Chron: Bipartisan legislation seeks to expand geothermal energy

A top ranking Republican and Democrat have introduced legislation to speed up the development of power plants powered by underground hot springs.

The bipartisan effort comes as politicians look to expand America's geothermal sector, which has largely languished to date, to help reduce reliance on fossil fuels and combat climate change.

"Geothermal is a highly reliable, zero-emission resource able to provide both heat and power almost anywhere,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and co-author of the bill.

The bill, introduced Wednesday, would expand research into the energy technology and make changes to the permitting process for plants, which must be located above hot water reservoirs with temperatures reaching as high as 700 degrees.

According to a 2011 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States has such reservoirs in abundance, primarily in the western half of the country, including some in eastern and South Texas.

But high costs drive away many developers. Right now U.S. geothermal capacity is only 2,600 megawatts, or .2 percent of the power grid, with most of those facilities located in California.

The Department of Energy estimates that with government intervention by 2050 the United States could have 60,000 megawatts of geothermal capacity.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V, ranking member on the energy committee and co-author of the bill, said the bill would support research that seeks to, "identify and explore deeper or lower temperature resources and illustrate that geothermal can work anywhere."

By:  James Osborne
Source: Chron