SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is among three states in the West with federal lands boasting vast geothermal resources that are part of an upcoming auction to turn on emission free, baseload power.
The Bureau of Land Management said it will hold a competitive geothermal lease sale later this month in Sacramento, offering parcels in California, Nevada and Utah. For Utah, it will be the first time federal geothermal resources have been up for bid in six years.
A total of 15,782 acres of public lands in the Beaver and Milford area will be offered as part of the U.S. Department of Interior's goal of developing 10,000 megawatts of non-hydro renewable energy.
Utah already produces 59 megawatts of energy from geothermal resources, but at least a dozen projects are in some stage of development that could produce more emissions-free power generation. One of the state's two power generating stations that use geothermal — Cove Fort — is part of an exploratory expansion project that could amp production, according to an announcement made in 2015.
Utah, too, is one of two states left in a fierce U.S. Department of Energy competition to establish the nation's first underground laboratory developing ways to harness man-made geothermal power.
Called FORGE, the project is challenging researchers to capture 100 gigawatts of power by injecting cold water deep into the earth to interact with hot, crystalline rocks. A megawatt is a unit of 1 million watts, while a gigawatt is 1 billion watts.
The University of Utah's Energy & Geoscience Institute, with its site at Milford, beat out four other competitors and faces Nevada's Sandia National Laboratories for final selection, which is about 18 months away.
Laura Nelson, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's energy adviser and the director of the Governor's Office of Energy Development, said new, cutting-edge technology has created boundless opportunities for geothermal energy development.
"I think there is tremendous potential for geothermal development in Utah," she said. "We have 2,200 megawatts in place as a resource, with potential to expand at Cove Fort and Blundell."
Those are Utah's two electrical generating stations deriving power from geothermal energy, but Nelson said much more remains to be developed.
"We really can lead out on how we can tap these resources and develop them most efficiently," she said, adding that geothermal is a desirable energy source because it is emissions free and unlike wind or solar, is not intermittent.
"It can provide base load energy," Nelson said.
Utah is one of 11 Western states with geothermal resources. Competitive lease sales by the BLM have produced more than $76 million in bonus bids in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Nevada and California.
Across the federal agency, 1,500 megawatts of energy is generated from geothermal resources, supplying power to $1.5 million homes.
A national report by the Geothermal Energy Association said the last year saw 1,250 megawatts of geothermal power in development in the United States.
Globally, the United States is the No. 1 producer of geothermal energy, but the association estimates only 6 to 7 percent of potential geothermal resources — based on what's known to exist — have been tapped.