WATCH a new webinar about geothermal mapping and permitting

In 1892, The Boise Warm Springs Water District in Idaho became the first community in the World to tap into a geothermal reservoir for heating buildings. Though it initially only provided heat to a handful of buildings, today it encompasses four water districts that collectively heat 12 million square feet of building space and over 300 homes. 

Thanks to their use of the sustainable resouce, the four water districts have reduced their carbon footprint by approximately 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year – the equivalent of removing more than 4,000 cars from the road.  

This expansion over the last 130 years is the perfect example of how geothermal resources can be leveraged to sustainably meet a community’s heating needs.

On Oct. 24 , WGA toured the facilities in Boise with Idaho Gov. Brad Little and officials from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, United States Air Force, and Project InnerSpace, among others.

“You just can’t beat the value of geothermal,” Gov. Little said. “We’ve had industrial, scalable geothermal in Idaho for a while now and we love it because it’s there every day, all the time.”   

On Nov. 7 at 1:30 p.m. MDT, WGA will host a FREE webinar with geothermal experts to discuss the nuances of Boise’s geothermal system and opportunities to replicate this system throughout the West. They'll also examine strategies for improving the permitting process, resource assessment mapping, and exploration to limit the financial risk of geothermal deployment.

Register here to join the in conversation and learn more about opportunities for and challenges to geothermal deployment, below.  

The main concern raised among the officials on WGA’s tour of Boise’s geothermal facilities was the lack of information regarding the size, depth, permeability, and temperature of geothermal reservoirs in the West.

Even though Lorenzo Trimble, the Geothermal Program Lead for the Bureau of Land Management, said that almost every geothermal permit that comes through his office is approved, this lack of certainty leads to a significant amount of financial risk when it comes to drilling for a geothermal resource.

“Geothermal development cost-wise is about on par with developing an oil and gas well,” Travis McLing, a research scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory’s Center for Advanced Energy Studies, said. “But we don’t have the capital in our business to do the kinds of assessments that they do.”  

From an industry standpoint, Scott Nichols, a regulatory affairs specialist with Ormat Technologies Inc. said, “as we look at projects, 80% of the wells produce 20% of power, and 20% of wells make 80% of power… Our goal is to not drill 80% of the wells.”

That risk, along with a general lack of knowledge regarding geothermal energy use, has led many communities and even entire industries to overlook geothermal as a part of their energy portfolio.

However, by extrapolating data and technologies from other industries, especially the oil and gas industry, the experts that joined WGA’s tour of the geothermal facilities in Boise said that there is an opportunity to more effectively determine where it’s best to drill, greatly reducing risk.  

James Faulds, the Nevada State Geologist and a professor at the University of Nevada Reno’s Bureau of Mines and Geology, spoke about his department’s innovative work to analyze available data and discover new, commercially viable hidden geothermal systems in the Great Basin region of the Western United States.

“We know more about the bottom of the ocean or the surface of Mars than we do about what’s underneath half of Nevada,” Faulds said. “However, through various kinds of statistical analysis, we came up with an algorithm that allows us to go out there and say that spot in the middle of this valley looks very promising for geothermal. Those are hidden resources that our estimates suggest are 3/4 or more than our current resources.”

Using this analysis two geothermal wells have been drilled in locations where the presence of a geothermal well was not previously known. Both have found robust geothermal resources, including one site that reaches temperatures of 257 degrees Fahrenheit, just 500 meters down.

This kind of innovative analysis, Nick Goodman, the CEO of Cyrq Energy, said will drive geothermal development for years to come – especially if geologists like James Faulds get access to better data.

“A lot of the geothermal that’s operating today came from data in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” he said. “Conventional geothermal systems of tomorrow are going to come from these hidden systems and industry doesn’t have the ability to do that upfront work, it’s just not set up for it… I guarantee you that 10 years from now we will have operating geothermal plants that are a result of the work these labs are doing.”    

Learn more about the potential for geothermal energy by watching WGA's Heat Beneath Our Feet webinar series regarding: 

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