The United States can lead on clean energy development, but only if it grapples with reality. To spur a true clean energy revolution, our nation must tap into geothermal.
Compared to other renewables, geothermal is actually sustainable and has proven, tested reliability. Despite being heavily underutilized, it has great potential. There are three types of geothermal energy systems available: direct use and district heating systems, geothermal power plants and geothermal heat pumps.
Geothermal power plants, for instance, use hot water taken from the Earth’s crust to generate steam to power a turbine for electricity generation.
The Department of Energy notes “the rate of energy extraction can be balanced with a reservoir’s natural heat recharge rate.” It emits no greenhouse gases and few carbon emissions. Moreover, baseload power for electricity production is administered 24/7, 365 days a year, regardless of weather, to power homes. Contrast that with solar and wind, which are weather dependent. In turn, geothermal plants can generate over 8,000 hours of electricity a year compared to solar plants, which produce only 2,000 hours.
And not only can geothermal energy help power our country, it also contributes to its conservation. Unlike solar and wind, geothermal doesn’t exhaust large tracts of land or imperil rare wildlife in fragile ecosystems. Geothermal fields typically use one to eight acres per megawatt (MW). Subterranean hydrothermal reservoirs typically use “less land per GWh (404 m2) than coal (3642 m2) wind (1335 m2) or solar PV with center station (3237 m2).”
In other words, given the massive and equally intensive land requirements for these projects, threatened species — including desert tortoises, bats and eagles — are especially vulnerable when large-scale projects invade their turf and dominate the landscape. Alternatively, geothermal plants — whose environmental footprint is minimal — can coexist with working lands and activities such as livestock grazing under existing multiple-use, public land management practices. Any environmentalist concerned about endangered or threatened species should recognize the importance of geothermal energy, instead of ignoring the vast environmental impacts of renewable energy projects for political gain.
Ultimately, geothermal energy is a matter of energy security — tapping into the source can help reduce reliance on foreign nations, such as adversaries, for oil and gas — especially in wake of the Biden administration making us dependent on OPEC again.
Geothermal currently accounts for 0.4% of current electricity production in our country. If fully harnessed, however, it could one day account for 10% of our overall electric capacity, per the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Why squander potential discovery opportunities here?
It’s ripe for potential exploration, but alas — the powers that be want to keep it underground for petty political purposes.
Preservationist environmentalists wrongly believe environmental standards will be severely degraded, regardless of pursuing geothermal, if reforms streamlining this are enacted. So despite the availability and potential of geothermal energy, legacy environmentalists are thwarting potential exploration opportunities by stalling efforts by Congress to reform National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations.
One of the new reforms, The Enhancing Geothermal Production on Federal Lands Act, has proposed creating a categorical exclusion to NEPA to streamline the approval process for development on federal public lands and reduce high-upfront capital costs currently befalling the industry.
If enacted, it’ll reduce paperwork while conserving time and resources — making it on par with oil and gas exploration. In fact, emerging geothermal technologies are heavily borrowing from the fracking industry, which propelled our foray into energy independence in recent years, to innovate and produce cheap, affordable energy for consumers in the hopes we become energy independent again. By streamlining the approval process for geothermal projects, the U.S. will be able to produce even more clean energy.
That’s a win-win for everyone — including the environment and the American people.
Why are legacy environmentalists afraid to consider geothermal energy solutions? They shouldn’t be. It’s clean, green, cost-effective, and its potential is boundless.
Being wholly reliant on solar and wind to power our clean energy future, given their vast shortcomings, is unsustainable. It’s time we give the emerging practical choice — geothermal — a shot.
Gabriella Hoffman is a visiting fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum. Follow her on Twitter at @Gabby_Hoffman.