New geothermal opportunities explored

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

An article published last week in the Los Angeles Times highlighted an initiative of the Bureau of Land Management to release 22,000 acres for potential development of geothermal projects — bringing to light a local asset and renewing discussion on industrial development in the region surrounding Indian Wells Valley.

Author Louis Sahagun opens his piece by linking BLM’s endeavor to develop more geothermal sites in the Owens Valley to President Donald Trump’s push for more energy development in California deserts.

A study by the public agency has apparently determined that the aquifer beneath the surface of the Owens Valley area has enough volcanically heated water to spur $1 billion in investments and enough power to provide 117,000 homes annually with electicity.

“Yet the decision is sure to set off a new water war in an arid part of the eastern Sierra Nevada that is is sprinkled with dormant volcanoes, spiky lava beds and rare species, such as desert tortoises,” writes Sahagun.

He also notes that Coso Operating Co., a geothermal power plant located on China Lake’s land ranges of Inyo County just east of Rose Valley, has been generating power since 1987.

“The Coso site, which supplies about 8 percent of the entire geothermal power in the U.S., has generated more than $135 million in property and sales taxes for the county over the past 20 years,” writes Sahagan.

Locally Coso is a major employer in Ridgecrest and a revenue generator for water and power security solutions at China Lake.

While critics of expanding geothermal operations into the wilderness point to potential hazards to wildlife and natural resources, Jeremiah Karuzas, BLM’s renewable energy program manager said he believes that the agency can provide flexibility for energy development while maintaining conservation.

He added that geothermal production has a “relatively compact footprint” compared to plants for other sources of energy.

“I think the article was flawed to start with,” said Chris Ellis, manager of Coso. “The headline blames the president, which is interesting since BLM started this exercise to expand the geothermal resource area about 10 years ago.”

Ellis went on to say that Coso owns property in that area, but he does not believe that pursuing additional geothermal energy in the area is commercially viable.

“As for opening up that area for exploration, I don’t really see it as an issue,” he said. “I think it can be done responsibly.”

Story First Published: 2020-01-31