When major geothermal industry leaders met in Las Vegas this past week, they were presented with a tough reality. Attendees at the Geothermal Resources Council’s annual gathering were told during a presentation that unless changes are made to improve tax and incentive laws, “there may not be a geothermal industry in the future.” The speaker was Gregg Rotenburg, VP of Chevron Renewable Energy Investment.
In recent years, the solar power industry has grown rapidly, at least in part due to federal and local tax incentives and subsidies. Currently there are no similar incentives for geothermal energy. Another disadvantage that geothermal has when compared with solar-generated electricity is that many states have mandated a certain percentage of electricity supply by utilities comes from solar. There are no comparable mandates or “carve outs” for geothermal energy.
In his presentation, Rotenburg called for fairer tax laws and benefits for geothermal energy producers. He also told his audience that they need to set aside their competitive nature in pursuit of common goals from government. “We need to find a way to at least level the playing field [with solar energy producers].”
The geothermal industry is actually a far more mature field than the solar power industry. Geothermal power producers have been supplying commercial electricity since the early 1960s in the U.S., and far earlier in other countries. But in recent years, geothermal power production has slowed. Part of the reason for this is the long lead-time for planning, as well as the relatively high risk when compared with other renewable sources.
So, as the solar industry has benefited from a variety of advantages, including declining input costs as well as the incentives mentioned earlier, the geothermal industry has suffered. However, geothermal has advantages over other renewable sources. For one thing, geothermal plants provide a continuous supply of electricity that can be used as a baseload power source. Because of this, it can complement other renewable sources such as wind and solar in some areas.
The bottom line for the geothermal industry is that there is a place for this source of energy in America’s future. Geothermal plants can ramp up quicker than fossil fuel plants, and are still a non-polluting source of energy. There are signs that the current administration is open to growing the incentives for geothermal, as well as other renewable sources of energy. As for when that happens, we may have a while to wait. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts about geothermal energy, or your favorite alternative energy source. We always love to hear from our readers.