State seeks geothermal energy land nominations

Clouds and smoke curl around the top of Augustine Volcano on Sunday, June 4, 2017 on Augustine Island, Alaska. The remote island in Cook Inlet is composed of little more than the volcano and its surrounding debris. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

The state is looking for takers to explore new energy — specifically, geothermal energy.

 

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas announced Wednesday that it’s looking for nominations of state lands with geothermal resources for a potential lease sale. Positioned at the northern edge of the Pacific plate, Southcentral Alaska and the Aleutian Islands are pockmarked with volcanoes and hot springs bubble up in the Interior.

While oil and gas extraction and hydroelectric energy generation are common in the state, there hasn’t been a successfully developed large-scale geothermal project yet. One powerplant outside Fairbanks, a power plant in Chena Hot Springs Resort, opened in 2006 with a generating capacity of 400 kilowatts, according to an announcement from the Division of Oil and Gas on Wednesday.

The state has sold geothermal exploration leases before — the Alaska Energy Authority and Reno, Nevada-based renewable energy company Ormat Technologies explored on Mt. Spurr on the west side of Cook Inlet and sold one lease on volcanic Augustine Island in Kamishak Bay on the west side of Cook Inlet in 2013. The Alaska Energy Authority partially funded the geothermal power plant at Chena Hot Springs as well, and indicated potential for other projects in Akutan and Nome, according to a 2016 fact sheet on the Alaska Energy Authority’s geothermal program.

People have been looking at potential geothermal resources in the state for more than a century — the first systematic description was published in 1917 and described 75 hot springs, according to the release from the Division of Oil and Gas.

“Investigations since the 1980s have shown nearly every region of Alaska has at least some geothermal resource potential,” the release states. “A 2012 report published by the Division of Geologic and Geophysical Surveys titled, Fossil Fuel and Geothermal Energy Sources for Local Use in Alaska, indicated that geothermal potential was most promising in the Aleutian Islands and Southeast Alaska.”

All state-owned, unencumbered lands south of the Umiat Baseline are eligible for the nomination, according to the release. Based on the results, the state will decide whether to issue a best interest finding that would make lands available for lease. Nominations are open until Nov. 9 and documents are available at http://dog.dnr.alaska.gov/services/explorationlicensing.

Other volcanically active countries have tapped into geothermal significantly. Iceland draws about 25 percent of its total electricity production from geothermal power, according to the country’s National Energy Authority. In 2014, 85 percent of its primary energy use came from renewable energy resources, with about two thirds of that from geothermal.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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