For the past few years, the geothermal energy industry has grown steadily, but slowly, while significantly expanding its geographical reach. This period of growth represents just the beginning of what is possible with a sustained federal-state-local effort to harness the nation’s vast geothermal resource base.
FEDERAL POLICIES TO SUSTAIN AND ENHANCE GROWTH: Federal tax incentives and research support continue to be critical to mitigate and reduce the risks of geothermal development. Federal tax incentives that apply to all types of entities should be extended and made refundable to facilitate growth of a new geothermal energy industry in the U.S. In addition, geothermal energy projects should (as they are for oil and gas projects) be made eligible for organizations as Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs). Federal research funding -- particularly for technologies to reduce subsurface risk and develop Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) techniques -- should be increased. DOE should also resume its very successful cost-shared exploration grant programs that encouraged expanded geothermal development and technological innovation – the Geothermal Resource Exploration and Development Program.
Federal leasing and permitting continue to be important factors that can be either drivers or obstacles for the geothermal industry. BLM should take an interagency lead to ensure the expedited handling of lease nominations and permit applications. BLM should seek to document current process timeframes and set a goal of cutting them in half. Congress should enacted several pending measures to modify the leasing program and streamline NEPA requirements including S. 362, S.363, and HR 1363, and it should also consider extending for ten years the BLM geothermal funding set-aside of royalty receipts enacted in the 2005 Energy Policy Act to provide the financial resources needed for leasing, permitting and support of cost-shared exploration.
INTERNATIONAL MARKETS: Federal efforts to promote international renewable market development and U.S. exports should continue to recognize that U.S. geothermal firms operate in a very competitive global market. Policies and programs to support U.S. competitiveness in world markets should be enhanced and geothermal should be among the priorities for federal agency renewable exports efforts.
STATE INITIATIVES: At the state level, the full value that geothermal power provides should be recognized. Geothermal power can be firm or flexible and can help providers avoid system reliability costs associated with other sources. Both power procurement by utilities and rates approved by utility commissions should recognize the premium value of geothermal power. Further, as some Western states consider reducing their coal-fired generation, geothermal power should play a significant role in replacing this generation while maintaining the system reliability baseload power provides. Geothermal should not be penalized by renewable accounting credit systems for having its fuel supply and transportation systems on site.
State financial incentives should support geothermal power development, in both utility and distributed generation modes, on the same basis as other renewable technologies. Today, several states provide significant incentives that apply only to one or two renewable technologies, unfairly discriminating against geothermal.