Friday, February 22, 2008

Geothermal Raises Questions Too

Last week the San Jose Mercury News ran a story about geothermal energy that is really a pretty good primer on the issue. Other than Calpine's big investment in geothermal, you don't hear much about the energy medium, relative to other alternative sources like solar and wind power.

As California continues its frenetic race to renewables, the shortcomings of green energy seem to be highlighted every day: Borenstein's recent report that called Solar an economic loser; oppostiion to wind turbines due to bird strikes; and the myriad difficulties associated with a pilot project seeking to generate wave energy off the California coast are all examples of the problems associated with alternative energy.

But geothermal seems to be the one form of energy that doesn't get a lot of ink.

It's inherently understood that there are geographic limitations to geothermal that makes its widespread use somewhat impractical (unless you live in Iceland), but was striking about the write-up in the Merc is the environmental impact of geothermal and the capital requirements to harness it.

In the Merc, the owner of a geothermal outfit boils geothermal (excuse the pun) down to "mining" and he notes that drill bits with 40 hour lifespans can cost as much as $50,000 each. There is nothing environmentally friendly about mining and at drilling at $1,250 an hour (just for the equipment), it certainly doesn't sound cheap.

Add one more form of alternative energy to the list of good and effective sources energy that could be their own worst enemy.

With strong opposition in California to nearly every form of available energy (coal pollutes, nuclear melts down, LNG blows up, solar is expensive, wind and geothermal are also expensive and impact the environment), there are still no good answers to the massive question of how to solve California's energy problems.

Someting to ponder over the weekend...