News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Geothermal Grew Slow But Steady Last Year

Aerial of the Geysers Geothermal field in northern California | Screen capture: John Amos/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S.'s geothermal energy generating capacity increased in 2012 by 147 megawatts, raising the nation's total geothermal capacity to 3,386 megawatts -- an increase of about 4 percent. 49.9 megawatts of that increase was in California, at the John L. Featherstone plant in Imperial County. That's according to the 2013 Annual US Geothermal Power Production and Development Report, released recently by the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA).

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The John L. Featherstone plant, which went online in May 2012, was the first new geothermal facility launched in the Salton Basin geothermal region in 20 years. Despite the fact that almost twice the Featherstone plant's capacity came online at geothermal installations outside California in 2012, the state remains the nation's geothermal leader. In February 2013, California had 2,732 megawatts of total geothermal capacity installed: about two thirds of the nation's total. Nevada came in a distant second at 517.5 megawatts.

Though geothermal is theoretically capable of 24/7 base load power generation, only about a third of California's geothermal capacity feeds power into the California Independent System Operator grid at any one time. Geothermal's contribution to the grid reliably runs between 900 and 1,000 megawatts -- about the output of two standard coal-fired plants.

According to the report, the state's on track to add between 1,736 and 1,827 megawatts to its geothermal portfolio in the years to come, with 33 projects at some point in the pipeline -- though some of those may not come to fruition. GEA conservatively estimates that California will add only 160 megawatts by January 2016. Proposed projects are predictably centered in the state's geothermal areas, including The Geysers area at the north end of Napa Valley and the Salton Basin, but also including tectonically active areas running up the state's eastern mountain front.


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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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