Interest in geothermal energy starts to heat up

Posted: Tuesday, November 04, 2008

ANCHORAGE - The state is finding that once-fading interest in geothermal energy is heating up again in Alaska.

It comes at a time when the state stares down some of the highest costs for energy nationwide.

The state received offers on all 16 tracts for leases to geothermal rights on the south slope of Mount Spurr, the volcano that neighbors Anchorage.

A quarter century ago, the state made the same lease offer, only to find there was very little interest.

The sudden show of interest from credible corporations pleased the state's renewable energy crowd.

One of the successful bids was $3.52 million from Ormat Technologies, Inc. The company is one of the world's largest developers of geothermal power plants.

Even an unsuccessful bid that came from Iceland America Energy Inc., pleased renewable energy leaders.

"That's big," said Peter Crimp, the alternative energy program manager for the Alaska Energy Authority. "If you're talking about outfits like Ormat or Iceland America putting money down, that means something."

This means Alaskans coping with high energy costs may be able to look forward to some relief if the state's geothermal energy potential is met.

Ormat thinks that might be the case.

The company's chief technical officer Lucien Bronicki touted the promising geologic features near Mount Spurr.

"We're up to the challenge of creating the state's first large-scale geothermal power plant," said Bronicki in a prepared statement.

This development may be what jump-starts the state's pursuit of geothermal energy.

The Alaska Energy Authority is reviewing grant requests from about a dozen additional geothermal prospects that could occur on either state or private land.

Some are:

• Mount Makushin which could produce all the electrical energy needs for Unalaska and Dutch Harbor. This year, the AEA issued a $1.5 million matching grant to Unalaska to explore more drilling.

• Akutan Volcano. This is an unconfirmed geothermal field found at Hot Springs Bay Valley. Groundwater can reach the boiling point. The hope is this area could provide power to Akutan Village and the Trident Seafood Plant.

• Other prospect areas could provide geothermal power to towns statewide, including Wasilla, Willow, Glennallen, Nome, Naknek, White Mountain, Koyuk, Kotzebue, Shishmaref, Manley Hot Springs and Sitka.

Despite the enthusiasm, the only geothermal power plant in Alaska is a 400-kilowatt private plant built two years ago at Chena Hot Springs Resort east of Fairbanks.

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