Geothermal Energy in Nevada: Ready to Take Off? - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -

Geothermal Energy in Nevada: Ready to Take Off?

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Northern Nevada is a hotspot for thermal energy, and today (Monday), over 2,000 came to the Peppermill for the Geothermal Resources Council Annual Meeting. Listening to the speakers we found college student Aaron Ochsner. Why did he fly out from the University of North Dakota? He calls geothermal a future career of limitless possibilities: "Just for the United States to gain its own energy independence, I guess that really interested me."

For Ormat's Paul Thomsen, it's a gift: deep earth heat mixing with underground water to produce steam…24/7 free energy lying right under our feet. He told us, "We're thrilled to have everybody here in Reno, which is really the center for geothermal development."

You can see it on cooler days, the steam rising from the ground. It was Harry Reid who first called us, 'the Saudi Arabia of thermal energy.' To use thermal energy, you need fractures and a liquid medium like water. We have both here at the Ormat plant in south Reno. As Thomsen describes it, "You know the basin and range that formed beautiful Lake Tahoe brings a lot of heat close to the surface."

But as big as the Ormat plant is, it really just scratches the surface. The folks we met attending the Geothermal Resources Council Annual Meeting say there is much, much more we could do. We're standing on top of the largest amount of geothermal resources in the U.S., but it's mainly untapped. Rick Zehner, the chief geologist with Reno's Geothermal Development Associates says, "Part of the reason is that natural gas prices are at an all-time low, and geothermal power competes with natural gas."

Geothermal...is getting pricey. The projects that were easiest to build have already been built. Drilling deeper in more remote locations costs too much for now. Zehner calls it "An expensive layout. A typical production hole costs about $5 million, and you need a few production holes. It's maybe $120 million all in until you can start generating electricity."

But Ormat's Paul Thomsen says just wait until new technology makes finding hot spots and drilling much cheaper. As he put it, "We're kind of where the oil and gas industry was 30, 40 years ago. And hopefully we'll see increased development stretching into the future."

By then, Aaron Ochsner hopes to be working the front lines of a major player in energy…right here in Reno. Even in North Dakota, he's heard where to go: "In the geothermal community they do discuss the potential in the West and Nevada in particular, pretty frequently."

-written by John Potter

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