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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

IS GEOTHERMAL ENERGY GOOD OR BAD?

Not In My BackYard (NIMBY) has become a make-or-break decision-making factor for society.  From affordable housing to energy development and everything in-between, NIMBY-ism has in particular paralyzed the advance of various varieties of sustainable energy.

I remember as far back as 40 years ago when I went to a public hearing at the Hilton Turtle Bay on the first wind energy project for the North Shore of Oahu.  By my count, there were as many opposing forces as favorable ones...and this was soon after the first energy crisis.  Hilton executives were afraid that the presence of a wind power device would mean that this area was windy and tourists would not stay in their hotel.  The Audubon Society was afraid that birds would get killed.

Then the next day I took part in a community discussion on the Big Island about the future of geothermal energy.  Again, I was somewhat perplexed that there were significant elements of the populace against our announced project.  There were rain-forest freaks (yes, I should be more sensitive), Pele-worshippers, and, in particular, some strong resistance from the local Puna residents.  Many of them left the hustle of the modern world to settle in the rural environment of this district.  Turns out that marijuana growers were especially wary and indirectly financed this faction.  The NIMBY factor convinced Federal Judge David Ezra to essentially put the kibosh on any major geothermal development for Hawaii.  But Judge Ezra retired two years ago and left the state.

So, is geothermal energy good or bad?  Henry Curtis of Life of the Land has a balanced view on this subject:

Geothermal Energy

There are many geothermal advocates. Geothermal energy is nearly inexhaustible. The available resource is greater than the amount of oil the world has used and has left. A geothermal plant has a very small geographically footprint (MW/acre) compared to other energy sources. Geothermal produces continuous (baseload) power at a very low cost. When done right geothermal produces minimal greenhouse gases.

At the low end, the California Geysers produce electricity for 3-3.5 cents/kWhr, while some geothermal resources need 6-12 cents/kWhr. Credit Suisse (2009) calculated that geothermal power costs 3.6 cents/kWhr, versus 5.5 cents/kWhr for coal. 

Geothermal has a capacity factor (average output/maximum output) of 0.84 (nuclear is 0.90, wave energy is 0.6, wind is 0.4, solar is 0.20)

Sounds pretty good to me.  However, if you live next to a geothermal power plant, there could be an intermittent noise problem, the smell of hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs) and the fear of industry taking over the territory.  Yesterday Richard Borecca of the Star-Advertiser had an editorial on "Praising geothermal power, from a safe distance away."  Maybe Borecca is anti-Governor Abercrombie, but the slant was anti-geothermal.

Here is my take on this subject.  Would you rather have the mixed blessing of geothermal energy or a coal power plant...or a nuclear reactor across the street from where you live?  There are degrees of goodness and badness.  In my book, geothermal energy can be good.  What else do we (in Hawaii) have that is base load and competitive with the fossil fuels?

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That fearsome Super Typhoon Neoguri is now a mere tropical storm at 65 MPH.  Two were killed on Okinawa and electricity was affected for 100,000.  Still projected to bring a lot of rain, the eye will pass over Kyushu and on Friday near Tokyo.


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1 comment:

Radlie Hunter said...

Geothermal energy can be utilized in so many ways and methods that you can't really peg them into a yes or no question. It really depends on all the factors including location, environmental impact, and net value. There are whole forums debating specific examples. http://greensleevesllc.com/