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Geothermal Power Growing in Nevada

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Geothermal energy is a growing type of clean energy, and nowhere is that more true than in Nevada. Ormat Technologies has built a geothermal plant every year since 2005. Most of those are in the Silver State. Ormat's Steamboat facility may look like a large mess of pipes and gauges, but it produces enough geothermal energy to power the entire residential load of Reno. Karl Gawell is the Executive Director of the Geothermal Energy Association, visiting Reno for Tuesday's annual National Geothermal Summit.

"This is what the future is going to bring," Gawell said. "You will see more and more of this in years ahead and it is already a boom for Reno."

The Steamboat Complex is a binary plant that takes hot water from deep underground, to produce power.

"We convert the heat that's in the fluid to electrical energy," Bob Sullivan, Senior Vice President of Ormat Technologies said. "Then we put all the fluids back into the ground where it gets reheated. So, it's a sustainable cycle."

The GEA says Nevada is the epicenter of geothermal activity, with the ability to use the power, locally, or export it to neighboring states.

"We've just begun to touch geothermal energy," Gawell said. "They talk about thousands of megawatts of known, identified resources. But yet, most of the resource is considered to be hidden, yet to be discovered."

Along with electricity, these facilities create economic development, putting hundreds of people to work, drilling wells and building the plants.   About 500 people have permanent jobs with Ormat, in the United States.  Another 500 people work for the company around the world.

"It's a job engine," Sullivan said. "It takes a lot of maintenance. It takes a lot of people. It takes a lot of workers, a lot of subcontractors to keep one of these facilities running."

While the cost of fossil fuels goes up and down, geothermal stays steady. The fuel cost is upfront, in the form of drilling wells. Gawell says what is lost in capital and labor costs is saved in fuel costs.

"We're not buying the coal," Gawell said. "We're getting the heat from Mother Earth."

The Nevada legislature will be looking at clean energy, this upcoming session. If passed, SB 123 basically will retire 1,000 megawatts of coal energy and replace almost half of it with renewables by 2025.
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