Saturday, December 12, 2009

Geothermal Failure a Canary in the Proverbial Coal Mine on Energy Policy

The New York Times reports: Geothermal Project in California Is Shut Down:

The company in charge of a California project to extract vast amounts of renewable energy from deep, hot bedrock has removed its drill rig and informed federal officials that the government project will be abandoned.

The project by the company, AltaRock Energy, was the Obama administration’s first major test of geothermal energy as a significant alternative to fossil fuels and the project was being financed with federal Department of Energy money at a site about 100 miles north of San Francisco called the Geysers.

But on Friday, the Energy Department said that AltaRock had given notice this week that “it will not be continuing work at the Geysers” as part of the agency’s geothermal development program.

The project’s apparent collapse comes a day after Swiss government officials permanently shut down a similar project in Basel, because of the damaging earthquakes it produced in 2006 and 2007. Taken together, the two setbacks could change the direction of the Obama administration’s geothermal program, which had raised hopes that the earth’s bedrock could be quickly tapped as a clean and almost limitless energy source.

There may a deeper significance that this news is out before the President goes to Copenhagen.
How on earth a growing population is going to drastically cut its use of fossil fuels with massive use of nuclear energy or as-yet unproven technologies is unclear.

Geothermal was never going to account for much energy production, but the failures described in the Times article foreshadow other failures to come in more important fields--as well as successes, to be sure.

The Obama administration cannot both promote energy-intensive computerized learning and expansion of Internet usage, as well as extensive roads programs to encourage more automobile use, and at the same time call for huge declines in per capita energy use.

The President needs to pick one direction on energy policy and fight for it.

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