Updated by Leslie Blodgett GEA 2014
Public policies play a significant role in energy development and production and have shaped utility and energy systems for decades. Geothermal energy production and use are governed by numerous federal, state, and local laws ranging from environmental protection statutes to zoning regulations. Policies and incentives that are essential to new geothermal development include: state renewable portfolio standards; federal and state tax incentives; geothermal leasing and permitting; research and technology support; and pollution and climate change laws.
4.1. Are U.S. laws driving new growth in geothermal development today?
At the federal level, tax incentives are considered one of the most important incentives for driving growth in renewable energy. There are loan and grant programs, research support, and other federal measures that encourage geothermal and other renewable technologies.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 qualified geothermal power projects for a choice between the federal Investment Tax Credit or the Production Tax Credit, though the status of the credit is pending at the time of this printing.
The Geothermal Research Development and Demonstration Act, passed by Congress in 1974, establishes a wide range of policies from loan guarantees to educational support, but while the statute remains on the books it is largely not in effect.
In 2007, Congress passed the Advanced Geothermal Energy Research and Development Act,
which provides the authorization for much of the current DOE effort.
Passed as part of H.R. 6.
4.2. What laws govern geothermal energy on U.S. public lands?
Federal geothermal leasing is governed by the John Rishel Geothermal Leasing Amendments passed as part of the 2005 energy bill. These provisions are also codified in Title 30, Chapter 23, Sections 1001-10028 of the U.S. Code. You can access the U.S. Code online through the House of Representatives Web site (http://uscode.house.gov) or through other law sources such as Cornell Law School’s online directory.
Geothermal leasing and permitting on federal land is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Most state BLM offices have Web sites with information about geothermal lease sales and permit status. BLM published its Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Geothermal Leasing in the Western U.S. in 2008.
U.S. Department of the Interior “Final PEIS for Geothermal”
4.3. What state laws govern geothermal energy in the U.S.?
In additional to geothermal leasing and permitting on federal lands, states also issue leases for geothermal on state lands and have both regulatory and permitting requirements for geothermal development. There is no unified source of information about state programs, so you would need to check with each state for more information.
The primary sources for geothermal research and technology support are the U.S. DOE's Geothermal Technologies Program and the California Energy Commission, and in particular its Geothermal Resource Exploration and Development Program. For climate change, the U.S. EPA provides a range of information on its Web site. For California, the Air Resources Board leads their climate efforts.
At the state level, the most important laws are the renewable portfolio standards (RPS) that require utility companies to have a growing percentage of renewable power generation in their mix. In addition to this, states offer a wide range of additional rules, policies and incentives for renewable generation. A database of state incentives is available online.
California has a unique grant fund “to promote the development of new or existing geothermal resources and technologies” known as the Geothermal Resources Development Account, which is funded from geothermal royalty revenues.
The California Geothermal Energy Collaborative’s Geothermal Permitting Guide looks at environmental regulatory requirements after land and mineral rights have been acquired, through the steps of resource exploration to project closure.
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