FEDS Set Stage for Geothermal Development

November 12, 2008

The Dept. of Interior released its final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for geothermal energy on Oct. 22, 2008, setting the stage for potential development in 12 western states. The agency says about 270 communities may be able to benefit from this alternative energy source. However, governors of each of the states must still review the PEIS before the document is finalized.

The PEIS concludes that 118 million acres of BLM land and 79 million acres of US Forest Service land could be suitable for geothermal development, pending more detailed evaluation of specific projects on those lands. Numerous environmental problems for individual projects could crop up, such as disturbance of groundwater, disruption by earthquakes or volcanoes, or degradation of offsite areas in order to provide transmission lines.

The PEIS excludes some areas from geothermal development, such as national parks, wilderness, and wilderness study areas, but development might be authorized on lands such as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, National Conservation Areas, or units of the National Landscape Conservation System.

Construction of many of these projects likely won't begin for years. However, 19 projects already in the hopper before Jan. 1, 2005, in AK, CA, NV, OR, and WA, could soon be moving forward in the application process, because the PEIS addressed site-specific environmental issues for these sites. The agencies expect to make decisions on almost all the other 198 pending lease applications by Jan. 1, 2010.

Another process likely to occur relatively soon is the modification of 122 BLM land use plans in order to accommodate geothermal development. The DoI press release spelled out the affected plans in each state, making it easy to localize this for your audience. The USFS will use the PEIS and its own processes for assessing suitability of geothermal development within the properties it manages.

Another point of interest is that state and county governments will share in the income from royalties generated by geothermal development.

For an example of media coverage of geothermal development that's already occurring, or in the development and proposal stages, see:

For more information on geothermal energy, see the TipSheet of May 14, 2008.