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Northwest Geothermal Research Aims To Solve Energy And Water Squeeze

Stephen Mellentine
Flickr Creative Commons

President Obama’s new EPA rule seeking drastic reductions in carbon emissions could create more room in the industry for cleaner forms of energy. One of those is geothermal. In eastern Oregon and parts of Idaho, a new study by the US Geological Survey (USGS) will look closer at this potential source, and its connection to the drought-stricken West.

Erick Burns is the lead scientist for the study, and says he’s excited to find out more about what lies below the surface.

“[Geothermal energy] is a potential major source of power for the U.S. that doesn’t emit carbon," says Burns, "if we can figure out how to get at it.”  

Burns says geothermal has had its ups and downs in the energy marketplace, in large part due to the cost of other energy sources. But he says it could be a good time to look a little closer at the resource in our region, even if the affordable technology to harness it has a long way to go before it is fully developed.

“When you think of what the country needs from an energy perspective, it also needs a lot of baseload power. Something that [can] supply the needs 24/7. Geothermal is that kind of energy.”

Burns hopes the new USGS study will help researchers more accurately determine how much power could be harnessed, and how the groundwater system could be affected. The first part of the study is scheduled for late next year.

Find Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.