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Geothermal Basics - Policy


4.1. What laws govern geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy production and use are governed by numerous federal, state, and local laws ranging from environmental protection statutes to zoning regulations. Unique laws at the federal and state level govern the leasing and permitting of geothermal resources on federal and state land.

Federal geothermal leasing is governed by the John Rishel Geothermal Leasing Amendments passed as part of the 2005 energy bill. These provisions are 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 (, or through other law sources such as Cornell Law School’s online directory ( )


4.2. What policies or laws are providing support to new geothermal development?

There are several policies and laws in the U.S. that are key to new geothermal development. 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. About 43 states today have some form of RPS requirement. 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 at:

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. Funded from geothermal royalty revenues, more information about the GRDA account is available at:

At the federal level, tax incentives are usually considered the most important renewable incentive. Geothermal power projects can qualify for either the federal Investment Tax Credit or the Production Tax Credit. In addition, there are loan and grant programs, research support, and other federal measures encouraging geothermal and other renewable technologies. The database noted earlier also has a listing of federal incentives with links to information sources about each. (

Federal research programs also support geothermal energy. 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. (See Title 30, Chapter 24, Sections 1101 et seq of the U.S. Code.) More recently, Congress has passed as part of HR 6 in 2007, the Advanced Geothermal Energy Research and Development Act of 2007. Additional information about the underlying legislation and links to the final provisions as enacted are available at:

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