Geothermal Energy Development: Problems and Prospects in the Imperial Valley of California

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Berberich cautioned that while more solar projects could result from the settlement, geothermal development isn't a guarantee. But to the extent I can use my influence to help Kevin bring geothermal to the attention of those that do, we did that," Berberich said, referring to IID general manager Kevin Kelley. IID officials have long feared a takeover attempt by the state grid operator, even though CAISO has insisted it has no designs on the public power agency.

Imperial and Coachella valley residents pay some of the lowest electricity rates in the state, and IID officials say those rates would rise if the agency was forced to join the CAISO system. Supporters, including Gov. But opponents fear it would cede control of California's energy mix to lawmakers in coal-friendly Utah and Wyoming, who could then force California to accept their dirty electricity exports. He told IID's board of directors on Tuesday that a settlement would be officially announced this week.

The grid operator still supports Brown's plan for a regional power grid, which IID's board of directors opposes. But the board rejected that idea. It's not acceptable," Kuhn said. Recently, however, a group of eight northern California cities, members of the Northern California Power Agency, announced plans to undertake a develop- ment program to ultimately produce MWe of generating capacity in the Lake County portion of The Geysers. The Geysers land is owned by federal, state, and local interests.

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Leaseholds have been acquired by firms that wish to search for and develop geotbermal steam. These firms generally own easements and limited surf ace rights sufficient to developgeothermal resources. Leases on these lands were issued in July Pursuant to the Stock Raising Homestead Act of , the federal government holds mineral rights on an additional 14, acres within The Geysers. However, whether these mineral rights extend to geothermal steam is not legally clear.

The federal government also owns lands adjacent to The Geysers that may be valuable for geothermal steam production.

To date, a total of more than wells have been drilled at The Geysers and all but about W have produced steam. While the steam originally was found at depths of less than 1, feet, the increased need for steam to generate power has necessitated drilling to greater depths. Maximum well depth is now over 9, feet; average production depth is 6,,feet, Generating units in use at The Geysers are relatively small; an average site provides MWe. About 15 to 20 wells are required to support a MWe generating unit. As individual well pressure decreases, new wells must he drilled to maintain an adequate steam supply to the turbines.

The average lifetime of a well is expected to be 15 years. Seventy-five wells now produce steam for 11 turbines, producing more than MWe. The field is believed to be as extensive as square miles km3 and capable of supplying as much as 10 times the current generating capacity.

If this scale of development comes about, approximately 45 generating units will be functioning, supplied by 6 75 geothermal wells.

California could get more solar, geothermal power from Imperial Valley following lawsuit

Hardt, and W. Movie, Jr. It is part of a large structural basin that extends from the Coachella Valley to the Gulf of California, and south to the Mexicali basin in Mexico. The entire depression is called the Salton Trough and is filled with clay, silt, and sand deposited by the Colorado River as part of the delta created over many hundreds of thousands of years see Figure This trough contains a thick layer of water-saturated sediment as much as 20, feet , which in turn overlies a heat flow anomaly. Here heat flows range from 4 to 10 times the average gradient of the earth.

The combination of the ex- tensive body of porous, water-bearing rock and the high heat flows have created a series of related hydrothermal convection reservoirs, causing the Imperial Valley to be regarded as the first opportunity for the commercial development of a hot-water system. The potential of the geothermal resource has been estimated at 10 to 15 million acre-feet of geothermal brine per year, and 20, to 30, MW of electric power see Figure Studies are under way to deter- mine the economic feasibility and environmental effects of removing some water for irrigation.

A major steam field at Cerro Prieto, Mexico, has been tapped; a 75 MWe plant has been built and is now in operation, Niland, Heber, and Brawley, California are prime sites for the possible production of electricity. This facility, a 10 MWe binary fluid experimental power plant using highly saline brines, is complete and undergoing prestart-up tests; however, the high salinity of the geothermal fluid at this site may preclude its commercial development.

Such uncertainties make it difficult to predict the rate of future development in the Imperial Valley.

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However, at Heber, the Standard Oil Company plans to develop a 50 MWe plant that could be in operation as early as It would be the first commercial hot-water plant in the U. A large project to establish environmental baseline information on the entire Imperial Valley has also begun. The Lawrence Livermore Laboratory has been appointed by ERDA to lead this long-term project, which includes obtaining information on the impacts of water withdrawal on subsidence and induced seismicity; effects on the water supply and quality of the area; air quality problems from the highly-mineralized reservoirs; and effects on the fragile desert ecosystem of extensive development.

Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.

Australian firm plans nation’s largest geothermal plant in Imperial Valley

Geological Survey are also conducting significant research in the Imperial Valley. When completed, an "integrated assessment" will be made of these studies and the relevant research of universities and other federal, state, and county programs. The combined information will be used to develop a strategy to protect the area environmentally before it is developed extensively. Hot Igneous Systems The second major type of geothermal resource is hot igneous, which includes both magma molten rock occurring near the surface of the earth , and hot dry rock the solidified margins around the deposits of magma and the overlying roof rock.

Although hydrothermal convection systems are also heated by magmatic deposits, the rock formations in hot igneous systems are not sufficiently permeable to trap water. Thus, heat is transferred through a solid body rather than through a liquid.

According to current geologic theory, volcanic rock of near-surface origin is silicic, rather than basaltic. Thus, inactive volcanic sites containing silicic rock are believed to signal the probable location of magmatic deposits at depths of 3 km to 10 km. On the basis of existing geological and geophysical data, USGS has listed 17 inferred molten bodies of silicic and intermediate composition in the coterminous United States, 24 bodies of mainly intermediate composition in Alaska, and 1 basaltic body in Hawaii.

The total estimated heat energy in these systems is at least 25, x 10" calories, 30 or more times the estimated heat content of all hydrothermal systems in the United States at depths less than 3 km. USGS concludes, ' 'the large inferred volumes and cross- sectional areas of a number of these bodies make them suitable targets for geophysical exploration. Baker Glacier Peak Mt. Rainier Ml. Domes Warner Mis. R, Shaw, , pp.

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California could get more solar, geothermal power from Imperial Valley following lawsuit

Magma The recovery of geothermal energy directly from magma is not yet feasible. Although some information has been developed on the location, temperature ranges and depths of magmatic deposits, many characteristics of the resource remain largely unknown and the technology for converting its energy to useful forms in commercial quantities is yet undeveloped.

Work is under way to develop drilling and extraction equipment and materials capable of withstanding the very high temperatures and corrosive properties encountered in a magmatic system. Preliminary research into efficient and durable heat extraction mechanisms also has begun. Sandia Laboratories is working on such a process, which would use a closed system heat-exchange device. Other techniques under consideration are aimed at improving the efficiency ratio of heat extraction.

Field tests at the Hawaiian lava lakes or other suitable locations are planned. Hot Dry Rock The technology required to utilize hot dry rock is just beginning to be developed, and until several important technical problems are resolved, extraction of the stored heat cannot be considered feasible. The late s is thus the earliest date projected for the utilization of hot dry rock as an energy source. First, a well would be drilled into the hot formation; then cold water would be injected under high pressure to fracture the formation, and a second well would be drilled to intersect the fractured zone.

The heated fluids generated could then be processed using either the flashed steam or binary cycle process. ERDA recently announced the successful fracturing of hot dry rock using this technique at the Jemez Mountain site being developed by a Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory team. However, the commercial applicability of the system has yet to be proven. A more exotic method of fracturing hot dry rock is under study by the American Oil Shale Corporation and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as part of the Plowshare program, This method would employ multiple nuclear explosions to fracture the rock.

Some of the energy from the explosions would be trapped as heat, and thus be recoverable for power generation. No experiments of fracturing hot dry rock by this method have been conducted to date; where similar techniques have been used to stimulate natural gas wells, little success has been reported. Therefore, stored heat must be concentrated in a form similar to an oil or gas reservoir or a mineral deposit. Locating a "heat pocket" is the first step in the development of a geothermal resource. Exporation begins with aerial surveys by small aircraft or helicopters equipped with modern aerial photographic equipment and sometimes aeromagnetic or infrared sensing devices useful for mapping surface heat.

Field measurements are then performed, beginning with regional geologic and hydro logic surveys, to search for evidence of tectonic activity and seismic disturbance, determine the distribution and age of young volcanic rocks, and locate any surface discharges of steam, water, or warm mud.