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U.S. Geothermal Industry Adds 91 MW In 2011 Without Dependable Government Policies

April 3, 2012

Despite not having the cache of the solar industry and it’s ability to bring large, utility scale power plants online that provide hundreds of megawatts (MW) of power, the geothermal industry in the United States is steaming along as it added another 91MW  in 2011. This brings the total amount installed to 3,187 MW according to the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA).

California is still leading the way with 2,615 MW online and another 2,000 MW in the pipeline. Nevada is also at the forefront with 59 projects in development. States currently with geothermal installations also include Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. States currently developing geothermal plants include Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas and Washington.

The leading developer of geothermal projects in the U.S. is Ormat Technologies (ORA :NYSE), whose headquarters are in Reno, Nevada. Last year Ormat completed 26 MW of projects.

GEA Executive Director Karl Galwell believes the industry will invest nearly $1 billion in 2012 to bring an additional 100 MW of power online. This development is happening despite federal tax credits expiring at the end of 2013.

Tax credits are extremely important to geothermal development as drilling new wells is extremely costly and time consuming. Most geothermal plants take between four to eight years to construct, a lot longer than a utility-scale power plant. And the cost to develop geothermal plants is considerably higher than similar size solar and wind power plants.

But geothermal does have its advantages as it is a seemingly unlimited resource and takes up less area than solar and wind installations.

Shares of Ormat were up 0.4 percent in afternoon trading.

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