and informed federal officials that the government project will be abandoned.

The project by the company, AltaRock Energy, was the Obama administration’s first major test of geothermal energy as a significant alternative to fossil fuels and the project was being financed with federal Department of Energy money at a site about 100 miles north of San Francisco called the Geysers.

But on Friday, the Energy Department said that AltaRock had given notice this week that “it will not be continuing work at the Geysers” as part of the agency’s geothermal development program.

It turns out that there are substantial difficulties involved with this type of geothermal tech. And not just mechanical. Apparently it can cause earthquakes.

Geothermal enthusiasts asserted that drilling miles into hard rock, as required by the technique, could be done quickly and economically with small improvements in existing methods, Professor Schrag said. “What we’ve discovered is that it’s harder to make those improvements than some people believed,” he added.

In fact, AltaRock immediately ran into snags with its drilling, repeatedly snapping off bits in shallow formations called caprock. The project’s safety was also under review at the Energy Department after federal officials said the company had not been entirely forthcoming about the earthquakes produced in Basel in making the case for the Geysers project.

AltaRock was also given $25 million to develop another geothermal site in Oregon. But nobody seems to know what's going on there:

Not even the power agency has been informed of AltaRock’s ultimate intentions at the site, said Murray Grande, who is in charge of geothermal facilities for the agency.

“They just probably gave up, but we don’t know,” Mr. Grande said. “We have nothing official from them at all.”

There's that famed Obama Administration transparency to go with its proclaimed devotion to green technology.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 04:53 PM

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