February 07, 2007
Wind energy followup, and geothermal leases

I got some good comments to this post about wind farms, specifically addressing the issue of danger to birds. From that, I gather that the peril is fairly small. I particularly like this quote from John Flicker of the Audubon Society:

"If we don't find ways to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions, far more birds - and people - will be threatened by global warming than by wind turbines."

That's an admirably practical way of looking at it. My thanks to P.M. Bryant for finding that.

In other alternate energy news, I received a press release from the General Land Office regarding some new geothermal leases off the Gulf coast. You can see a map of the locations here. As with the wind farms, I don't really know enough about this to make a value judgment, but in the absence of anything terrible, my general feeling is that having more non-greenhouse energy sources is a Good Thing. Feel free to enlighten me in the comments if I'm way off base here. And click on for the release.

Texas General Land Office Jerry Patterson, Commissioner

Land Office awards Texas' first geothermal lease
Coastal tracts of land in seven counties went to highest bidder

AUSTIN - Texas reinforced its status as the nation's new frontier for renewable energy today, awarding the state's first lease for geothermal energy production.

Nevada-based geothermal industry leader, Ormat (NYSE: "ORA"), had the high bids Tuesday for six tracts of coastal land in seven counties totaling more than 11,000 acres. The lease allows Ormat to explore the potential of the land's geothermal resources and produce geothermal power from the tracts.

"Texas is hot for geothermal energy," said Jerry Patterson, Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office. "At the Land Office, renewable energy means renewable revenue for the schoolchildren of Texas."

Geothermal energy provides a steady, reliable power source that doesn't create any carbon dioxide, and its "fuel" * the earth's natural heat * is unlimited.

Ormat paid $55,645 to lease the submerged land for an average of about $5 an acre, or more than twice the minimum bid of $2 an acre. In addition to the lease bonus, the Texas Permanent School Fund will earn 10 percent of any electricity produced from the geothermal leases.

Multiple bids received for the land ensured that the bidding process was very competitive, Patterson said. "We got more bids than we expected," he added. "I think that's a good sign geothermal might just be an economically viable form of renewable energy for Texas."

The tracts of land range from 1,174 acres to 2,480 acres and are along the coast in Jefferson, Galveston, Chambers, Calhoun, Jackson, Nueces and Kleberg counties.

Geothermal energy is heat energy from the earth's molten interior. Heat can be brought to the surface from movements in the Earth's crust or by deep circulation of groundwater, which forms reservoirs of hot water under pressure.

Texas isn't exactly known as a geothermal hot spot like Hawaii or California, which sit on the volatile Pacific Rim. But relatively new technologies, such as binary power plants, are primed to take advantage of Texas' medium-heat geothermal potential.

Binary power plants take hot water from an underground reservoir and use it to heat a secondary fluid with a lower boiling point. The resulting vapors can drive a turbine and create electricity.

That electricity can then be sent to the power grid and used to power homes, businesses or industry. Much as with oil and gas leases, the Texas General Land Office would make money from a royalty, or a percentage of the energy production, from any geothermal lease.

"There's no way to tell what the potential is until private industry invests its capital to find out," Patterson said.

Since 1854, the Land Office has deposited more than $9 billion into the state's Permanent School Fund, mostly from oil and gas production on state lands. But oil and gas production in Texas peaked in 1971. Since taking office in 2003, Patterson has aggressively sought new sources of income for the Permanent School Fund.

Patterson made history in 2005 when he signed the nation's first lease for offshore wind power. In 2006, he signed the nation's second * and biggest * lease for offshore wind energy development. All proceeds from lease sales, as well as a percentage of proceeds from energy produced from them, goes into the state's Permanent School Fund, which helps pay for the state's share of public education.

Ormat is a publicly traded company with about 70 U.S. patents and has geothermal projects operating in more than 20 countries worldwide. Ormat power plants are producing clean, renewable energy in New Zealand, the Philippines, Mexico, Iceland and Kenya, as well as in Nevada, California and Hawaii. Ormat has manufactured and supplied geothermal power plants that produce more than 800 MW.

Ormat isn't new to Texas, either. It provided the power plant technology used in the El Paso solar pond project in the 1980s. In that project, an Ormat Rankine cycle unit operated for 16 years at temperatures as low as 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Ormat is very pleased to return to Texas to explore and develop its geothermal potential," said Lucien Bronicki, chairman and chief technology officer.

Bronicki explained the company has made improvements to its organic Rankine cycle technology, which allows for electricity production at lower temperatures, and is using it to provide about 900 MW worldwide.

"These leases provide Ormat the opportunity to capitalize on low temperatures associated with geothermal water in oil and gas wells, for which Ormat has field-proven technology," Bronicki said.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 07, 2007 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack